The Bangle: A Universal Indian Marriage Ornament

Bangles are one of the most beautiful pieces of jewelry for a bride. It’s one of those things that is must for every bride to be. Apart from other jewelry pieces like the mangalsutra, head tikka, rings, waistband, toe rings, anklets and more, bangles hold an important role since earliest Indus valley civilizations such as Mohenjodaro and Harappa. Some of the archeological sites from that time have excavated some historic bangles in various materials.

Some of the unique pieces of jewelry that were found include complete bangles or fragments of bangles made up of gold, silver, copper, stone, shell and filled ceramic. The point I am trying to make is that bangles among the other primary ornament worn by Indian women and is often an indication that the wearer is a married woman. But these days, bangles are worn by all women as it looks traditional and completes the look.

In this article, we will be talking about different types of bangles and what they signify. So let’s get started.

  1. Lac Bangles:

Bangles made of lac have been widely used in India since the ancient times. Lac is basically produced by a unique insect called Tachardia Lacca. Lac is an only natural resin of animal origin. Lac bangles in India have long been worn only by married women. Nowadays it’s mainly only used by poorer communities, who can only afford low-cost jewelry.

With the increasing inventions of synthetic resins, the unique skill of making lac bangles is diminishing over time.  The decorative treatments vary in these types of bangles. Patterns are created by the females in a flat manner or stamped. Glass beads, decorative wire, small bits of geometric shapes are used to decorate these bangles.

  1. Lac-Cum-Glass Bangles: 

This is a unique style of bangle that is made in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. Basically it uses glass bangles as a base and covers it with lac to give it strength. These days there have been many variations in the making of the bangles, for example, addition of colored stones and new patterns to keep up with the times.

  1. Conch-Shell Bangles: 

Conch shell bangles are a specialty from West Bengal. It a very old form of art that is still continuing its tradition. Conch shell bangles have played a very important role in traditional Bengali marriage ceremony. Even until now it is still very common that bride’s father to present her daughter at least one pair of conch shell bangles. During the marriage ceremony, the groom places them on brides wrist as a symbol of accepting her as a wife. The wearing of the conch bangles symbolizes the desire for long married life. Once a woman wears it during the wedding day, she never removes it until she becomes a widow.

The craftsmen who make these bangles are called Shankharalas. The shell that is used to make them is called doani, found in the coastal waters of Kerala. There is a unique process to make these bangles that include deskinning of the shells, polished and rubbed to remove impurities, Using a unique saw shell sections cut that take to about 3-5 minutes per shell. They are sometimes cut of different widths narrow and wide, the outer surface is then must be shaped and to create a decorative design by relief carving.

Ivory Bangles 

For more than 2000 years, India has been a major consumer of ivory for use in ornaments and other artifacts. Some of this ivory came from the Indian Elephants. The best elephants in the Garo Hills of Assam are found to be the best in India. Unlike the African elephants who survive in the wild, Indian Elephants are trained and domesticated to work for humans.  Because of religious beliefs that are opposed to taking life, a major part of ivory used to come from dead animals of domesticated living animals. However, the ancient trade between India and Africa has come for the whole tusk from killed African elephants, so the responsibility of animal death falls upon others.

In the northwestern parts of India, ivory bagels were worn in profusion by rural women. An African tusk can average 10 feet in length. The material substance in ivory makes it ideal for detailed carvings.

By tradition, rural women in Rajasthan and Gujarat wear a great number of ivory bangles because of a common belief that this will keep a woman healthy and assure her ease in childbirth. Throughout India, an old tradition calls for brides maternal uncle to present her with ivory bangles that are worn as an amulet and cannot be removed in the first year of marriage.

Glass Bangles 

Glass bangles were found in the excavations of the Indus Valley culture. It is important to know that the earliest objects made of glass were glass beads and bangle since both don’t require any special glass blowing technology. By the eighth or ninth century A.D glass bangles were virtually in the universal use. Mughal ruler lavishly patronized all the arts and their style and their high standard of excellence had a profound impact on Indian cultural life.

Thus they used to encourage inviting foreign craftsmen with special skills such as glassmakers and enamelist from Persia. With the growing need of glass bangles, countries like China started making the enormous quantity of cheap glass bangles.

In the current times, the Firozabad glass-bangle industry is massive and very well organized in terms of manufacturing and having special craftsmen in various stages of manufacturing and decoration.

 It is universally known that glass bangles identify the wearer as a married woman who is ideally favorite wife beloved by her husband. It’s called subhagya which represents the state of a woman is happy and in lucky circumstances.

The death of women before that of her husband is interpreted as a reward for her goodness.  When a woman’s married life ends with her husband’s death, she enters the life condition of widowhood called vidhva. By tradition, the widow breaks her glass bangles.

 One amazing this about glass bangles is that is worn by women of all classes of society, rich and poor. They can also be worn by girls but for a married woman, glass bangles are a must. Generally, 8-12 bangles are worn on each wrist.

Also if the bangle breaks during the process of wearing it is considered to a sign of bad luck. There is a range of colors available in glass bangles. Depending on the woman’s cultural background, she prefers certain colors. For example, Hindus tend to prefer tones of pink at the time of Holi festival or yellow in recognition of wild spring flowers. Muslims prefer green bangles. Brides wear red bangles during the wedding day. In some communities, widows are permitted to wear black bangles.


Metal Bangles 

Metal bangles are popular because of their durability. They are worn in pairs alone or combined with other types of bangles. They can be made of gold, silver, copper, bronze, brass and zinc alloy. The choice of metal is reflecting the buyers social rank. These are more commonly combined with different sheet metal fabrication and pierced work and enameling gemstone setting.

So I hope you enjoyed this article on different types of traditional Bangles as a symbol of marriage. This is a type of art that will never go out of fashion as its tied by the most important rituals of the community. Let us know in your comments below what type of bangle do you resonate within your culture and what do you find the most fascinating about the bangles. We would love to know.

Source: Traditional Jewelry of India by Oppi Untracht 

Author Bio:

Jinal Sampat is jewelry designer at Sampat Jewellers Inc. Her focus is on innovation and creation of jewelry pieces that are meaningful and hold long-term value. She creates versatile designs with Indo-Western elements. Jinal holds her graduate degree from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).  You can find her on Instagram.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *