Bangles are a type of rigid bracelet jewelry that today comes in many varieties, ranging from colorful plastic bracelets sold at chain stores to intricate, expensive gold jewelry. They are worn all over the world for style and fashion, but bangles originate in a set of specific customs in Indian and Pakistani culture. While some Indian men wear a single bangle called a "kara" after marriage, bangles (or "kangan") are almost always associated with Indian women, who wear them for a variety of occasions.
Bangles have been found in many archaeological sites in India, with the oldest examples dating back to 2,000 B.C. or earlier. Those early bangles were usually made from copper, bronze, agate, or shell and some feature rivets or gold-leaf decoration as well.
While girls in traditional Indian society are allowed to wear bangles, married women are generally expected to wear bangles. The jewelry is primarily associated with matrimony, signifying marriage in the same way that the Western wedding ring does. Sikh brides wear red and white carved bangles called "chuda" on their wedding day. After a Hindu woman's husband dies, she breaks her glass wedding bangles in an act of mourning.
Color and Meaning
Glass bangles hold different meanings according to their color. Some regions have specific bangles associated with their local traditions, and there is a more general color code for bangles as well. Red bangles symbolize energy, blue bangles symbolize wisdom and purple symbolizes independence. Green stands for luck or marriage and yellow is for happiness. Orange bangles mean success, white ones mean new beginnings and black ones mean power. Silver bangles mean strength, while gold bangles mean fortune.
Tradition and Beliefs
An Indian bride on her wedding day will sometimes attempt to put on as small a glass bangle as possible; smaller bangles are thought to symbolize more happiness during the honeymoon and afterward. Friends or sisters often aid the bride in this task by sliding the bangle on with scented oils. After the wedding, the woman continues to wear her bangles as a charm of safety and luck for her husband, and if the bangle breaks before the husband's death, it is considered an ill omen.
The largest producer of glass bangles in India is Firozabad, located in Uttar Pradesh. A historical bangle market called Laad Bazar is located in Hyderabad, India, and has been operational for over 500 years. In Pakistan, most bangles come from the Pakistani region of Hyderabad, which is separate from the Indian region.
J.C. graduated from the University of Virginia this spring with a degree in English and Political & Social Thought. She will enter the Peace Corps in the spring.