A reader and now friend from Mumbai (the best part of having a blog) recently took a road trip to the deserts of Kutch and Rajasthan in north east India. Yashesh thought correctly that I would find the dress and the adornment of the people interesting, and so shared his stunning photos. I've since been introduced to his wife Cherry who gave me a fascinating overview (see below) of the significance of the clothes and the jewellery of the people they met there, which as she says is just a small part of the great history of the traditional dress in these regions.
What strikes me most about India is the cultural importance of dress and adornment (how gorgeous are those children above?). The brilliant colours, the detailed craftsmanship and the symbolism is enchanting and intriguing, especially as it is seen in rural areas. I want to keep talking about that but I don't know enough to comment further without making assumptions, it's worlds apart from the Western culture I come from where the only such historical reference is when we dress like Coco Chanel or put on Levi's.
India is known for its textile industry and its production of vibrantly coloured silk brocades, embroidery and embellishment which is reflected in the dress of its people. But what about the jewellery? Read on to find out what makes it so significant:
The bangle was a purely decorative accessory in the pre and post Vedic era until the medieval period. Here onwards the bangle was transformed into a symbol of marriage. Hindu unmarried girls always wear some bangles round both their wrists as it is considered inauspicious to be bare armed. Bare hands are symbolically associated with widows who have been denied the right to
wear bangles or any kind of adornment.
Even today in rural India, a wife breaks her glass bangles when she is widowed. And in the progressed Urban India many women will wear only gold bangles after widowhood and not kanch-ki-choodi (glass bangles).
Wow. Makes Madonna's Lucky Star days seem quite a bit (more) vacuous.
Look how she wears the bangles almost up to her shoulder:
When struck by any natural calamity like draught or famine, bands of the tribes flock to the closest town to sell their bone bangles.
This tribe also wears a lot of colourful heavy jewellery and belts that are decorated with shells, metal-mesh, coins, beads and chains. The silver jewellery they wear is usual oxidised and could be massive chunky pieces, like the one this woman is wearing:
Music and bags at market in Udaipur:
Colours: Always bright yellow, red and saffron colours and mirror work with beads. Stitches used could also be open buttonhole and chain stitch.
The different sects of people here wear different colours. The Rabaris wear the bright embroidered clothes – blouses and long skirts. Blouses are often backless and stretch over the front in a broad T shape.
The women in Anjar – a town 40ish kms from Bhuj wear primarily black outfits – it's black with red bandhini (tie and die) work.
The lovely Cherry trying out a hand made bead necklace,
made by the Ahir tribe
Thank you Cherry and Yashesh!