A mangala sutra (from Sanskrit mangal, meaning "holy, auspicious", and sutra, meaning "thread") is a necklace that a Hindu groom ties around the bride's neck in a ceremony called Mangalya Dharanam (Sanskrit for "wearing the auspicious"), which identifies her as a married woman. The woman continues to wear the mangala sutra as a sign of her marital status.
This practice is an integral part of a marriage ceremony as prescribed by Manusmriti, the traditional law governing Hindu marriage.
Mangalsutra literally means "an auspicious thread" which is knotted around the bride's neck. It is usually a necklace with black beads strung from a black or yellow thread prepared with turmeric. Sometimes gold, white or red beads are also added to the mangal sutra, depending on regional variation. It is a symbol of marriage, comparable to the wedding ring of the West, but is only applicable to women, while men are exempt from this tradition. In certain communities, the groom ties the first of the three knots while his sisters tie the rest.
It is called mangal sutra (मंगळसूत्र) in Marathi, thaali (தாலி) in Malayalam / Tamil, thaali (ತಾಳಿ), mangalyasutra (ಮಾಂಗಲ್ಯ) in Kannada, and thaali (తాళి), maangalyamu (మాంగళ్యము), mangalasutramu (మంగళసూత్రము) or pustelu (పుస్తెలు) in Telugu. Konkanis (Goans and others, both Hindus and Christians) wear three necklaces around their necks, referred to as dhaaremani or muhurtmani (big golden bead), mangalasutra with one or two gold discs and kasithaali with gold and coral beads. In Malayalam it is simply referred to as thaali (താലി).
In the Syrian Christian communities in Kerala, it is called a minnu. An engraving of the holy spirit is a distinguishing feature of the Syrian Christian Minnu. According to tradition, the families of the bride and the bridegroom contribute a piece of gold and melt it with the help of the family goldsmith. This is then used to make the rest of the necklace. The process of tying is assisted by a sister of the groom, as it is with other Hindu communities. During the wedding ceremony, the minnu is held on and tied using a braided thread made by twisting together seven threads taken from the manthrakodi (wedding sari).
Mangala sutras are made in a variety of designs. The common ones are the Lakshmi thaali, pustelu worn by the Telugus, ela thaali or minnu worn by the Malayalees and the kumbha thaali worn by the Tamils of the Kshatriya caste. The design is chosen by the groom's family according to prevalent customs. Gujaratis and Marwaris often use a diamond pendant in a gold chain which is merely ornamental in nature and is not a substitute to the mangala sutra in the traditional sense. Maharashtrians wear a pendant of two vati ornaments. The mangalya, thaali or mangala sutra of Kannidagas is similar to that of the Maharashtrians, except that it usually has two vatis. Nowadays many fashion conscious families opt for lighter versions, with a single vati or more contemporary style, however these do not conform to the traditional sensibilities or functions of wearing a mangalsutra.
Apart from the mangala sutra, the toe rings (bichhua), kumkum, bangles, nalla pusalu (black pearls) and nose ring form six symbols that may indicate that a woman is married. While there are local variations with respect to the others, the mangala sutra is nevertheless a custom that most married women have to adhere to almost all over India.
The significance of the mangala sutra was re-iterated by Adi Shankara in his famous book Soundarya Lahari. According to Hindu beliefs, the mangala sutra is worn for the long life of the husband. Dictated by religious customs and social expectations, married women have to wear a mangala sutra throughout their life as it is believed that the practice enhances the well-being of her husband. It is also believed that the mangala sutra protects the marriage from any evil eye. Three knots symbolize three different aspects of a married woman - the first knot represents her obedience to her husband, the second to his parents and the third represents her respect for God.
- "An Ornament of Beauty," by Ganesh Joshi published in Woman's Era, January 2007.