A mangala sutra (from Sanskrit mangala, 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 "adorning the pious thread"), which is the main ritual of Hindu marriage ceremony. 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.
Mangala sutra literally means "an auspicious thread" which is knotted around the bride's neck 3 times. 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. 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.
The significance of the mangala sutra was re-iterated by Adi Shankara in his famous book Soundarya Lahari. According to Hindu tradition, the mangala sutra is worn for the long life of the husband. Dictated by religious customs and social expectations, married women have to wear 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. However, if the husband dies it is removed from her neck as a part of widowhood rituals.
Apart from the mangala sutra, the toe rings (bichhua), kumkuma, 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.
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 Andhra Pradesh and Telangana regions, the two coin-sized gold discs are separated by 2-3 beads of different kinds. As per the tradition, one disc comes from bride's family and another from groom's side.
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.
- "An Ornament of Beauty," by Ganesh Joshi published in Woman's Era, January 2007.