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Indian Jewelry: More than Just an Accessory

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at SLU chapter.

Things my mom loves most in her life in order from least to most: her husband, her children and her jewelry. 

Growing up, I remember thinking that my mother was materialistic or might even have a shopping problem. I then realized that my whole family had a shopping problem. I remember at every milestone in my life, whether it be a birthday, a graduation or some high achievement, I would be gifted in the form of gold from my parents, aunts and uncles. I remember being fixated on getting those ultra-high calf length converse in a pink tie dye color, but instead, I got bits and pieces of gold jewelry to grow my collection. 

My sister and I often joke about what pieces we each will inherit and call dibs on what we want. We tease our mother saying that she has so much jewelry, that she wouldn’t even realize if she was robbed. 

Then I stumbled upon this article entitled “Gold Inheritance: The Quiet Feminism of South Asian Women” by Rosa Kumar. 

Indian jewelry’s purpose isn’t to solely deck you out, it is also considered to be a form of financial security in times of financial crisis. Indian housewives allegedly own 11% of the world’s gold. And this isn’t primarily in gold bricks and coins but rather in jewelry. The prevalence of gold jewelry within Indian households shows how much value is placed on this custom. 

Kumar talks about the importance of gold for desi women and how in desi culture, historically and to this day, most women don’t have financial independence or autonomy. Gold inheritance, which is most often passed down from mothers to their daughters, is one of the only ways that women can express financial autonomy and afford their daughters some kind of financial protection. A big part of this derives from the idea of dowries. Even though dowries are illegal now, that doesn’t stop them from happening. 

Kumar says, “I view it as an act of protectiveness. Women spend their lives collecting bits and pieces of gold, only to send huge portions away with their daughters. They’re keeping them safe in whatever way they can. And even though they don’t call it feminism, this inheritance of “you never know” or “just in case” gold is an act of matriarchal strength.” 

Within every state of India, there is a wide variety of popular jewelry designs, and each culture highlights its traditions through its jewelry. Indian jewelers have made it possible for every inch of your body to be covered in gold, through earrings, anklets, toe rings, waist chains, nose rings, bangles, mangalsutras, jhumkas, tikas and the list goes on. 

My mother was more eager for me to get my nose pierced than even I was. A pierced nose is believed to make childbirth less painful. Ayurvedic medicine believes that the location of nose rings connects to the health of a female’s reproductive organs. A nose piercing is connected to the emotional, romantic and sexual propositions of a woman, and allows her to have control of their brain wavelength. 

Bangles are one of the most accessible pieces of jewelry, as they can be made in almost all metals, from precious golds to even wooden materials. The sound bangles make is meant to express a person’s presence and their wish to gain attention from others. 

The Mangalsutra is a necklace traditionally given to the bride during the wedding ceremony and worn throughout the marriage to symbolize feelings of love and commitment between the married couple, similar to a wedding ring in American culture. The mangalsutra has the power to bind the marriage and make it long-lasting, and it is seen as a symbol of success in love. It also helps proper blood circulation in the body and controls the body pressure of the individual who is wearing it. 

Each piece is intricately made, with immense attention to detail. Some pieces have etchings of various religious figures carved into them. Gold jewelry is the most popular metal in jewelry making because of its durability and non-tarnishing abilities. 

For many Hindus, gold is considered to be precious because it has the power to purify anything it touches and symbolizes power and wealth. It is also a way of symbolizing good health, prosperity and femininity. However, the material, metal and design vary from state to state, culture to culture and person to person. Each piece of jewelry is symbolic of a greater entity at play. Jewelry isn’t just an ornament put on your body: it is protection in multiple facets of life. 

My mom’s jewelry isn’t a shopping problem, rather it’s her armor, or as she calls it, “a women’s insurance.” Jewelry in Indian culture is meant to signify status, wealth and power in society. For many, their wealth is not made of physical cash but through their jewels. Even the poorest of women still have jewelry. Gifts of jewelry are gifted to women for auspicious occasions in their life. 

Every time she pulls out her jewelry box, it feels like I am at a show-and-tell. She has so many stories to tell through each piece of jewelry, stories of celebration and hardship. 

The gold I carry on my body carries so much love and protection from my family. It has been touched by my mother, grandmother and ancestors. And it will continue to touch my future children and grandchildren and so on. 

Hey my name is Urvi and I am a junior at Saint Louis University!