HISTORY OF BANGLES! A Journey of Over 5000 Years!
A rigid thin continuous circular ring of the size of wrist is called as Bangle.
Word Bangle is originated from word Bangari meaning glass. Since the very early bangles were not made from glass, this terminology came later during Roman Empire [500 B.C.] where glass melting and processing industry was much advanced. Glass bangles itself were made since 1500 B.C. due to its lustrous, shiny and transparent appearance as well as ability to attain a shape in primitive heating availabilities. In local languages it is also called Bangadi [ Maharashtra], Chudi/Choodi [North India], Kangan [Hindi], Kada or Kara [Punjabi], Gajina Bale [Karnataka], : چوڑیاں [Urdu], Valayal [Tamilnadu], Chura [Nepal], Vala [Malyalam] or in modern terms Bracelet that is worn on wrist of either hand.
The first discovery of bangle is attributed to the Mohenjo-Daro [2600 B.C.] settlements some 5000 years from now. It is thus considered as beginning of Bangles in human life supported by actual artefact and remains from the excavation site and dated accordingly. Further exploration of various historical sites from Mayan settlements, Mauryan Empire, Roman Empire and other ancient sites in India gave more evidence of bangles that was then become integral part of human culture.
Early bangles were made from natural resources like shells and clay. As human understanding of tools and materials evolved, they were made from various metals and glass and precious stones. In recent times synthetic plastics and rubbers are widely used in fashion bangles. Mohenjo-Daro, Mouryan, Brahmapuri and Taxila excavation in India gave a spectrum of materials used from shells, wood, leather, bones, ivory, jade, agate, stones, glass, clays, soil, lac, chalcedony and metals like copper, bronze, gold and silver. The creation varied from simple circular to precious stone embellished ones. Designs as simple as round spiral to an intricate carving of motifs made each bangle uniquely in appearance to indicate the status of its wearer. Each bangle also represented the culture and tradition of the region.
In early settlements, bangles were made by rubbing sea shells or stones on hard surface to give shape of bangle. Clay bangles were made by simply giving shape and then drying. As the metal was become a tool to human they used it in wide applications including making bangles. Further exploration gave them more appropriate shape and various designs and including inlay and stones embellishments. Discovery of glass and its ability to melt and cast as per requirement made it popular for ornaments like bangles. It also made bangles cheaper and easier to make thus allowing to worn by many and in large numbers.
Since its inception bangles became an ornament than necessity. It gives us knowledge of advancement of human understanding of art and beauty in ancient times. While the humans were still dependent on nature for most of their necessities they were discovering the resources that added sense of beauty and built traditions among settlements. The system of hierarchy was also evident from the possessions and wealth and bangle was one ornament that worked most for it. Early excavation finds of figurines of dolls and God- Goddess wearing bangles around wrist show that bangles were already attained the stature of ornament. Murals and sculptures spread across Indian continent from 200 B.C. to 1500 A.D. display an array of ornaments with its cultural significance and roots. Each design and material used to create ornament represents social status and wealth among its people. While the rich and powerful commanded the settlement, they also possessed and commissioned artistically made and unique ornaments. Trade between Mongolians, Romans, Persians and Indian subcontinent allowed the exchange of ornaments, raw materials and techniques available from far lands and thus further enriched the already growing adoration.
Bangles and Saubhagya (completeness of woman):
Before understanding the association of bangles to Indian culture as sign of Saubhagya, one must understand the human evolution and the livelihood of ancient settlements. In primitive settlements the life was dependent on nature for food (fruits, leaves, fish, animals and birds) and living (caves and natural shelters). As their understanding developed towards technique of farming and hunting, it became a prominent occupation of men. Women mostly attended family, children and household errands. The observation of creations of nature gave men the outlook which they further explored to create weapons, tools and additions to necessities that eased life. Stones became sharp weapons of hunting and later replaced by metal ones by casting in desired shapes.
In this process, personal and social developments were equally challenged and demanding. Just as in animal kingdom a male required to prove his strength by defeating others to mate, in primitive settlements it was a parallel story. In case of humans, it was more challenging as not just strength but intelligence was equally required. This was the inception point where men begun to find resources to attract women. Bangles were made from shiny stones and river shells by rubbing against hard stone surfaces to give shapes and shine. More materials kept adding as it gave opportunity to explore and convert into suitable purpose. This was probably the closest reason that Bangles became the symbol of ‘the complete woman’ or Saubhagya, having her man who offered bangles with beauty and quantity. These quests led to men explore beauty not just in humans but of the nature which stored so many varieties in colors and appearance. Apart from bangles there were more objects that added in offering. The necessity quickly become tradition and was followed in a manner of basic requirements. It is hard to establish when the institution of marriage came into existence as a social norm that made structure of social laws more linear in order to have harmony and peace within settlement but these traditions existed far before. In the journey of 5000 years, all further exploration in terms of material used, embellishments, metals and choice of colors altered the original context yet keeping the association of Saubhagya and Bangles intact. Once a hard work of men to win over a life partner now finds out of context as money attained ability to buy everything and anything. While women and particularly those of India are still following the tradition more religiously than men it is becoming mere occasional fashion and display of wealth for most.
While Indian culture is stemmed from its inherent co-existence with nature and its forces, bangles are no exception to it. From the colors to the shapes it was reflection of the understanding of nature and harmonious relationship with it. The colors (table) below describe its relationship with human qualities and nature associated with it. This scheme is valid for bangles, textile, and jewellery and even to the Gods and solar system.
Saubhagya is term referred to the status of woman’s completeness. A life of women as created by nature to be mother, a wife, a sister and more than anything a central pillar of the house without which a human society cannot be visualized. Although the passing generations and development of science gave us deep understanding of nature and its creations, nothing that man could make to replace the role of a woman nor it understand fully how the emotional structure made them to fill the human life so beautifully. It is beyond the scope of this article but on a passing line this ‘world’ exists because women with their emotional strength and ability to support it by dedication and devotion are part of it.
Bangles are made in glass surpass the voluminous quantity in all other forms. Hyderabad and Firozabad in India remains the largest producer of traditional bangles. Gold, Silver and Platinum bangles are acquiring more space in Indian as well as western homes due to its nature of investment appreciation and ornamental elegance. Studded with precious stones and delicate designs once only for Royals now becoming part of ordinary women. Paithani with origin of 5000 years and history of 2000 years is one of the finest examples of incorporating the association of Bangles with Saubhagya. Bangle-Peacock (popularly known as Bangadi-Mor in Marathi language) design in Paithani Saree dates back to 200 B.C when Satvahana rulers converted the region into empire and prominent trade center of the world. General association of colors and shapes with individual religion and regions of India and other countries is not discussed here. One can find such discussions on Wikipedia.com/bangles.
Prashant & Rashmi are young entrepreneurs fascinated by India’s rich culture and tradition. For almost ten years they have been travelling extensively and studying the various facets of Indian culture that has woven by history of 5000 years. While every mile of Indian terrain tells us a new story about the past, it also brings us the deep roots that each mile shares with other. In quest to understand some of the most beautiful gifts of our founders they are compiled short documents on Paithani Saree, Bangles, Motifs in textile, Maratha Paintings, Arts & Culture and Cultural significance of Hindu religion. In this article, authors have attempted to understand the Bangle and its role in Indian culture with context of history and development of human settlements in 5000 years.
© Prashant Tapadia, Touch of Class Paithani, Pune, India 2020.
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Tags: Bangles, Bangadi, Indian Culture, History of Bangles, Saubhagya, Bangles and Indian Women, Indus River Valley