When I got married, my mother gave me the silver and gold payal adornment she had been keeping for me preciously. Like any other Hindu bride, I was entitled my share of feeling ‘precious’ on my special day. My White Brit husband had to bend by the rules of Indian jewelry in its bling and yellow lustre. I spent the whole week walking in my new pair of payals and toe rings. Far from creating furtive moments when we could carry on the spell of being newly married, I felt like a piece of cattle with my merry anklet bells. They were sweetly noisy. I have never worn them again …
But my fascination into the refined Indian jewelry craftsmanship hold my devotion steadfast to allow the yellow precious metal be hanging close to my body.
Why do Indian women wear gold and silver jewelry around their ankles and toes?
Payal … a piece of traditional Indian jewelry and now also a popular name for girls. A name that conjures up images of soft pleasant melodious tinkling bells as a woman sways around the home going about her daily life.The fashion of the day is in keeping with the prices of silver that has gone up 3 times in the past decade. So girls today wear delicate chains that are usually less than a millimeter in diameter.
1. In the olden days women were considered ‘property’. Upon marriage, these pieces of jewelry were put on by the groom’s family and signified ownership or bondage. They announce to the world that this woman is taken – just as the wedding band on a Western person’s hand does.
2. In a world where a woman’s inaccessibility adds to her enigma and is considered a virtue, it is carefully cultivated through shyness and other social mechanisms. The tinkling bells of a payal are one such device. So this is how it works : Payals announce the steps of the woman and social decorum, in those days demanded that the males of the joint family either move away from her path or avert their eyes, so as to not make her uncomfortable in their presence.
And the tinkling bells offered the announcement service.
3. Being an expensive piece, the payal along with the other bridal ornaments were also considered an investment of wealth that was made into the woman. If the gifts came from the groom’s side, it is a measure of how much she is valued assuming affordability, and given from the father’s side it is her inheritance from her parents.
Indian law also views this as ‘Stree Dhan’ – the wealth of a woman, whose entitlement to property inheritance is a matter of the parent’s discretion. (Although recently I have heard that the law has changed in some states.)
4. It was also known that no one except Goddess laxmi is allowed to wear Gold – a holy metal – on their feet – which are considered dirty, hence the choice of the metal silver.
Today gold payals are available in gold shops in India … so either Goddess Laxmi has begun shopping again or the traditional lifestyle of Indians is changing.