Traditionally, feminine beauty in India is elaborately constructed.
The sixteen adornments (solah shringar) that comprise a
woman’s beauty include jewelry, dress, perfumes, unguents,
and hair arrangements. Solah shringar are generally for married
women, temple dancers, and courtesans. Single women are expected
to be discreet with their charms.
India, there is a piece of jewelry for almost every part of the
body. Many of these ornaments symbolize marriage. Depending on a
woman’s community, her marital status may be expressed by
nose rings, toe rings, anklets, tikkas, and certain kinds of bangles
and pendants. Jewelry can also define a woman’s social, religious,
and regional identities. Silver and gold mark relative wealth. Heavy
silver jewelry is associated with village women, and delicately
crafted gold jewelry characterizes the elite.
royalty could wear gold on their feet. Motifs can also express specific
aspects of identity. For example, thick chain anklets are identified
with a community of women from Kutch (Gujarat).
social meanings notwithstanding, Indian jewelry is designed to enchant
the senses: long earrings and necklaces sway with a woman's movements,
while bells, loose bangles, and clinking anklets give music to her
every gesture. But not all women relish the obligation to wear so
many ornaments. Some have written of the psychological burdens of
jewelry’s symbolism; others have complained of its cumbersome
weight and other inconveniences.
cobras, fish, berries, tiny melons, and garlic cloves have been
recurring motifs from ancient times to the present. Forms from nature
are considered auspicious and are believed to promote fertility.
They also express a woman’s procreative powers. Like nature
itself, the touch of a young, beautiful woman was believed to make
trees blossom. On a woman’s skin, touched by her fecundity,
jewelry seems to ripen and blossom as well.