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.

In 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.




Only 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).

Its 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.

Lotuses, 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.