Without a doubt, India is influencing modern western culture.
The spread of yoga all over the US has created a subculture that has made it into movies, TV shows, books, magazines, Instagram, and just about every facet of our society you can think of. Yoga is here to stay, and with it comes a mingling of one of the oldest and most ancient cultures on the planet. But do people really understand the new yoga stuff they wear, or what it means in the context of history?
Here’s a brief breakdown of some of the most basic forms of modern yoga jewelry, and why they were created!
Anklets, which are also called ankle bracelets, are commonly referred to as payals in India. These pieces of jewelry have had a very strong significance in the east, far more than anywhere in western culture.
Indians have worn ankle bracelets for centuries.In fact, it’s thought they were the first society to regularly use this type of jewelry. Their love for this jewelry is even instilled in their literature. The story of Shilappadikaram tells a fanciful story of an unfaithful husband who briefly falls in love with a woman who wears a magic anklet.
So why does India value anklets so much? Here are the top four reasons:
- When family members sat together and heard the sound of anklets, they would know a woman was coming and would welcome her with respect.
- Many times, anklets used to be worn by unmarried girls in India. Single women would sometimes wear anklets with small bells that make a very distinct noise while walking, thus drawing attention to the wearer’s feet and legs. What a great way to strike up a conversation and find a husband!
- Payals are considered to be traditional, and an auspicious gift for the new bride in India. Heavily carved payals, or payals embellished with delicate meenakari (coloring and ornamenting the surface of metals ), are an all-time favorite gift for newlyweds. These are very different from what a normal woman would wear. Often, the new bride announces her arrival in her husband’s house with the tinkling sound of these anklets.
- Mostly, Hindu women prefer to wear payals made of silver and not gold. This is because Indians believe gold to be the metal of the gods, and is, therefore, sacred. To wear it on the feet — the lowest part of the body — is considered to be an ill-omen and disrespectful…unless it’s for a holy gathering, where the feet don’t touch anything dirty.
- It is widely believed that by wearing a payal, one’s energy is not wasted but re-vibrated back to one’s body. This is because, under the Hindu belief, our feet and hands are emanating energy constantly. Precious metals are thought to prevent the release of this energy, and insulate the person from negative environments.
One of the oldest pieces of art excavated in Mohanjodaro, cast in bronze, showcases the figure of a dancing woman in the nude with an arm by her side weighed down in bangles. So it goes without saying a bangle is one of the most important ornaments that an Indian woman wears. For married women, bangles hold a special significance as they are a sign of their suhaag (Indian ritual done after a wedding).
Bangles are traditionally a part of the solah shringar of Indian brides. It is mandatory for newly wed brides and would-be-brides to wear bangles made of glass, gold, or other metals as they signify the long life of the husband. They signify good fortune and prosperity.
Each bangle has a special significance based on its color or shape, and different parts of India have different rituals for them when it comes to marriage. However, bangles were also used for astrological purposes. Gold, copper, and various gemstones were held close to the skin to mitigate the effects of karma. Typically, these were recommended by a family astrologer or guru.
The history of malas or prayer beads is a long and elaborate one. Most of the main religions in our world use prayer beads – Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. Over 66% of the world’s population employ them in their prayer and recitations!
But India was undoubtedly the inventor of this timeless spiritual tool.
Typically used for keeping track of mantras during meditation, malas play an integral role on the spiritual path; so much so, that other religions and cultures have used it for their own purposes. These days, they’re used for necklaces and bracelets. But their true spiritual purpose is powerful!
Out of all these listed, bindis are truly unique to India…and probably the most deeply spiritual out of any of the others in this list.
According to the original tradition from thousands of years ago, the mark between the eyes represents the spiritual seat of consciousness — the third eye, or ajna. This is an extremely important part of the chakra system. Wearing a bindi or sandalwood paste at that spot signifies the power of this point betwen the eyebrows.
Though it is mainly worn by women, it was once far more sexless. From Vedic times (5,000 years ago), it was used to worship the intellect of both men and women to ensure that thoughts, speech, and action became pure. It’s thought that a strong intellect can help make spiritual decisions in life without fear.
These days, it’s lost much of its meaning, but those who are undergoing specific spiritual rituals or receiving blessings often accept the talik mark from sandalwood paste.
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