When married Indian women strive to look unmarried.

There is a special term that describes a married Hindu woman who is blessed with good fortune, who is not’cursed’, who does not bring bad fortune to her husband and hence, whose husband is alive.  Such women are called suhagan or sumangali or saubhagyawati in various parts of India. Traditionally suhagan women were required to wear symbols of suhaag, that indicated that they were married and that their husband was alive.  These symbols include sindoor, thali, bindi, bichiye, bangles and mangalsutra.  These symbols are not permitted to unmarried women and widows, in fact these symbols are wiped away, torn off or broken if a woman is widowed, and she is considered inauspicious.

Now that many urban Hindu women do not wear these symbols or wear them only as accessories, it becomes difficult for random strangers to tell if a woman is married, widowed or unmarried.

How do some Hindu women get away with not-wearing the symbols of suhaag?

1. Some are married into liberal families and nobody cares if they wear these symbols only when they dress in traditional clothes, if at all.

2. Some feel it’s not right for women to be categorized based on their marital status, specially since these symbols are forbidden to widows. And these women are independent enough to ignore what the neighbors/random strangers feel.

3. Women whose husbands don’t connect their life expectancy with ek chutki sindoor.

4. Women who are very traditional but are forced/pressurized to give up symbols of suhaag. (They can’t be blamed because this isn’t their choice)

Now which of the above suhagans is the article below meant for?

Also note, the natural state of married-women is seen as decked with these symbols. Not applying these symbols is being seen as an effort. In contrast, natural state of men is seen as ‘men will be men’, ‘men have egos’ – ‘male dominated world, so men can do what they please’.

Do you think the author approves of women being expected to display these symbols?  Do these symbols protect women from ‘evil intentions of men’? What about widows and unmarried women then? Don’t they need this protection?

Or are we trying to accord a special place to women who brought good luck and long life to their husbands and hence deserve the special protection that these symbols are supposed to provide? How come many women are unimpressed with the privileges of having achieved the goal of Get-Married-Stay-Married?

Original post in Hindi here, विवाहित होते हुए भी अविवाहित दिखने की होड़ Link shared by Offended By Misogyny. A rough translation below.

“Striving to look unmarried despite being married. 

I noticed that Indian women in UK do not display symbols of suhaag  that married Hindu women are required to display. At first I thought this was because they wanted to do in Rome as Romans do, when I believe it’s more impressive if you look different from the crowd. But well, everybody has their own views on this and as it is, one would notice that now even in India people are running blindly in this race for blind modernism, like in a herd. Because of this even in India they don’t use all the symbols of suhaag, then how does one expect them to use them here, UK is a foreign land.”
“Now the question is what could be the reason that everybody wants to look unmarried i.e. chaste? According to me, this wish to look young and good looking is there in every human life long, maybe upto a limit more in women than in men. Men also like it of course. Hair colouring and clothes – humans can do anything to look young.”
Why? Simply because to look like a sheep, the jackal would have to look like sheep, no? Same is the case with married people who want to look unmarried or chaste, or young when they are actually old.
The only reason I can see for such thinking could be that if they convey through symbols of suhaag that they are married, then no young person would even look at them, which would lower their ‘shaan’ (prestige, impact) and everybody would consider them old and that they could never accept.
But in this matter men are super lucky. In this male dominated society, all suhaag symbols are only for women, and by tying religion to this custom they have been made compulsory. I have objection to that.
All these symbols of suhaag don’t affect how long somebody lives, but the rules should have been applied to men also. But alas men’s egos and shallow superficialities, they have no faith so they have made these rules. More important than breathing is the requirement for women to wear these symbols of suhaag, so that no ‘other man’ sees them with ‘bad intentions’.
But today when women are walking ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with men, then if men don’t walk with proof of being married, why should  we women do that?
But it’s not about egos clashing, to a limit this is about culture, tradition, beauty and to a large extend about protection too.
I feel no matter how beautiful a woman is, if she is married, then without any sindoor, mangalsutra, bangles and bichiye, her beauty is incomplete.
I feel, and you may not agree, but the crown on a suhagaan’s head is ‘ek chutki sindur’ because sindur in itself, is not just a symbol of suhaag, but the colour of mutual love and trust.
It not only protects you from those with bad intentions, but also adds tremendously to your beauty. So along with honoring ek chutki sindoor, accept it whole heartedly, there is no harm in it, instead it’s only good for you. Jai Hind.”
This is a rough translation, you may like to read the original in Hindi. 
Related Posts:

Sindoor, Tali and Mangalsutra.

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On the day of my dad’s funeral, somebody pointed out that it was cold and my mother should have a shawl. I got up to get one. A well meaning relative followed me. I picked a maroon shawl. The well meaning relative muttered, “Red won’t be appropriate, take the beige one.” I assured her maroon would be just fine, knowing I was older than her and my mom was in no state to object.

Later mum mentioned how another acquaintance had pointed out one Mrs S, who was so distraught after her husband died that even a year afterwards; she hardly ate unless someone persuaded her to eat. Perhaps she needed a maid for a while. Join Yoga classes. Get out and meet people, anything to lift her spirits, and help her get on with life. Instead she was used as a subtle example of good widowhood.

A friend who is originally from Nainital lost her dad. She was expected to request some male cousins to perform the funeral rites. She was also expected to watch her relatives take away coloured saris and shawls from her mother’s gorgeous collection. She did neither. Some jaws dropped. She performed all rites and her mother still wears sindoor, and is still complimented for her lovely taste in saris.

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When I visited my mum later, she explained, “If I don’t use lipstick, my lips feel dry…” All her life she drank tea or water before applying lipstick, because (unlike her daughters) she hates leaving lipstick marks on teacups. What made her think she needed to justify her use of lipstick now? I reminded her how as a 68 year old grandmother; she could be a role model for the younger women she interacted with. How proud I was when I told well-meaning relatives, “My 68 year old mother wears sleeveless/lipstick/pretty colours/diamonds… ” etc.  I didn’t even want to mention how dad never cared for such customs.

Old age can be empowering in our culture. Suddenly the same old opinions become respectable.

I love putting sindoor (vermilion) on the forehead and filling the hair parting with it. We even have jokes about how one can intentionally let some of this gorgeous red powder sprinkle on the nose because that indicates a loving husband. But all this is only for parties and occasions. In daily life I don’t even wear a bindi or a nose pin.  Most of my friends don’t either, though some wear mangalsutra inside their shirts. (Inside because they realise that generally these symbols don’t go well with western clothes)

Sometimes a rare well meaning acquaintance would point out ‘bare arms‘ (i.e. no bangles).

Another one once said one should either always wear sindoor or never.


Because it wasn’t a fashion or a style statement.

No? Then what was it?

Why do women wear sindoor, mangalsutra, bangles, bichia, tali etc? To show they are married. Why do they need to ‘show’ or announce they are married?  (Please don’t bring love into it, because evn the most unhappily married women wear these). And then why are they expected to take these symbols off when their spouse dies? Do they stop being married?

Manusmriti has answers?  But of course! [will link or write another post later]

Bollywood has answers too!

Those who follow this traditionally should know what the symbols imply. For those who wear sindoor and mangalsutra like they wear lipstick and a pretty neckpiece these become what they should remain – just some pretty ethnic adornments.