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World Traditions

We’ve mentioned wedding bands a few times recently, but the ring is not the only piece of jewelry to make a name for itself in wedding tradition. The idea of incorporating jewelry into marital ceremonies spans across almost every culture, and the variety is as diverse as the cultures themselves.

In South Africa, Zulu couples share the tradition of jewelry adornment. After a match has been determined, the groom- and bride-to-be wear matching necklaces and bracelets, the equivalent of engagement rings, until their marriage begins. During the wedding itself, the bride wears jewelry so foreign to Western tradition that English terms haven’t been invented for them, like the fringed bands tied to her elbows and knees. She also wears a beaded fig-leaf veil and a fringe of goat hair as a necklace.

Overall, the culture that utilizes the most jewelry in a single ceremony is Hinduism, where a bride is clad in the Solah Shringar, the Sixteen Adornments. While the Hindi bride lacks the elbow and knee accessories of Zulu tradition, she more than makes up for it with her own plethora of gems. Not all of these “adornments” can be called jewelry per se (another prominent type is ink, and in most cases the dress itself is considered an adornment), but most of them are. Among these gems are a nose ring (nath), armbands (baajuband), toe rings (bichuas), and a gold belt (kamarband). Interestingly, although they don’t exchange rings, they have a similar custom with the mangal sultra, a black-beaded necklace. During the ceremony itself, the groom places the necklace on his bride, who then wears it for the rest of her life, much like the wedding bands of Western culture.

Hindi brides do actually wear rings (called aarsi) during the ceremony, but their function is very different from those in a traditional Western wedding. In fact, for the most part they serve a rather pragmatic purpose. Through most of the ceremony the bride’s vision is blocked by thick veils. To compensate, many aarsi are set with tiny mirrors; this clever design allows the bride, however indirectly, to gaze into the eyes of her husband-to-be.

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