Mangalsutras are also differently designed in different communities.
For example, the Tamilians wear the taali, an extraordinarily crafted pendant, the Maharashtrians swear by the black and gold beads with the double `vati` pendant, one `vati` standing for the bride`s parents` home and the other for her husband`s. The Kannadigas add corals while the Gujaratis and Marwaris often go for a diamond pendant. The Kashmiri Pandits wear an unusual mangalsutra that goes through the ears!
Historically, the custom of tying a `mangalsutra`, the auspicious emblem or cord, on the wedding day, appears to have become popular only after the 6th century AD.
Before this, a yellow protective cord known as `kankanabandhana` was tied around the wrists of the bride and the groom to signal the commitment to marriage.
The `talis` of the Brahmins are the simplest, while those of the non-Brahmins are often complex, stylised works of art. Forms and patterns for `talis` are often derived from nature, using symbols like flowers, buds, leaves, trees and so on.
The black beads in the mangalsutra are believed to ward off the evil eye, while corals are worn for fertility.
There are a number of rituals associated with the mangalsutra too. The Maharashtrians tie the mangalsutra with the `vatis`upside down at the time of the marriage. Then one month after the wedding there is a special `mangalsutra parthavana` ceremony attended by the women in both the families and the bride`s friends where the mangalsutra is set straight amidst much merry-making and eating!
The design of the mangalsutra depends on the budget. More over, people do go for the orthodox design. These are emotional matters and generally people shy away from experimentation. Yes, if the family can afford it, more than one mangalsutra is made but the one used in the marriage ceremony is one of traditional design.
Mangalsutra designs have changed within the prescribed parameters. For example, instead of the conventional two strings, one string may be used. There could be more gold beads rather than the black ones. Or the cord could also be a sturdy chain with a few black beads at specified distances and the pendant. What continue to be worn are the exotically worked yet traditional patterns.
Today, the mangalsutra is very much in fashion. Even North Indians (who do not have a tradition of the mangalsutra) are making it a part of the wedding trousseau, influenced by Hindi films and TV serials and the current resurgence of traditional values that these have engendered.
Time and tide have certainly not undermined the influence of this powerful symbol. It is most definitely the thread that holds together the rich fabric of the Indian marriage.