Notes on Culture & Antique Art, Ethnic Decor & Vintage Fashion | Wovensouls Art Gallery
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Payal … a piece of traditional Indian jewelry and now also a popular name for girls. A name that conjures up images of soft pleasant melodious tinkling bells as a woman sways around the home going about her daily life.
The fashion of the day is in keeping with the prices of silver that has gone up 3 times in the past decade. So girls today wear delicate chains that are usually less than a millimeter in diameter.
But in the days of the past, when silver was cheap and seen as a metal that cleansed, these were common bridal ornaments, even among the tribals.
Regional ornaments had a different composition of alloy in the ornament – that no doubt included silver as the main metal, but the additional metals depended on the region of residence, the traditional metalsmith practices in that region and the availability of source metals locally. Perhaps even the design & the usage demanded certain qualities from the metal characteristics.
Some may simply be rustic and simple but still beautiful.
And though some regional pieces score lower in silver content, they make up for that on design. Most boast of such complicated structures and extreme creativity that they surpass present-day ornaments in creativity and beauty.
Over readings and conversations with specialists it appears that the adornment of ‘anklets’ were created with several motives.
The most obvious would be that women enjoy adorning every single part of their body – so why leave out any part that is built to hold a jewel?!
But the deeper reasons are listed below.
1. In the olden days women were considered ‘property’. Upon marriage, these pieces of jewelry were put on by the groom’s family and signified ownership or bondage. They announce to the world that this woman is taken – just as the wedding band on a Western person’s hand does.
2. In a world where a woman’s inaccessibility adds to her enigma and is considered a virtue, it is carefully cultivated through shyness and other social mechanisms. The tinkling bells of a payal are one such device. So this is how it works : Payals announce the steps of the woman and social decorum, in those days demanded that the males of the joint family either move away from her path or avert their eyes, so as to not make her uncomfortable in their presence.
And the tinkling bells offered the announcement service.
3. Being an expensive piece, the payal along with the other bridal ornaments were also considered an investment of wealth that was made into the woman. If the gifts came from the groom’s side, it is a measure of how much she is valued assuming affordability, nd given from the father’s side it is her inheritance from her parents.
Indian law also views this as ‘Stree Dhan’ – the wealth of a woman, whose entitlement to property inheritance is a matter of the parent’s discretion. (Although recently I have heard that the law has changed in some states.)
4. It was also known that no one except Goddess laxmi is allowed to wear Gold – a holy metal – on their feet – which are considered dirty. hence the choice of the metal silver. Today gold payals are available in gold shops in India … so either Goddess Laxmi has begun shopping again or the traditional lifestyle of Indians is changing.
5. In my maternity lessons at the Yoga Institute in Santacruz, Mumbai, among the many things I learnt involved payals. The extremely wise teacher, Mrs. Desai spoke of the infant’s need to stay constantly connected to the mother (or father ) – the primary caregiver. Constant contact was needed either physically or visually or aurally. While, physical contact and visual contact may not be possible as the mother goes about her chores, aural contact is possible as the reach is much higher. So singing from the kitchen or humming in the other room, would give the infant some connection. In addition to voice contact, she suggested wearing tinkling payal bells as the infant would soon associate this sound with the mother and it would have a similar effect as the mother’s voice. A brilliant suggestion that worked very well for me and my brood.
A few examples of rigid anklets – that are built to size and meant to be slipped on with a bit of a struggle.
Not sure where this is from but my 80+ year old guru, my jewelry dealer personally set this aside for my collection – saying it is one of the finest pieces he has seen.
One from the Lambani Gypsy tribe – a rigid brass clasp like anklet worn higher up than others. Also note the beaded one with bell!
And last but certainly not the least, some really heavy bronze anklets from the Khmer civilisation 13th century
Click here for more pictures of this piece and others
Finally here is a video link to a song about Payals from Bollywood that has won national awards from a very powerful film ‘Virasat’.
The beautiful rituals and the environment shown not only provide the paradigm of lives within which payals are found, but are also moments from my own life.
If you know of more traditions and stories surrounding the payal, or have exceptional or unique pieces, please share it with the world. Drop in a comment or write in. Together we can build a significant block of knowledge on this beautiful jewelry category.