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Visibly Wed: Revealing Marital Status

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Bridal toe ring and ankletOne factor that has excited enough dialogue in the battle between sexes, and even in the general debates within society, is the different ways in which people can tell if one is married or not. Bollywood, regional cinema and the small screen all make heavy use of the ‘mangalsutra’ a regular part of many scripts. One of the most popular Tamil serials of recent times has been ‘Metti Oli’ that can roughly translate as the sound of the toe ornament when it touches the floor, while walking, or could even imply the light being shed by a toe ring, or the brightness of this same toe ring – symbol of marriage. 

Whether a person is married or not carries a lot of importance in social interaction. Visible markers of marital status are useful in determining whether a person is worthy of further attention and hope. What’s the point in wasting one’s energy in the wrong direction? The only problem is, such symbols have normally been loaded against the woman, specially in traditional societies. “It used to make me quite angry – sindoor in the hair, toe rings and mangal sutra, bangles during pregnancy – it seems as if women are always advertising their married status. But you can work with a guy for a full year in your office, and if you don’t have too many common friends it is hard to tell if he is married or not,” says Tara Khanna, who works in a real estate firm.

“Comparatively, in the West at least guys have to also wear engagement and wedding rings,” says her friend and colleague, Vidya. “If both parties are clearly showing marriage status, it is OK.” Both girls agree however, that traditional indicators of marriage are decreasing at a rapid pace. “Some girls are very particular to wear a thin mangalsutra at all times, even with Western wear,” says Tara. “But more often, some neutral gold jewellery is being worn in office and out. Too many displays of marriage symbols are becoming less common.” At the same time, something that one is sentimentally attached to, like a pendant given during some stage of courtship, or a chain gifted at the time of saying ‘I love you’ is likely to be worn for as long as possible, even if it is not a durable piece of jewellery.

In fact, what has taken the place of much of the clear difference in married and unmarried appearance is a more fashion-driven approach to jewellery and accessories that makes any college girl wear toe rings, or any single girl wear the black and gold beads of her choice. As for men, they continue to be in cunning disguise. In fact, if our culture had been a little more insistent on men’s marital status being on display, would we have had so many instances of men having weddings with different women in various places after fooling their families, and collecting dowry at every place? 

World wide, many interesting examples exist of visible evidence of matrimony. Clothing, hairstyles, beards and tattoos are all used to show married status. Among the Amish and Hutterite communities of Canada and the United States, only married men are entitled to wear beards, and unmarried men must shave. In Africa, hair can be worn up or down, in other parts of the world, heads must be left uncovered, or covered up after marriage. Lots of visible devices have been invented down the ages to provide the first clue whether a person is still worth pursuing, or lost to the marital chase!

Do visible definitions of marital status still have value in the twenty first century?

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Responses to Visibly Wed: Revealing Marital Status

  1. 1 gaurav


  2. 2 Sakshi Singh

    I was wondering how long do you have to wear the red bangles (chudas)? Does it vary from one caste to another?

  3. 3 Atul Mulay

    Yes I would like to share one use of symbols used to show just married indication.

    In a Cinema I directed by Sai Paranjpe I donot remember name of movie I think it is Earth , she used just a “TORAN “created by mango leaves & a golden coconut as a character of just married couple.The camera always moves in the chal/old style apartment where some thing is always happening. But the door with the TORAN is always closed.
    This has created huse lafter in the theater.
    Whenever the camera comes on the closed door with toran people in a theater laugh a lot.

    Really gre8 tactfull use of symbol I never seen.

    My Matrimony ID - (R208230)
    Atul Shreeram Mulay.

  4. 4 Jon

    As a graduate student at UW I am researching online dating and how it has modernized the tradition of arranged marriages. Please help me out by filling out my survey at:

    Thank you!

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