What is “Solah Shringar”
Literally, ‘Solah’ means Sixteen (16) and ‘Shringar’ means makeup or adornments. ‘Solah Shringar’ encompasses sixteen basic steps of beautification of a woman from head to toe. It details the process and also includes the guidelines on makeup accessories and ornaments. Solah Shringar is a ritual, passed down through ancient culture and is meant to adorn and bestow gifts of beauty on her.
The Solah Shringar acknowledges and celebrates the beauty and divinity of the female form. There is a belief that certain ornaments and embellishments enhance the beauty of a woman giving her a celestial appearance. According to Hindu mythology “sixteen shringars” correspond to the sixteen phases of the moon which in turn is connected with a woman’s menstrual cycle. Solah Shringar is said to nullify the negative effect of that cycle.
Word “Shringar” is made of ‘Shri’ which means “Lakshmi”, the goddess of wealth, beauty, luck and prosperity. It is generally related to Indian wedding which is one of the most significant and important day for a woman. It is the day that marks her transition into womanhood.
In India, elderly people who do not know name of new bride, call them “Laskhmi”, so Lakshmi is common name of a bride who is considered to bring wealth and prosperity to the new family.
Other than wedding, solah shringar is also carried over on major festivals and religious activities. In old days, solah shringar was done on queens when queen has to go to court for public appearances or when king is returning after long battle.
Since there are so many ornaments and accessories, there is no definitive agreement on which sixteen are part of this ritual. I have include most prominent ones in the following sections based on my experience, various books and references:
Pre–Shringar – The Divine Bath
The ceremony starts with divine bath of bride. In this process, first bride’s hair is oiled with aromatic hair oil prevalent in India. Then hair is washed with mix of herbs like Brahmi, Shikakai, Aloe Vera, Bhringraj, Amla etc. A paste of oil, milk, turmeric powder, sandal wood powder, and gram flour and some fragrant herbs is applied in bride’s hands, arms, legs and face. This is organic face & body scrub in India, known as Ubtan. Applying this home made body scrub is usually accompanied with music and singing . The bride takes a proper bath to wash off these herbs and comes out with radiant, aromatic skin. Needless to say, in modern day brides have plenty of choices for the big occasion with the help of paid beauticians.
Solah Shringar – Head to Toe
1. Keshapasharachana – Kesh (hair) .pash (flock) .rachna (arrangement)
After the bath, hair is dried and twined according to the latest style, wedding dress and in some parts of country according to tradition. Bride’s hair is styled and adorned with flowers and jewelry. In some religion brides have to have their hair completely down because the myth says a woman can enchant a man with her hair. During the wedding it is therefore respectful keep it to tied up. Main jewelry and accentuations for hair:
Gajra is strings of flowers . It is made usually of jasmine and worn both on the bun and with the braid coiling.
2. Mang-Tikka (mang-teeka) or Bhor, borla or Mang-patti
Generally made of gold, silver and precious stones, Mang-tikka is worn in the center parting of the hair and it comes till fore head. The other type of Mang-tikka also have chain which is tied along the hairline of the hair. The allure of the bride is highlighted by this ornament. Mandoria is other regional hair ornaments which consists of a strand of pearls, tied across the forehead on either side and can usually be seen on a Maharashtrian bride.
3. Sindoor (vermillion)
Sindoor is a red colored powder that is applied on the center parting of a bride hair. This is one of the sacred symbol of married woman (Suhaag) in India, just like ring in western countries. Girls do not put Sindoor before marriage. For the first time groom puts vermillion on bride’s head during wedding rituals. In some Hindu culture it is mandatory to have Sindoor on married woman’s head all the time.
4. Bindi or tikka or tilak
The Bindi has a strong religious implication and is a sacred symbol of a married woman. Traditionally, it is the circular red dot of vermillion powder placed on the center of the forehead but brides may also decorate the bindi with red and white dots around the forehead and along the eyebrows. The bindi symbolizes dedication towards her husband or the resolve to the marital relationship.
5. Anjana or Kajal
Kajal is black eyeliner that is meant to highlight and accentuate a bride’s beautiful eyes. Kajal was traditionally prepared from the soot of diya (earthen lamp) lit with a wick placed in clarified butter. Today many girls use a strong black pencil eyeliner to achieve the kohl look.
6. Nose Ring (Nath):
Nose ring is by far one of the most traditional and ethnic Indian looks. A nose ring consisting of clusters of pearls or other gems including diamonds is worn on the left nostril. In some areas of India the nose ring is never removed and thus, becomes another visible sign of a married woman. For special ceremonies and worships special nose rings is worn with a chain, which extends behind left ear.
7. Ear Ring, Karn Phool or Jhoomars
Ear rings may consist of elaborately decorated large round ornaments. The weight of these ornaments is often supported by a chain passing over the crown of the head. Some earrings hang from the lobe and end in a large elaborately decorated pendant. Other ornaments cover the entire ear.
8. Necklace, Haar, Mangal Sutra
Necklaces of different lengths, some arranged like a collar or choker, are strung with pearls, gold pieces, and gold beads. Necklaces made from floral garlands are also worn by the bride. The most traditional haar is the mangalsutra, given by the husband on the wedding day. It is made of black beads.
9. Armbends, Baaju-band or Armlets
Armlets worn on the upper arm, may be set with pearls or diamonds and made of gold or silver. The Mughal, Rajasthani or Jaipuri are the most popular designs of baajuband.
10. Choodiyan, Bangles, Bracelets
Because they are considered the most visible sign of marriage, bangles or bracelets are another most important adornments worn by the bride. Bangles may be made of iron, ivory, green or red glass, ceramic, gold, and other metals depending upon the custom. Sikh and Punjabi brides add Kaleeras to the bangle set. It is said a new bride should not be cooking and cleaning in the husband’s house when she first moves in, that is why she has all the bangles and kalira on.
11. Mehndi or Henna
The hands and feet are covered with intricate mehndi designs made from henna. The resulting red color is considered to be auspicious because it has several emotional, sexual and fertility-related qualities. Henna signifies the essence of love and applied on the hands and feet of the bride, to strengthen that bond of love. Henna parties for the bride are one of the most special pre-wedding rituals today. More details at www.HennaArts.com
12. Rings and Hathphool (Flower of hand)
A bride wears eight rings in both her hands, which are attached with a central flower or medallion that covers the upper part of the hand called Hathphool. Of Hathphool, three of the chains pass to a bracelet and five to each of the fingers where they are secured by finger rings. In some cases, the left hand thumb ring may contain a mirror, known as Aarsi.
Aarsi is the thumb ring which the bride wears. It mostly has mirror embedded on it and enable the bride to have a glimpse of herself as well as her life-partner because during wedding rituals bride has a veil and can not see face of her to be life partner.
14. Waistband – Kamarband or Kardhani
Kamarband is a beautifully designed gold or silver belt worn around the waist of the bride studded mostly with beautiful gems. The belt not just enhances the waist area but also helps in holding the Sari or Dress in place.
15. Anklets or Payal
A chain of silver with an edging comprising clusters of small bells attached is traditionally worn on both feet which make a pleasant sound as the feet of bride moves.
16. Toe Ring or Bichuas
Toe rings may be simple or elaborate in design. Some toe rings have bells attached to them. Foot and toe ornaments may be constructed in a manner similar to the hathphul described above. Toe ring is mostly worn on the second toe of the left feet. The toe ring is also a symbol of marriage and is worn till the husband’s death.
Mahur is a type of red color ink made out of some plants. In some regions a thick red line is drawn along the outer border of the foot. Mostly in Bengal and some tribal areas Mahur is used to decorate the feet.
Finally some words on Bridal Dress, Significance of Gold and Red color
The indian bridal dress maybe a sari or ghaghra-choli, Lehenga and come in a variety of colors: red, green, marigold, red/white and styles, navari, panetar, patani that represent the bride’s heritage. Red is considered auspicious color. So, red is the color of the bride’s wedding dress. The sari may also be richly embroidered with gold threads. Gold ensures ceremonial purity and precious stones are set into gold ornaments that adorn specific parts of the body.