To the chanting of this Sanskrit verse the groom ties the Mangal Sutra around the bride’s neck and so completes the Mangalyadharanam (taking of the holy thread) ceremony of a traditional wedding in South India.
The Sanskrit lines are recited on behalf of the groom and roughly translates to, “This sacred thread is essential for my long life. I am tying it around your neck. O maiden, having many auspicious attributes, may you live happily for a hundred years." The operative word ‘happily’ would indicate ‘with husband’ since none would find true joy a widow in ancient times when such mantras came into being. Having said that, especially these days, to manage to live with someone that many years would need a woman to possess resolve and resilience stronger than Athena, as also those weapons that modern technology affords, such as sleep buds, eye masks and air purifiers, to tolerate snoring, farting and waking husbands. There’s a popular Mani Ratnam film from year 2000 called, “Alaipayuthey”---- it’s Madhavan’s big screen debut ---- where these verses are used in a catchily lilting song. Needless to say, it’s a romantic drama or, rather, melodrama, but does nicely on all counts ---- story, acting, music, songs, cinematography ---- and was a big hit in its time. Just as much as this thirty-inch Mangal Sutra is all set to be, in the midst of a Bengali marriage season. And it isn't purely Tamilian either, notwithstanding its name; there are influences of the Mangalorean communities as well in the use of coral beads, and the bottus are inarguably Andhra. Of course, the tulsi thaali in the centre, with a distinct pair of plants, cannot be disputed and remains true to its roots. The use of black beads and corals together also lends it a Coorgi character, what with the orthodox ‘pathaks’ using similar combinations to signify marriage. The chain is a simple hand-strung hand-buffed ‘gote’ that makes the Mangalyam lithe but strong and dulls the shine to match the earthy finish of the pendants. Don’t miss the little gundus and the flower rings through which the black glass beads are strung. They’re indispensable for the feel of South India as much in design as in spirit.
To conclude, remember how that relatively recent film 'Ki & Ka' had in their main promotional poster Kareena putting a Mangal Sutra on Arjun Kapoor? It was likely an advertising stunt to get people intrigued about the movie but there’s something there that popular culture might actually pull off in Indian society: render age-old marital symbols gender neutral.