Married Women from Sangam Age Wore No Thali

On the morning of a holiday, a city-based youth eloped with his love and wanted to tie the Thali around her neck immediately, fearing a possible attack by the girl’s relatives and some self-proclaimed guardians of ‘Indian’ culture. As he felt that even a temple was not a safe place to tie the nuptial knot, he took the girl to the deserted campus of his alma mater and tied the Mangalsutra in front of the vintage building of the English Department.

This incident is an example of how the so called ‘sacred’ chain solemnising marriage was used as a mere token of protection.

However, a debate on the need for women to wear Thali, aired on a private TV channel recently, earned the wrath of a fringe Hindu outfit, whose president claimed responsibility of hurling crude bombs at the channel’s office.

At a time when some organisations are raising a hue and cry about the news channel bringing shame to the ‘sacred’ ornament by conducting the debate, history has recorded that the upper caste Nairs opposed lower caste Nadar women covering their breasts. Upper caste members forcibly removed their Thalis when they asserted the right to cover the upper half of their body in 19th century south Travancore (a princely state).

The place where this incident took place is still called ‘Thali Aruthan Santhai’ in today’s Kanyakumari district.

In fact, contrary to the common belief that married women in India wore the Thali from ancient times, many works in classical Tamil literature say that Thali was just an ornament like others, worn even by men, and sometimes around the waist!

Called Aymbadai Thaali in Sangam literature, the ‘waist cord’ contained the five figurines - dog, key, talisman, coin and peepul leaf. This was worn mostly by children as it was believed that it would ward off evil.

With Thali also meaning a chain worn around the neck, the seventh song in Agananuru, a Sangam period work, portrays a little girl wearing it with a tiger-tooth pendant, which is described in Tamil as Pulipal Kotha Pulambu Manithaali. Similarly, the 374th song in Purananuru, another Sangam period work, portrays some youths wearing the same kind of ornament, as it was a symbol of a man’s valour in killing the big cat.

Nevertheless, in the new age when married women were identified with their Thalis, Dravidian stalwart and rationalist thinker Periyar E V Ramasamy (from Erode in the undivided Coimbatore district) was the first man to speak and write against the practice, asking why men did not need to show this symbol of the married state.

Complied by:  B Meenakshi Sundaram

Source: Panpaattu Asaivugal - Tho Paramasivan

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