Tying the thaali or thirumangalyam or holy thread is a sacred custom in Hindu weddings. In South India, the thaali is called thirumangalyam or mangalyasutram, while it is known as mangalsutra in North India. In both regions, it symbolizes the real meaning of a Hindu wedding. Though the thaali resembles a jewelry item, it is much more than that and has great ceremonial significance. In scriptures and ancient writings, the concept of thaali first receives mention in the book Kantha Puranam, authored by the famed poet Kacchiyappa Shiva achariar. It is also mentioned in the great purana or epic Periya Puranam which was written by the saint Sekkizhar in the 12th century. Moving up to north of India, the mangalsutra as it is known there takes the form of a black and gold beaded necklace. The gold beads symbolize Goddess Parvathi, while the black beads symbolize Lord Shiva.
In South India, the thaali is tied around the bride’s neck by the groom with three knots. Each note has a special significance. The first knot represent lifelong loyalty to the husband, the second knot denotes dedication to in-laws and the husband’s family and third knot symbolizes commitment by the husband towards the wife. Some believe that the third knot depicts the devotion of the bride towards the Almighty. Usually, the first knot is tied by the groom and the remaining two are tied by the groom’s sister. It is in the form of yellow thread and is smeared with turmeric paste. It is believed to be a symbol of dignity and purity and shows the union of husband and wife. It holds a symbolic promise that the husband and wife will remain together against all odds and evil.
The thaali consists of different elements that go into its making. Each denotes a special aspect and holds great importance. In Tamil culture, the thaali includes gold coins, gold roundels, coral and bottu (resembling the bindi that women wear on their forehead). It is usually bought by the groom’s family. In some cases, they may also add motifs such as the sun, moon, tulsi, Shivalinga, Lord Thiruman, Goddess Meenakshi and so on. With all this, the thaali usually weighs 4-8 grams in 18 carats and 22 carats gold! In spite of all the intricacies that go into the making of the thaali, it usually remains hidden and is not made visible. It is also believed that the thaali should remain close to the woman’s body to absorb any negative vibrations and ward off evil. After three months of the wedding, a thaali pirichu korkum ceremony is conducted along with a number of rituals to change the yellow thread to a gold chain.
There are different varieties of design for the thirumangalyam. One example is the Meenakshi Sundareshwarar thaali which has an embedded design of Lord Sundareshwarar and Goddess Meenakshi. Brides in Andhra wear the bottu thaali which includes the bottu, black beads and coral. People from the Iyer community who are believed to be worshippers of Lord Shiva wear the Shivalinga thaali, whereas Iyengars – the worshippers of Vishnu wear the Thenkalai Naamam Thaali. The Vadakkali Naamam Iyengars who are also worshippers of Vishnu wear the conch and chakra design on their thaali. Nagaarathar brides wear the elaborate kalathiru which has 34 handcrafted items in gold, including pendants of Goddess Lakshmi and the Meenakshi Sundareshwarar icons.
Thaali designs also vary based on the region and sect. The Sokar Meenakshi thaali has the thaali, corals, Lakshmi kaasu or coins and plain kulaai (a piece used to add to the thaali chain). The Aruvai Annam mangalyam set includes the thaali, corals, plain kulaai, Lakshmi kaasu and plain mani or beads. In this way, there are different types that portray the immense cultural diversity in India. Though the thaali may not be regularly worn by many women nowadays, there is no denying its significance in Hindu culture even today.