Jennifer Paldano

If there is anyone who strongly attracts attention and admiration towards oneself, then it is certainly a Sri Lankan bride. The Kandyan bride in her traditional costume of the Osariya (sari) and the complementing regalia looks like a queen and, she is certainly the cynosure of all during the wedding ceremony.
Unlike a western bride who would choose the simplest of dresses and the most moderate jewellery, the Kandyan bride opts to be lavish in everything she wears. A grand sari often worked profusely in gold or silver thread, with pearls, stones, beads, and sequins adding an extra sparkle to the already eye catching design. A Kandyan bride will certainly be incomplete if she chooses to drop even the smallest piece of jewellery from the traditional ensemble.

Historians say that a greater part of the Kandyan jewellery exhibits a strong Tamil influence, mainly from South India. This argument can be supported by the fact that the Kandyan Kings of yore married into the ‘Natakkar’ family of South India. (There are two distinctive types of jewellery in Sri Lanka mainly up-country, better known as Kandyan jewellery and low-country). This new bondage brought in many new aspects into the Kandyan Kingdom. Hinduism was practised by those who arrived with the royal entourage. Much of the jewellery worn by the Kandyan bride resembles the ornaments once worn by the Deva Dasees (servants of God) of India. And these women were dancers in the temples of India. They were dressed in the brightest of clothes, with heavy jewellery covering their bodies and their faces made up. Apart from the visible Indian influence, Kandyan bridal jewellery also boasts of distinctive local character.

Both men and women in the Kandyan Kingdom wore jewellery. The men wore gold chains, pendants, girdles and finger rings. Women too wore chains, pendants, girdles and rings in addition to ear-rings and bracelets.

Of the bridal headgear the Nalalpata or the headband is attractive and significant. It is a gold gem-studded forehead plate, traditionally worn by the king and those in his court. The Nalalpata was tied to the forehead of a young prince during the ceremony naming and assuming the royal sword. His name, decided by the astrologer was inscribed on the headband. A Sinhala wedding thus is a grand ceremony, just like a royal event marking the ‘rights of passage’. The Kandyan bride is distinctive from the rest and only she has the privilege of wearing a Nalalpata on her wedding day.

The Nalalpata is placed on the middle of the forehead, with one stem extending down the middle parting of the hair, and another two branches extending across the forehead upto the ear. Traditionally the Nalalpata was a rich piece of jewellery embedded in red stones. But, today, it has many forms and is often left to the imagination of the craftsman.

The bride's neck is one whole mass of chains. Padakkam or the pendants are the important part of the chains. Starting from the Nalalpata pendant, each successive chain shows off beautiful pendants, with typical Sinhala designs. A touch of ‘local flavour’ is visible in these chains. The Peti Malaya is the last and longest chain encircling the rest. Peti Malaya means a garland of flowers or petals. In India, it stood for real flowers which played an important role in Indian festal dress.

The design of the pendants may vary. Some may choose a flower, others animals. The swan or the Hansa is a famous bird design used. The Hansa Puttuva (two, three or more swans with entwined necks) is featured in many works of art in Sri Lanka. In India, the swan is regarded as a "Sacred Goose". The use of the swan design for pendants is significant and symbolic. The swan stands for purity, beauty and is auspicious. In Sinhala poetry the swan is likened to a woman’s breasts.

Agasthi Malaya is a chain made of agate. Some chains have seeds placed at intervals along the chain. Gedi Valalu or the bangle of fruits is made up of various local seeds strung on a wire. It is in these pieces of jewellery that the goldsmith has utilized local material. Seri Valatu is a broad bangle with three smaller bangles joined together.

The ear-rings of course clearly indicate their Indian origin. These ear-rings are known as Dimithi with the shape of an over-turned cup. The ear-rings are enhanced with tiny pearls dangling from the Dimithi. The two ear-studs from which the Dimithi flow, are studded with "odd" numbers of stones. Sri Lankans are extremely superstitious when it comes to numbers. Hence, any piece of bridal jewellery or for that matter any jewellery is not made with even numbered stones. Odd numbers are always considered lucky. The number seven is considered a magical number in our tradition; from food to jewellery, number seven crops up in every Sinhala event. Thus, the Kandyan bridal jewellery also consists of seven pendants.

Some brides wear armlets as well. Armlets are worn to ward off ill luck. However, the armlet can be more eye- catching when it is made of gold or silver and is studded with gems. Belonging to the headgear are symbols of the sun and the moon placed elegantly on either side of the head, divided by the Nalalpata. They are symbols of eternity and thus, when a bride wears them, they stand for an everlasting and fulfilling relationship of the couple. The figure of the sun and moon are among the one hundred and eight Magul Lakunu or auspicious symbols (Himaliyan forest, filled water pots, flowers, cobra hoods, Swasthika, ear-rings, umbrellas etc.) The sun and the moon are often invoked as guardian and protector especially by those who cultivate the soil.

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