IVC Symbology – Bangles & Marital Status

Updated 23 Aug 2009 2:50PM – added the Indus signs from Bryan Wells’ paper.

Updated 22 Aug 2009 11:55PM – found the image of the single/double bangle.

FTOTW [Fine Tastings of the Week]

Why we must focus on women for development – a brilliant/heart rending/uplifting article in NYT (Via Ganesh). Programmable Web – a great post on Google’s Pubsubhubub (via @raganesh ).


As many of you know i started working on researching the IVC (Indus Valley Civilization), formally, a month or so back.  Since most researchers are concentrating on the script, i am focusing on the Symbology.

I am writing this post to collect the wisdom of the community  to make the hypothesis into a scientific proof which can pass muster with the research community.   In the Epilog,  I will explain, how you can all help me.

IVC Bangle Hypothesis

Here is my  hypothesis – unmarried women wore bangles only in one arm, whereas married women wore bangles in both arms. The iconography from the IVC is quite sparse but still there seems to be enough evidence for this hypothesis. The famous Dancing Girl of Mohenja Daro. You can see that the statuette has bangles only on one arm.

There is another piece of iconography where 2 men are having a fight ostensibly over the hand of a woman (wears bangles only on one arm).  In this piece, we have another woman, possibly mother goddess, wearing bangles on both arms.  Given that in the same piece of iconography both  bangles on one arm  and  bangles  on two arms are present, it is highly unlikey to be a scribal error [I am trying to find this image on the web for you all to review. Meanwhile Found the image below. Also take a look at the Fig Deity Seal at the bottom of this post – it has women wearing bangles in both arms].

Indus Bangle

There are some burials of women with shell  bangles on only the left arm [The authors of the book also seem to think that one-arm bangles signifies marital status (Via Priya Raju)  ].

I found another instance of this type of burial where the woman had bangles only on the left arm. Don’t know if they are both the same instance. I hope not.

Why does this bangle hypothesis matter?

In the inscriptions , there are several  which have a symbol of a man, having an implement in one arm or in both arms.  Sometimes the implement is seen on  one leg or both legs. For example, see page 71 [reproduced below, click on the pic to expand] of the Bryan Wells’ Indus Script Thesis [Caution: 12MB PDF]. My guess based on the bangle symbology, that having an instrument on one arm/leg signifies someone with less skills/expertise than the one who has it in both arms/legs.

Indus signs

How do we prove this hypothesis?

Even in modern day  India, bangles are an important part of a married women’s attire. The Shankha Pola tradition still continues in Bengal or the Valai Kappu ceremony which is still observed  in South India. However, given the distance in time and space from the IVC, we cannot use practices from modern India as proof. Additionally, we don’t have written records prior to 6th Century BCE, which leaves a gap of 1,000-1,200 years after the downfall of the IVC.

Assuming that tribals have been following their traditions for millennia, we need to find tribals in North Western India who have a similar bangle symbology.  That would be a good enough proof.

I found some tribals – Ekbahia and Ikbainha whose women wear bangles only in one arm. However, it does not seem to indicate marital status.

Thanks to Priya Raju, I found this practice amongst the Ahir Tribes:

Ahir Woman

These people belong to the Gujarati and Rajasthani families – Cherry thinks the woman pictured above is from the Ahir tribe. The bangles would have been gifted to her during the girl’s wedding – they do marry very young. The pastoral tribes cover their entire hand with broad plain bangles made of bone. The unmarried wear them only from the wrist to the elbow whereas the married wear them from the elbow upwards as far up as the underarm. Since these tribes are nomadic and they cannot keep their assets under safe keeping, they wear their saving in the form of jewellery on their person.


From the above, it is quite evident that there is some symbology associated with bangles and marital status. But we still need to find the exact match for the hypothesis to stick.

Can you all help me uncover this? Please pass this to people that are familiar with folk/tribal customs in North Western India. Thanks in advance. Whoever helps me, i will acknowledge them in the paper formally. 


  1. Quote

    Great discussions, Sukumar..going through all the links here….The last time i read so much about IVC was in school; this makes a really great read!

    Once again congratulations on your paper getting selected for the classical Tamil conference, pls do share more details!

  2. Quote

    That was an interesting read Sukumar. I always wondered about bangles. One place I read that the ‘Solah Singar’ – 16 ornaments that a woman can use to beautify herself can be made of any material irrespective of class and other site I read that the material matters as all these adornments are linked to the health of the woman.

    Many Congratulations on making it to the conference and good luck there 🙂

  3. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 19, 2010, 11:11 am:

    Thanks Arvind & Sravya.

  4. Quote
    Srividya said March 19, 2010, 1:47 pm:

    Interesting. Have not heard before about this connecton between bangles and marital status.

    Being a brahmin, we are brought up in such way that girls should wear bangles all the time.

    Congrats on your paper getting selected for Tamil conference.

  5. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 19, 2010, 2:19 pm:

    Thanks Sri.

  6. Quote

    Please have a look at my website; some of the bangles found in IVC sites are engraved with a symbol that I interpret as meaning ‘ten’.

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