In Coorg, legend has it that when an irate Kaveri left her husband the sage Agasthya, the Kodavas implored her to stay. She was adamant on leaving but promised to be with them always in the form of a river, nourishing their land and giving them sustenance. When she left the force of her current turned the pleats of the Kodava women’s saris around. To date, Kodava women wear their saris with the pleats behind, with one end of the sari pulled under their left arm and pinned over the right shoulder.
Kodava brides wear their bridal saris in a similar fashion. With a long sleeved blouse and a veil called a musku, elaborate Benarasi silks with motifs in shades ranging from red to magenta are the preferred option, even for most brides of today. It is customary for a bride to wear either her mother’s or grandmother’s sari, most of which are preserved carefully over the years. Our family to date uses my great-grandmother’s veil; tissue thin and delicate, yet surprisingly strong and witness to many weddings in the family.
Tradition dictates the jewellery that the bride wears. Considered a tribute to the seven rishis who did penance at Talakaveri in ancient times and to receive their blessings, Kodava brides of old wore seven ornaments on their hair, seven earrings, seven chains around the neck, seven bangles and bracelets on their hands and seven ornaments for their feet. Modern Kodava brides do wear similar traditional jewellery, but it is increasingly rare to find a bride who wears all the seven prescribed ornaments for her head, ears, neck, hands and feet.
Kodava jewellery is inspired by nature and it is common to see patterns and designs representing the sun, moon, flaura and fauna. The jewellery is typically hollow, characterised by delicate repousse work–a method in which the metal is beaten from the inside into a desired shape or pattern. Gold studded with precious stones is primarily the metal of choice with silver being used only for the hands and feet.
The bride wears a pendant on her forehead and decorating her braid are seven gold ornaments of diminishing sizes, the most striking of them being a medallion that represents the sun and another which is crescent shaped representing the moon. For her ears, she wears hanging gold earrings studded with diamonds, rubies and pearls known as jhumkas with gold chains attached to her hair.
She has seven necklaces–the pathak; a gold coin set with corals, surmounted by a serpent head, symbolic of fertility, the paavale maala; a coral and gold necklace placed on her neck by her mother the evening before the wedding and the joomale; a necklace of finely crafted gold beads strung on black thread. She also wears the kokkethathi; a chain with a unique crescent shaped pendant, the showstopper of all her jewellery. This pendant bears an uncanny resemblance to the ‘boat’ design that occurs frequently in classical Greek jewellery of the 4th and 5th century BCE. The adige; a ruby choker with a matching pendant, the paunsara or a chain of gold coins and the chengole; a thick gold chain complete the set of ornaments around her neck.
On her hands she wears numerous traditional bangles known as kadagas, some of which are designed ergonomically to hug the wrist and not cause discomfort to the wearer. The pimbale is worn first, followed by the jodi kadaga and the paunchi; a spiky bracelet inspired by the jackfruit, interspersed with numerous red and black glass bangles and other gold bracelets.
The most fascinating pieces of jewellery that a Kodava bride wears are the silver chains on her hands and feet, called the kaisara and the kaalpili. Both these ornaments have characteristic rings attached to delicate silver chains that link to a bangle around the wrist or ankle as the case maybe. The intricacy of the design adds to the overall grace that the bride exudes.
The Kodava bride’s attire is practical and alluring at the same time. A throwback to the old days when people had to walk long distances through dense forests and perhaps face unexpected attacks from rival clans or wild animals. With her pleats safely out of the way and all corners of the sari pinned in place, it does allow unhindered movement. And embodies the traditional Kodava way of life: both spirited and practical.