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In Hinduism, brides wear Mangal Sutra to signify that they are married. Additionally, the use of sindoor, red kumkum powder also applied along the parting of the hair, is also worn by married women. These are all symbols that signify that a woman is married.

Why don't such symbols exist for men?

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    I doubt there's a real answer for this. Mangalsutra is a symbol for married women. I can recall old woman's talk - earlier men used to wear toe ring to indicate they're married, but that practice is no more. My understanding is that any Shringar (Makeup) look good on women as they used to be housewives and men had to go to work. – AksharRoop Jun 20 '14 at 9:07
  • @AksharRoop You are just feeling insecurity that you will have to wear a toe ring :P lol. I am kidding. Btw, thats not the point. I am just asking, if women have to signify they are married, why not men? – user3459110 Jun 20 '14 at 10:04
  • Yes, nice question, but I feel this is similar to why brahmin/vaishnav women do not wear Janoi (sacred thread), why only men do? I'd be surprise to see if there is a real answer which you can mark as an answer. – AksharRoop Jun 20 '14 at 10:28
  • Women don't wear sacred thread because the thread is just a symbol of initiation into the varna. Everyone is born sudra but are initiated into brahmana, vaishya or kshtiya varna with the thread ceremony. Men are initiated and the wives automatically come into the varna. I wouldn't say this is gender discrimination but division of functions/roles. – Bharat Jun 20 '14 at 17:49
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    the scared thread for unmarried men clearly has fewer strands than that for married men, who have fewer than those with children. And given that men's upper body was not fully covered, and that the thread was visible, this was an indication. So there was no need for a "mangalasutram". BTW, women also would have been allowed the sacred thread, during pujas, "Yagnon pavita dhaarana" is common for the Goddesses and Gods. The interesting question would be when and why was it stopped? – tpb261 Jun 22 '14 at 19:13
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First a small clarification from Wikipedia entry

Contrary to false impression generated in recent decades by Indian movies and TV soap opera, the practice does not exist in every part of India, nor is it an integral part of a marriage ceremony.

Apart from the mangala sutra, the toe rings (bichhua), kumkum, bangles, nalla pusalu (black pearls) and nose ring form six symbols that may indicate that a woman is married.

So when we say Mangal Sutra, we mean any of the above symbols that indicate marriage status.

Coming to the question, I think it has to do with prevalence of Polygyny. A man could have many wives, but not otherwise. So women would need an indication for their marital status, a "taken" tag if we may call it. Where as men don't need any.

As I said this is just my guess, have no references.

Edit:

Mangala Sutra is integral part of Hindu Marriage.

This practice is an integral part of a marriage ceremony as prescribed by Manusmriti the traditional law governing Hindu marriage.

Polyandry also existed in Hinduism but it was less prevalent when compared to Polygyny.

  • How come then, Draupadi had five husbands? I think that conclusion is flawed. – Pawan Jul 15 '14 at 4:32
  • @Pawan how many more references can you cite for polyandry? I know it existed but it was not prevalent. – Tejesh Alimilli Jul 15 '14 at 8:35
  • not many, but then i am not an expert on the topic, i just pointed out that it was a flawed conclusion to draw. Since you appended the same to your answer i feel it is more complete. – Pawan Jul 15 '14 at 16:27
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It's not about keeping it fair that even men should wear some form of accessory indicating they are married. Wearing a mangal-sutra is a tradition similar to a sister tying a rakhee on her brother's wrist to remind him of his duty to protect her. Even in that case, there is no equivalent of rakhee that a sister has to wear.

I hope that answers the question.

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The Mangal-sutra can be a symbol of monogamous human pair-binding. Early Hindu society was a matriarchy where children were referred using their mother's name. For example, son of Radhya was called Radheya, son of Krithika was called Karthikeya. This was because, in many cases polygamy was prevalent and a women didn't really know who the father of the child was. One could be sure who the mother was as she gave birth to the child. When monogamous relationships evolved, the men had to take responsibility for the children they fathered. This created a sense of ownership. When men tie the mangal sutra, it instilled in them a sense of duty. It also made it clear to other men that the woman is another man's wife and he shouldn't mate with her. This answers why only woman wear a symbol signifying that they are married.

There is also a story that all girl children were considered the property of devas as soon as they were born and men had to symbolically win them and hence tie the mangal sutra.

This blog series on "Brief History of Hindu Marriage" explains many rituals surrounding marriage.

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    I don't think that is completely true. Son of Vasudev was called Vaasudev as well. I think the society was never clearly matriarchal or patriarchal but rather balanced. – Pawan Jul 15 '14 at 4:37
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I think because married women have to always look good and as they liked to be well groomed for their husband they do wear these symbols. In past Bindi (tilak) and earrings were mandatory for men too but as the civilisations developed women's eagerness to always look well groomed increased and in men it deceased. Thats why women wear so many things: mangalsutra, sindoor, bindi, earrings, colourful bagles and toe rings etc. and slowly made them a standard for a married women.

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Mangal sutra is one of the seven symbols that indicate a woman is married, whereas married men have only one (a toe ring).

These symbols are stripped away when the husband dies

It is not mandatory for the bride to wear the mangal sutra either, only the kumkum on the forehead is.

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Things like 'Mangalsutra' and 'Sindoor', worn only by married women, must have started out as a way for women to feel safe (signifying that they are not 'available') and later became a mandatory ritual over time. Then it makes some sense why such things never happened for men.

Also, like all parts of the world, indian society was (is partly even now) acutely male dominated. There are many rituals which were biased and unfair to women like 'Sati'. This male dominance would have resulted in many simple rituals turning into torture for women. Like in case of 'Mangalsutra' and 'Sindoor', stripping them off a woman while she's grieving for her husband's death.

  • Was Sati prevalent universally among all Hindus? I don't think so. It was hardly practiced by Tamil Hindus and mostly only by Bengali Hindus. Can't really say Sati was mandated ritual against women. – Bharat Jun 27 '14 at 4:46
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    The Rg-Veda contains a famous passage mentioning Sati – and preventing it. To a widow who is with her husband on his funeral pyre, the text says: rise up, abandon this dead man and re-join the living (10:18:8). – Bharat Jun 27 '14 at 4:48
  • i just wanted to point out the male bias since the question mainly asks why something considered mandatory for women is not expected of men... i'm sure you'll find a similar (biased) ritual in any flavor of hinduism or in general in any religion – Swapnil Luktuke Jun 27 '14 at 4:50
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Men too have some symbols but it varies according to customs. In brahmins I have watched some sampradayas where brahmacharis wear dhoti without kacche and after marrying they wear dhotis with kacche. I have also watched they start to wear two or more yajnopaveetas after marriage.

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