Vadungila: How Mangalorean Bunt women wear heritage on their finger

Once worn only by married Bunt ladies, the Vadungila is becoming popular with women outside the community, who find it fashionable

ByV Bhatia

Published Aug 01, 2023 | 10:00 AMUpdatedAug 01, 2023 | 11:26 AM

The V-shaped ring on the finger ring of a woman from the Bunt community is a dead giveaway of her marital status. (Nikhil Shastri)

Watch any soap opera on Indian television and you are bound to spot a character playing a married woman from a mile away. She will have a sindoor smeared in her hair parting, a heavy mangalsutra swinging as she bustles around the house, and an arm full of bangles jingling with her every move.

However, this jewellery is not the playbook for married women across India to proclaim their marital status. The Kashmiri women have their dejhor, the Tamilian ladies their thaali, the Maharashtrian their green glass bangdya, and the Bengalis their sankha-pola.

And of course, there are the Mangaluru Bunt ladies with their Vadungila finger ring and Kaarungila toe ring. This is in addition to their coral-beaded mangalsutra.

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Wearing one’s pride

Ashrita Shetty at her wedding ceremony, adorning the Vadungila.

Ashita Shetty at her wedding ceremony, adorning the Vadungila. (Supplied)

The V-shaped ring on the finger ring of a Bunt community woman is a dead giveaway of her marital status. And it can have various avatars—from a thin gold band or one studded with diamonds.

Typically, the bride is adorned with the Vadungila and Kaarungila. Usually, female relatives from her paternal house present it to her. This could include her sister-in-law (brother’s wife), her maternal uncle’s wife or even her paternal aunt’s daughter.

One of them will gently nudge the jewellery pieces onto the bride’s fingers and toes, which serve as a reminder of the loving family she is now leaving as she embarks on her new married life.

As a young girl, Ashita Shetty remembers noticing her newly married sisters sport the Vadungila after their respective weddings. The unique shape mesmerised her.

“All I thought about it was that it was a miniature of the Vanki. Many brides in the southern part of India wear it. Back then, if you saw this ring on a girl, it indicated that she was married,” Ashita recalls. She calls wearing the Vadungila the highlight of her wedding.

Vadungila can have various avatars—from a thin gold band or one studded with diamonds.

Vadungila can have various avatars—from a thin gold band or one studded with diamonds. (Supplied)

“Whether plain gold or diamond studded, it has immense emotional and traditional value. It stands out amongst the rest of the jewellery that I was gifted, or now own. It is my personal favourite and I feel incomplete if I am not wearing it, especially during religious festivals,” she emphasises.

For Nireeksha Dev Karunakar, the Vadungila holds a special place in her heart; an ornament that serves as a memento of her parents’ love, values and teachings, which she has endeavoured to emulate in her husband’s house.

“Hence, I almost never remove it. But, I was compelled to remove it was during my pregnancy, as it no longer fit my swollen fingers then,” she jokes.

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Rooted in Bunt tradition

Vadungila has now become a style statement.

Chitrakshi Shriyan poses with her Vadungila. (Supplied)

The Vadungila is yet another intrinsic aspect of Mangaluru’s matrilineal Bunt community. Residing in the coastal belt of South Karnataka in a region collectively called Tulunadu, this group follows a caste-free system.

As descendants of the Nagavamsha lineage, they worship snakes as Naga Deva. The Vadungila is yet another form of showcasing this veneration; it symbolises the raised hood of a cobra. The Bunts also believe that wearing the ring will protect the young bride from all unforeseen and unwanted obstacles.

However, many in the current generation of Bunts are oblivious to how deep this belief runs amongst their community members. Chitrakshi Shriyan was one of them.

“I was not aware of its significance until recently and learnt about it from social media. After I learnt about its meaning and the benefits of wearing a Vadungila, I was awestruck. I realised that I was wearing the ring for so long without knowing its importance,” she rues.

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More of a style statement

Many Bunt women nowadays don the Vadungila ring as a style statement. Several others have abandoned the practice after their marriage. On the other hand, those from other communities seem to have taken a liking to it.

Ashita was bemused when she visited a jeweller and overheard non-Bunt ladies ask for references to make Vadungila, which they find a classy fashion accessory.

Aishwarya Rai sported her Vadungila for the Longines ad.

Aishwarya Rai sported her Vadungila for the Longines ad. (Supplied)

This is unsurprising since jewellery has a certain allure that transcends all borders, especially amongst womenfolk. Seeing the elegant Aishwarya Rai, who is also from the Bunt community, pose for a Longines watch ad while wearing her Vadungila, suddenly caught the fancy of many.

If it was good for the beauteous Aishwarya, it was definitely good for them!

But does this also mean that this ages-old tradition is losing its relevance in contemporary times? Is it now relevant as just another fashionable trend?

“Wearing this ring after marriage protects a woman from evil and all kinds of negative energy throughout her married life. I feel we should continue this tradition so that our next generation gets to know its significance,” Chitrakshi emphasises.

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Cross-over of cultures

Vadungila has now become a style statement.

Vadungila has now become a style statement. (Zeppic)

Ashita is happy that the Vadungila cuts across caste and community. There is a growing interest in this tradition — whether it is sported by a Bunt woman or someone who has married into the community.

This even prompted her to dig deeper into the origins of Vadungila. According to her research, centuries ago, when queens from Tulunadu would commence on any new journey, they would wear Vadungila to safeguard them from any evil.

“This is how the tradition developed. On the eve of their marital life, brides were given Vadungila. It was to protect them from any untoward evil lurking in the shadows,” Ashita claims.

Today, Ashita, Nireeksha, and Chitrakshi field questions about their respective Vadungila with aplomb. After all, it remains a proud reiteration of their Tuluva identity.

Some might consider it a fancy piece of jewellery, it is sacred to them. For many other Bunt women, it showcases the timeless traditions of their exclusive lineage.