Sunday, February 16, 2014

India: The Ladakhi Perak

The Ladakhi Perak - the most important piece of jewelry worn by married women has religious and ritualistic symbolism embedded within it and is the most visible signature of Ladakhi identity. While Peraks made of mainly of black lamb skin, stitched turquoise and embellished with other materials such as coral, silver, lapis, pear and amber, covering the head like a cobra's hood and tapering... to a thin tail reaching down the backare. Rows of turquoise are often enhanced by a prominent ga’u, an amulet box sewed onto the center of the headdress. Though they are worn all over Ladakh, every region has a specific variation. Rank & economical status is shown with number number of front-to-back rows of turquoise and lapis lazuli stones: nine rows for the queen of Leh (the Ladakh capital), seven rows for the more modern aristocracy, five for the marvels, and three for the lower ranks. The perak traditionally signified the wealth of the mother, which was passed along to her daughter when she married and left home to live with her husband. The family would make additional headdresses for second and third daughters when they married. The perak, according to Aggarwal, identifies the woman’s body with the lu, the subterranean, serpentine deities that protect the human world. Since the headdresses channel divine protection to humanity, their owners had to wear them at public and ceremonial functions, particularly when they visited festivals or monasteries. The women carried their personal wealth on their heads; they only took them off at night, though they still kept on their braids and earflaps while they slept. The braids were only undone once a month when another woman, a specialist in performing proper rituals, came to unwind, wash and clean hair. The Ladakhis believed that the headdresses should be worn whenever women crossed streams or even went outdoors during the growing season, so the soil and woods would not be harmed. Loose, exposed hair on a woman was considered to be a sign of overt sexuality, something women avoided.

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