” My neighbour bought a big bangle weighing three sovereigns (24 grams) and a chain weighing two sovereigns (16 grams). Some women are just lucky.”, said our maid one day. This line is a reflection of the average Malayali’s obsession with gold.
While traveling through Kerala, you will notice how most women wear thick gold chains, big ear rings and gold bangles. It is so central to their existence that some women feel that their dressing is incomplete if they have not worn at least some gold jewellery. And one cannot leave our menfolk far behind, you can notice some of them flaunt their chunky gold chains and equally thick or sometimes thicker bracelets. It somehow makes him feel a lot superior to the ones who do not have it.
One might wonder, what do people who can’t afford it do. They make do with gold-plated jewellery which is a lot cheaper than actual gold but looks exactly like original gold. Only a trained eye can tell a rolled gold chain from an actual gold chain. And the former comes in a variety of designs , some complete with intricate work and encrusted with stones that give the impression of gem stones or crystals.
If this is everyday life, then you can imagine the scene during a wedding.Though the trend is changing, if a bride is not covered in gold for her wedding, she is looked down upon by her extended family, relatives, neighbours and even other people who might not even know her from Adam.
Weddings and other important occasions are used as an opportunity to display one’s wealth and what better way to do it than to cover the bride from head to feet in gold. Many brides have complained that they could barely move their neck because of the weight of the ten necklaces that she was wearing and that her hands felt five times heavier because she was wearing bangles almost up to her elbows. Despite its importance in establishing the status of the family, modern, progressive Malayali brides have begun to insist on wearing just one neck piece in the form of a big broad gold or diamond necklace and one bride became famous because she chose not to use any gold or diamond jewellery for her big day.
The popularity of gold among Malayalis can be seen in the number of jewellery shops throughout the state. From big brands in the gold industry in Kerala, to the tiny local jewellery shop owner, they all have one thing in common, their shops are flooded with people trying to buy this favourite yellow metal.
Even when gold prices shot up, there was barely any place to stand in some of the famous jewellery shops in Kerala because of the number of people who decided to invest in gold. That is another important reason why the Malayali buys gold. Gold has been used as a hedge against inflation and is the time-tested solution for financial emergencies, it can either be pawned or sold. So every wise Malayali mother tells her children that they should invest in gold, even if they can buy very little, to buy it anyway.
On one side as the number of gold shops mushroom in the state, on the other side, are the sad stories of men who beat their wives and sell their gold to buy alcohol and of poor fathers who struggle to make money to buy gold because the society is not very accepting of brides who cannot bring much gold as part of her bridal trousseau.
Whatever the case maybe, like what the older people in our society would say “gold will always be gold” and Kerala has a whole range of interesting gold jewellery from exquisite handmade traditional patterns to the more trendy, contemporary designs that is worth taking a look at and even buying if you feel like it.