Vajra Kutka – Traditional Diamond Earrings
by Rekha Rao Kaval, Mumbai, India
Amongst the Saraswat community , Vajra Kutka and Kashi thali are two pieces of traditional jewellry of great importance and significance for married women. In arranged marriages it is customary that the Vajra Kutaka (diamond earrings) is given by the bride’s side while Kashi thali is given by the groom’s side. This custom is still prevalent in India. Although times have changed bringing in its wake Sangeet, Mehndi and reception and sometimes cocktail parties too. However the expenses for all these functions are normally borne by the bride’s side. This story revolves around one such Vajra Kutka.
In a small hamlet of Karnataka state, Sadanand was living with his wife Sumati , three daughters Nalini, Malini and Shalini and his aged mother. He had a modest job with the postal department as a clerk, but led a contented life. On the whole, they were a happy family.
Sumati would always worry about her daughters as they were growing up and reaching a marriageable age. She knew that although times have changed, customs would not change and the thought of giving Vajra Kutka and gold to all 3 daughters in their marriage would worry her. With the escalating gold and diamond prices, it would be a herculean task for Sadanand to give Vajra Kutka to his three daughters. When she would discuss this problem with her husband, he would laugh it off saying that times have changed and in this 21st century no one would demand diamond earrings for the girls. The custom of giving Vajra Kutka to girls at the time of their marriage was almost extinct. His contention was that if the girls were well educated and decently employed there would not be any conditions for marriage like demanding Vajra Kutka. Sumati would disagree with her husband and believed that ‘all said and done, old customs die hard’.
The First Daughter: Their eldest daughter, Nalini was ordinary looking, not so bright in studies and an average student. She was pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Arts. Sadanand was now actively making matrimonial inquiries for her. As is the normal practice, horoscopes were being matched to find out about the bride and groom compatibility. Finally after matching a few horoscopes, Sadanand finalized an alliance with a local saraswat boy, a civil engineer working in a construction company. When the parents of both bride and the groom met to discuss marriage arrangements, the boy’s father raised the topic of Vajra kutka. As his other daughter in law in the family had these kutkas, he felt that the new daughter in law should also have vajra kutka. Sadanand was terribly disappointed with the demand as he had not provided for this eventuality. At the same time he did not want the marriage to be stalled for want of Vajra Kutka. Sumati consoled her husband and said that she would offer her vajra kutka to Nalini which was given to her by her parents during her marriage to Sadanand. The marriage eventually took place and Nalini was seen off to her in laws with the kutka given by her mother.
The Second Daughter: After Nailini’s marriage, Sumati was now worried about her second daughter Malini. She too was growing up and would soon be of marriageable age. Malini was good looking, charming girl and brilliant in studies. Sumati was skeptical if these qualities would help in getting an alliance where no vajra kutkas are involved as is customary. Having learnt a lesson from the eldest daughter’s wedding, she pleaded with Sadanand that arrangements should be made to prepare Kutkas so as to avoid last minute hitch. Sadanand was again reluctant to concede as his second daughter was smart and good looking. Malini eventually did her Masters in commerce and later completed her advanced course in computer software. She also secured a job in a reputed IT company.
Sadanand and Sumati were now actively looking for a suitable match for Malini. Malini had ‘Moola Nakshatra’ in her birth chart and so the choice was restricted to those boys whose father was not alive. It is a belief that if the girl has ‘moola nakshatra’ it forbodes evil for the would be father in law. After a long search, they found a suitable match for Malini. The boy and the girl met a couple of times and the alliance was finalized. The boy was a chartered accountant and was employed as a finance manager in a Multi National company. During the talks held for finalizing marriage arrangements, ,the boy’s grandmother demanded nothing but the Vajra Kutka as was customary. Although Sumati anticipated this situation, Sadanand did not expect this coming. He had recently spent a large sum of his savings on his wife’s medical treatment and his mother’s surgery. The only option available for Sadanand was to part with his mother’s Vajra Kutka. But these Kutkas were earlier promised to be given to the youngest daughter, Shalini.
The Third Daughter: Shalini was very fond of Anamma’s kutka. Even as a child, she would often pull her annama’s ears and pester her every now and then for her favorite Bamba. Annama would then tell Shalini that her earlobes were too small for the kutkas and that she would gift them to her in her marriage. To this Shalini would say “ amma, please get me married, so that I get Annama’s vajra kutkas. Sumati would then reprimand Shalini for her immaturity. It was then decided that after Annama’s demise her vajra kutka would be given to Shalini. When Anamma passed away, the kutkas were kept for Shalini as per Anamma’s promise.
Sumati was now under great stress at the demand for Kutka for Malini as she could not break Anamma’s promise. Shalini sensed her mother worry. When Shalini came to know of the reason for her mother’s worry, she offered to give Anamma’s vajra kutka and release her mother from the vow given by her to Annama. With the Kutka problem solved , Malini’s marriage was celebrated on a modest scale. Sumati was elated at the selfless gesture of her youngest daughter, Shalini.
After Malini’s marriage, Sadanand household had now only three members including his wife and Shalini. Shalini had opted for science and was in the process of completing her Bachelor’s degree in science. A year later, she graduated. Around the same time, Sadanand’s old friend Vasant happen to be in their town and stopped by their house to visit them. He saw Shalini and at once liked the girl for her amiable nature and modest behavior. Vasant had a marriageable son Prabhakar who was an engineer in a construction company in a nearby city. He asked Sadanand for this daughter’s hand for his son, Prabhakar. If agreed by Sadanand, Vasant would arrange his son to meet Shalini during the weekend and the final decision to get married would be of Shalini’s and Prabhakars’. Sadanand consulted Sumati and agreed to meet Prabhakar. Accordingly, Prabhakar arrived at the weekend. Both Shalini and Prabhakar liked each other and their marriage was fixed. As there were no demands from the boy’s side the marriage was celebrated in a simple ceremony and Shalini was seen off to her in law’s house without vajra kutka.
Shalini soon settled down at her new house and kept herself busy with her daily routine like cooking, knitting etc. She would occasionally travel down the memory lane and recall smilingly her Annama’s words about the Vajra Kutka and all the talk the family had in that connection during her childhood. She once mentioned this incident to Prabhakar in the passing. Prabhakar said that he was aware of the importance of Vajra Kutka in the life of a konkani house wife and promised to buy her a pair in due course. Every year on her birthday he would decide to buy one but for some reason or other , he could never make it. Finally he decided to present her the kutkas on the occasion of their silver wedding anniversary. By that time he would have saved sufficient funds to afford a pair.
But as luck would have it,during the same time, Shalini’s only son ,Rajesh, passed his 12th Board exam and was seeking admission to an Engineering college. As his grades were not up to the mark he was not able to secure admission on merit. But he could get admission in a local private college on payment of capitation fee. He pleaded with his father to arrange for funds as he was keen to make it to the engineering college. Shalini then intervened and told Prabhakar that their son’s future was more important than her Vajra Kutaka and that Prabhakar should make available funds reserved for Vajra Kutka for Rajesh’s engineering college admission. Prabhakar relented and utilized the money saved for Vajra kutka to get Rajesh’s admission to Engineering college. In the process, Shalini again missed out on her vajra kutka for the second time.
Rajesh in due course completed his Engineering Degree exam in 1st class and was selected for a job in a reputed company in the campus interview. Soon Rajesh became a hot commodity in the matrimonial market. While Shalini was seriously considering marriage proposals for Rajesh, he had a different plan altogether. One evening he came home along with a girl named Ritu who was his colleague. He introduced her to his parents. After Ritu left, Rajesh asked his mother if she liked the girl. Shalini could smell the rat and asked Rajesh if he was serious about the girl. When he nodded, Shalini promised to speak to Prabhakar and apprise him of the Rajesh’s choice. Initially Prabhakar was not very pleased with Rajesh’s decision but he finally agreed when Shalini prevailed on him. The marriage preparations started in a full swing. Prabhakar was now firm that Shalini should utilize the occasion to buy her long desired Vajra Kutkas without any further delay. As a would be mother in law it was befitting that she moved about with Vajra Kutka in style. At the next weekend they visited the local jeweler and bought a pair of Vjra Kutkas with five diamonds on each earring. Shalini thought that finally she was the proud owner of the celebrated Vajra Kuka which were eluding her since her childhood.
The same evening when Rajesh came home from work Shalini proudly showed her newly acquired kutkas to him and asked him how he liked them. He was elated at the sight of the glittering Vajra Kutka and without giving much thought said that the Kutkas were exquisite and would suit his Ritu extremely well. Besides Ritu loved Vajra Kutka. He felt Ritu was very lucky to have a mother in law like Shalini who was so considerate that she had bought them even before they were married. He immediately called Ritu and gave her the news. Before Shalini could clarify Rajesh of the misunderstanding, he had already conveyed the news to Ritu.
Rajesh said Ritu was lucky. “True” said Shalini with tears in her eyes. Some are born lucky while some others are so unlucky that even if things come their way they would slip away from their hold giving them ‘chakwa’,true to the proverbial’ slip between cup and lip’. Shalini thought that she was one of them having missed out on Vajra Kutka for the third time in a row.
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PS: This story was originally written in Konkani, but was translated in English for this posting here.