Wearing Pote as a Newly Married Woman

Nepali Jiwan had an interesting post recently about “The Married Look” and what expectations people in Nepal have for the look of a married women including a few social cues such as tikka, churaa bangles, pote necklaces, nose piercings (for some ethnic groups), and wearing make-up like kajol. I basically left a blog post sized comment on her post, but I wanted to take a few moments to discuss at least one aspect of my new Nepali “married look.”

I’ve written about potes necklaces before, but I want to revisit the topic.

As I noted in the previous post, I occasionally wore potes (pronounced like po-thay) before I got married. P’s aunt, J Phupu, gifted me a necklace in 2008, and 2009, and sent a few more a little after that. The necklaces were generally short, colorful and multi-strand. I would sometimes match them with a saree if I was going to a South Asian party or dressing up for a cultural event at my work. On even rarer occasions I would wear one to the office to dress up an outfit (this makes me sound particularly fashionable, which I’m definitely not). S-di’s daughters would tease me sometimes saying, “Did you get married?” when I wore them because of their use as a marriage symbol in Nepal. They didn’t really have any special meaning for me at the time, other than a gift from P’s aunt, so I didn’t think it was a big deal to wear them before marriage.

Pre-marriage pote wearing examples over the years...

The week after we got married I informally wore red clothes (P’s mom didn’t tell me to do this, but I remembered my friend R being encouraged to wear red for a certain number of days after her wedding as a “naya buhari”, and as I was excited to be married I decided to wear red as well). I dressed up my red outfits with the short red, green and gold colored pote necklace that P’s mom brought for me to wear. It’s a nice necklace, but the Nepali wedding colors of red, green and gold remind me so much of Christmas, especially certain combinations and designs with these colors, that wearing red, green and gold jewelry in July seemed kind of “off-season.” (I’m definitely not a “Christmas all year round!” kind of gal).

Examples of green, red and gold potes hanging in a pote shop near Thamel. To the left are examples of "thin" potes, and to the right and above are examples of "thick" multi-strand potes.

During our second week of marriage I started transitioning into other outfit colors, and picking other potes, but as someone who rarely wore necklaces before, wearing the thick multi-strand short necklaces felt clunky, like I was wearing a tight collar every day. S-di had gifted me a single strand purple and silver pote during Teej 2010, and I started wearing this simpler, single-strand, longer pote on a daily basis, because I could hide it discretely under my shirt if I wanted to, but I still felt that connection of wearing a pote as a married woman.

I didn’t expect to wear pote every day. During those first two weeks I did it because I was excited to be married, and thought it was a nice nod to P’s mother’s traditions. I thought eventually I would probably stop. Then Mamu started talking about how my two very close Nepali friends—AS and R—both married to Nepali men, didn’t seem to wear “any signs of marriage.” AS wears a wedding ring every day, which to me is a sign of marriage, and R occasionally wears bangles, but neither wore pote or tikka daily, two signs that Mamu seemed really surprised about.

After hearing her talk about this a few times, I figured I would wear pote while she was staying with us, so that she would feel more satisfied that I was showing signs of being married in a Nepali fashion, but I didn’t like wearing the thick short necklaces all the time, and continued wearing the thin purple/silver necklace, even when it didn’t match anything.

The next time I visited R I asked her if she had any simple pote, very plain necklaces that I could wear inconspicuously. She said that the last time her mother visited she was also concerned that R wasn’t wearing pote as a sign of marriage, and had brought several simple ones for her to wear. She hadn’t made it a habit of wearing them, and said if I wanted to take one or two I could. I picked up two of the plainest necklaces: one that had pale pink and pale clear-yellow beads that basically blended in with my natural skin tone and another that had alternating tiny red and yellow beads that could blend with almost any outfit.

Sporting my single-strand red and yellow pote while out and about with P's cousin in KTM. In the US I usually tuck the thin pote under my shirt collar to be more inconspicuous, but in Nepal I felt more compelled to pull it out in the open to show I "belonged" more.

With my new simple pote, and the few fancier pote I already had, it was easier to find something to wear every day and it became more of a habit. By the time P’s mom was packing her bags to return home, I was putting the necklaces on without even thinking about it before I headed to work each morning, or slipping one over my head on weekends.

While I am in the US I don’t always want to show off the fact that I have on a pote. Most of the people I see don’t know the significance of it, so I wear it more for the significance it holds for me. However when I was in Nepal I found myself wanting to be very overt and intentional in displaying the pote I was wearing. Instead of tucking it under my shirt collar, I was pulling it out and wearing it publically and proudly. It made me feel like I belonged more—that I wasn’t just a tourist walking in Thamel, but someone married to a local person, someone more deeply involved in the culture. It felt like wearing pote was a statement—yeah, I’m a gori wife, “Mero shriman Nepali ho.” [My husband is Nepali].

Individual strands of pote hang waiting to be twisted and tied into proper pote necklaces in a pote shop in KTM

Completed multi-strand pote hanging in a pote shop. To the right are shorter styles, to the left are longer styles.

Actually, when I departed KTM for home, I was still dressed up for Dashain tikka—in the red and dark blue cotton block print salwaar kameez I bought in Delhi while studying there a few years back, the longer multi-strand shiny red pote bought for the bhoj party, the small red tikka sticker between my eyebrows I wore occasionally on my visit, as well as the giant red tikka and jamara grass from Dashain. I have to admit, I kind of liked the looks and surprised expressions I received at the airport—there are lots of tourists that leave Nepal with a simple red tikka, a kata scarf or a marigold garland draped around their neck, you might even see a tourist dressed in local clothing, but I figured you didn’t normally find a foreigner wearing pote, Dashain tikka and jamara grass unless she was part of a real Nepali family.

Mamu and P drop me off at Tribhuvan International Airport in KTM. In this picture you can't really see my thicker red pote well since it blends in with the red of my salwaar kameez, but the longer multi-strand necklace is hiding in between the draped sides of my dupatta scarf

Now that I’m back, I’ve been wearing a few of the thicker, multi-strand, but longer potes that I brought back from Nepal this time, as well as my good old simple single strand ones. I didn’t think I’d like wearing pote all the time, but it’s become kind of my “thing.”

Wearing the same shiny red pote as the previous picture, but it's more visible here. P's two cousins, J Phupu and I sit together after our first round of Dashain family tikka

I just kind of wish I didn’t wear them before marriage so that it would have been a little bit more special.

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9 responses to “Wearing Pote as a Newly Married Woman

  1. I think pote–as long as it’s styled correctly–can look awesome. I’ve always ‘stolen’ my mom’s potes as far as I can remember [I also remember my mom yelling at me saying ‘it’s only for when you get married’–though she stopped somewhere when I turned 14 and just gave up]. Don’t blame you for wearing potes before!

  2. They are so colorful! The potes. Im still figuring out how to pronounce it. I read one of your wedding posts and I went up to my boyfriend saying I too want a tilhari.. and he laughed at the way I pronounced it. It all seems so wonderful and Im already excited, even though I know we’ve got a long way before I can even think of a pote. Another 4-5 years.. luckily if there was no oppression from my parents side. *sigh*
    Lovely post! :)

    • I guess when you say tilhari the “h” is very soft, like till-r-ee, But I have to admit I’m not always the best person to ask when it comes to Nepali pronunciations! ;)

      • Lol thanks, yes he did laugh at me and then taught me. My Nepali is pretty good but some of the words I’ve not heard before leaves me a little confused on how they might be used or pronounced. But Im still very shy at using the language publicly, other than with close friends. :)
        Anyhow.. looking at all those pretty potes.. makes me want to have one. And like you had mentioned, I would love to wear them now as it holds no significance in my culture, but I’d rather wait to give it more meaning :)

      • तिलहरी pronounced as til-a-ha-ri with a soft t…
        Nepali have two different sounds for T. Try biting the tip of your tongue when you say T, that’s the sound you need to pronounce this word. Yes you will sound funny when you replace that with T as in tea.

  3. I didn’t realize mamu noticed I wasn’t wearing pote or tika! My mom’s coming tomorrow, I am sure she’ll say the same thing. S’s mom has never said anything to me though out here because I guess his sister also doesn’t wear them. But if I go to Nepal, I will have to put bangles and stuff so ppl see that I am married but nobody cares about the wedding ring…

  4. Ive very rarely seen anyone in Australia wearing pote on a daily basis.
    I love the bead bazzar in KTM and think pote are really beautiful, but its not often that I find an outfit they compliment especially the large long ones. The glass bangles are lovely as well, I love the noise they make, but they constantly break, so they just sit in a box in my wardrobe.
    I didnt realise that the single strand necklaces were a symbol of marriage for years and could never understand why my family were always sending me them as gifts, until a Nepali friend questioned why I had so many but never wore them and finally it made sense. My favourite is one made out of tiny seed pearls Im not sure if its traditional, can pote only be made of glass beads ? maybe someone knows the answer.

    • I think I’ve seen a few others made out of small pearls, but I’m not sure if “real pote” can only be glass beads or not. Perhaps someone else will know?

  5. I like the idea that you can wear any one you want! That’s how I am with wedding rings. I usually wear my actual engagement/wedding ring, and I always wear something on my wedding finger, but I have several other funky rings I wear on it (I don’t like the feel of rings on more than one finger).
    I’ve been wearing my mangal sutra a lot lately. It’s partially because I’ve been wearing very simple clothes, and the mangal sutra blings it up, and partially because when I don’t feel good, I go for jewelry that’s easy and comforting. I feel like it’s probably a bad idea to wear everyday, though, because there’s a *lot* of gold on it (how they made up for me saying I didn’t want diamonds in the pendant), so it’s probably too risky and a little pretentious looking (although I *love* it). I keep meaning to buy a few costume ones to trade in and out, but I don’t know if it would be the same. Maybe I’ll get a costume one to wear in India, though.

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