The undocumented Indian tradition of candied jewellery for Makar Sankranti

The undocumented Indian tradition of candied jewellery for Makar Sankranti

An Indian expatriate’s memory of halwa dagine and how she preserves the winter tradition

Halwa Dagine
Halwa Dagine Image Credit: Supplied/Gitjanjali Damodare

Dubai: Everyone uses sugar in their coffee or dessert, but sugar to make jewellery? You read that right. Women in the western Indian state of Maharashtra celebrate Sankranti, a winter harvest festival with a unique tradition. They wear halwa dagine, or jewellery made using sugared candies. Here halwa means sugared candies, and dagine means jewellery in the Indian regional language Marathi.

Gulf News Food team caught up with a 30-year-old Indian expatriate from Maharashtra, Geetanjali Damodare. She explained the tradition: “Halwa dagine is worn by newly-wed women on Sankranti. On this day, women of the household and neighbouring houses gather, dressed in festive black nine-yard sarees (a traditional Indian attire, with pleats). Then, they exchange haldi (turmeric powder), kumkum (vermillion powder) and gifts amongst themselves. They also eat sweets called til gul, made of jaggery and sesame seeds.”

Gitanjali Damodare

“We also exchange a celebratory greeting, which goes by ‘til gul ghya aani gud gud bola’, which translates to eat sweet treats and speak kindly.” The saying symbolises strengthening relationships by saying kind words and doing good deeds.

When Damodare moved from Mumbai, India, to Dubai in November 2019 after her marriage, she was looking forward to celebrating the festival for the first time in the UAE. However, she has not celebrated Sankranti and worn halwa dagine yet. “I could not celebrate it here because the festival requires a gathering of women, and I cannot have that here, as I would, back at home (India).” This has not deterred her festive spirit, and she looks forward to wearing halwa dagine on Sankranti whenever she can visit home (India) and wishes it is soon.

The dying art form and its preservation

A few online resources or historians talk about halwa dagine. It is one of those traditions passed down orally from one generation to another, with little to no documentation of its history or origin. For Damodare, she grew up seeing women in her neighbourhood wear and make this candied jewellery. A mechanical engineer by qualification, she enjoys arts and crafts, and that's how she got drawn to making halwa dagine early. She found making these unique jewellery pieces fascinating and felt responsible for carrying forward this tradition, which is fading away.

Damodare makes halwa dagine at her Dubai residence. “I learnt to make these pieces of jewellery from my friend’s mother back in Mumbai and also used to retail it.” The art form is not complicated but does require patience and time.

It is easy to make halwa dagine at home as it requires very few ingredients. Damodare explained that all you need is sesame seeds, sugar and water. First, prepare the sugar syrup and then using a spoon or ladle, drop them on sesame seeds. They will begin to form into a shape like small balls with sharp peaks. Make enough of these peaked balls, depending on the design of the jewellery you are making and then stick them together to form the structure.

You can either make a jewellery set consisting of a neckpiece, earring, nose ring or even design a standalone piece. Any jewellery worn from head to toe can be made using sugared candies. Standalone jewellery pieces such as necklaces, pairs of earrings, bangles, kamar band or waistbands, upper armbands, bracelets are also popularly worn by women celebrating their first Sankrant after marriage.

Can you eat these earrings?

Yes and no. That’s right. Damodare explained that these jewellery pieces were made using edible glue many years back or simply stuck together when still warm. However, with time and demand for newer designs, halwa dagine makers started using non-edible adhesives. So, not all halwa dagine these days are edible. The non-edibles are usually disposed near a religious site or immersed in water, after their first use. Since they are made with sugar, they melt away.

A small Instagram community keeping #halwadagine alive

Unlike the popularity of other Indian festive traditions, Halwa Dagine remains largely undocumented. Damodare said: “It is prevalent in Maharashtra, but this art form and celebration is dying.”

Sighting a possible reason, she added: “Many newly-wed women are not able to celebrate Sankranti and wear halwa dagine because, like me, they are all far away from their home.” However, a small community on Instagram keeps this tradition alive, and maybe this will become a trend, too, just like other viral social trends. []

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