Dolls from India

Here are three dolls that were made in India that are currently housed at the Anthropology Museum at Temple University. Based on the dolls physical appearance, what are some aspects of Indian culture we can learn about? 

This doll is wearing a nose and ear piercings as well as bracelets and necklaces. What is the cultural significance of jewelry in India? 

In India, jewelry holds plenty of symbolic meaning. Brides will cover themselves in jewelry representing the act of marriage. On other occasions, men and women will wear jewelry as a way to ask for protection from certain Gods and Goddesses. 

The traditional clothing for a woman is called the Sari. A Sari is a large piece of fabric which is wrapped around a woman’s body to make a dress. The way the fabric is wrapped depends on the region from which the woman is from. 

This red dot (it can also be black) is most commonly known as a bindi and it is located between the eyebrow because this is where the crown chakra, or the “third-eye” chakra, is located. The third chakra is believed to be the eye intuition, spirituality and inner wisdom. Therefore, the bindi is worn to enhance the power that the crown chakra provides. 

Female doll from India

Photo: Temple Anthropology Museum

It is very common for men in India to wear turbans. Turbans are worn by individuals to help keep their heads cool and sheltered from the hot dry weather of India. However, the significance and style of the turban varies among the different cultural groups in India. Among the Sikh culture, men are prohibited from cutting their hair and will wear the turbans in order to take care of it. Among the Rajasthani people, turbans are worn to indicate a person's status in society. Based on the style of the turban that this doll is wearing, it seems like the turban is from the Sikh culture. 

This doll is holding a racket and what looks like a birdie, objects that are used to play badminton. This is not very surprising considering badminton, known as Poona in India, originated in India and it is the second-most played sport in the country. 

 A dhoti is a loose skirt that is wrapped around the lower half of the body to resemble pants. They are commonly worn without a shirt (as seen in Figure 2) by men who live in rural areas and spend their day in the hot weather to keep their body cool. There are also formal dhotis that may be worn in special occasions, like weddings.

Male doll from India

Photo: Temple Anthropology Museum

Male doll from India

Photo: Temple Anthropology Museum

How can children or individuals who are not familiar with Indian culture learn from these dolls? 

Although these three dolls only represent a small portion of customs and beliefs in India, their physical appearance did give away several aspects of the culture. By looking at these dolls, a child (or anyone who is not familiar with Indian customs and beliefs) can learn what they may be expected to believe in and look like.

References

Briseno, Terri. “How Indian Traditions Work.” HowStuffWorks, HowStuffWorks, 25 July 2011, people.howstuffworks.com/culture-traditions/national-traditions/indian-tradition2.htm. 

Jah, Shuvi. “The Purpose of the Bindi.” Hindu American Foundation, 21 Sept. 2020, www.hinduamerican.org/blog/the-purpose-of-the-bindi/. 

Mehta, Shivam. “Meaning of Turban in Indian Culture.” Sanskriti, 4 July 2015, www.sanskritimagazine.com/culture/meaning-of-turban-in-indian-culture/. 

“Women and Jewelry: The Tradition of Wearing Jewelries in Hindu Culture.” The NYU Dispatch, 10 June 2018, wp.nyu.edu/dispatch/women-and-jewelry-the-tradition-of-wearing-jewelries-in-hindu-culture/. 

Nag, Utathya. “India in Badminton History: A Starring Role in a Meteoric Rise.” History of Badminton in India: The Complete Guide, Olympic Channel, 23 Nov. 2020, www.olympicchannel.com/en/stories/features/detail/indian-badminton-history-rules-players-sport-game/. 

Temple Anthropology Laboratory and Museum 

Gladfelter Hall- Lower Level, Temple University

1115 Polett Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19122

anthlab@temple.edu

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