Indra Chowk is a traditional market in old Kathmandu, tucked away in a tiny alley-like intersection of streets between Durbar Square and the tourist neighborhood of Thamel. Even though it spreads only along several hidden back lanes, the market is Nepal’s largest glass-beads necklace bazaar. Even today, the tradition of bead making in this vibrant market is still very alive. Hindu women go there to buy their necklaces before getting married.
Once you arrive at Indra Chowk, you will notice tiny glistening stalls of colorful glass bead (pote) strands. Workers here weave colorful glass bead necklaces in front of their customers. The typical necklaces sold in Indra Chowk are known as pote (pronounced potay in Nepali). Sometimes the market may also be called the historical Potey Bazaar or the Pote Market.
The process of weaving glass beads necklaces
Weaving glass beads necklaces is fascinating process. Women go to Indra Chowk, pick their strands, and have a wedding necklace made on the spot. They sit on a chair in front of the shop while the shopkeepers string the necklace bead by bead. When the necklace is almost finished, the bead stringer will have several threads between his toes. Finally, he winds a thread around these threads and finishes the necklace.
Another essential element in the pote is the golden Tilauri bead, which is usually handmade by one of the many goldsmiths on the next street over from the Pote Bazaar. The pote vendors do not make the tilauri beads but add them to the pote necklace. A tilauri bead in the middle of a pote necklace is a marital symbol, akin to Western wedding rings.
Owing to its relation with the wedding season, Indra Chowk is used to seeing many customers during the month of Shrawan, which is an auspicious month for weddings. It is believed that a girl who gets married at the peak of the Monsoon will be blessed with many healthy children as the rains are inherently related to fertility rituals.
The symbolic significance of the Pote
Beads are an essential part of a woman’s attire in Nepal. Pote or glass beads hold a significant place in the Nepali culture and the life of married women. Traditionally, the pote is a long necklace made of colorful glass beads with the color red, and symbolizes the married woman.
A woman starts wearing a pote from the day of her wedding when the groom puts it on her. So if one sees a woman wearing a pote, it means that she’s married. A wedding pote might be long, worn like a sash hanging to one’s hip.
The pote also symbolizes good luck for married women, and it is worn only by those women whose husbands are alive. Widows are not allowed to wear a pote, nor are divorced ones.
Traditions and beliefs about the pote
Different ethnic groups in the Kathmandu valley have different beliefs about how one should wear their pote. The pote is believed to be connected with good luck. Some say that if the married do not wear a pote, it might bring bad luck to her husband, and even get him killed. This is one of the reasons why women never take out the pote, sometimes not even at night. Even while changing the pote, they wear the new necklace first and only then take out the older one.
Usually, women wear a single-string pote, but special potes are worn during festivals or occasions. Brahmin and Khastriya women wear pote all year along. The Gurungs wear it only during Lhosar (their New Year), which is green.
Other variants of necklaces include the Tilhari. Tilhari is a long necklace with more than one string of pote with a gold tilauri pendant in the middle. It can be worn like a garland or sideways, slung from the right shoulder and passing through the left arm. The husband puts it around his wife’s neck at their wedding.
The pote during Tihar
Suppose you are lucky enough to be in Kathmandu during Tihar. In that case, the marriage beads usually sold at Indra Chowk are sold all over Kathmandu during that week. Like an annual jewelry refresh, women get their marriage mangalsutra restrung at the bead stalls during Tihar.
So for most of the year, you’d probably only go to Indra Chowk to get the beads, but around Tihar, you can get them in many other places, like Patan Durbar Square, and more.