India: Indian woman

Front view
Front view

General description Married Indian woman in a festive red chiffon nivi sari standing on a wooden pedestal

Dimensions 19 x 7.5 x 7 cm

Date when acquired 1990s

Original Date 1990s


India, bought by Elizabeth H.



Plastic with painted features and a red bindi between her eyebrows. Her nails are painted red and there is a rows of red lines on her fingers and thumbs, most probably signifying simple henna tattoos. Her hair is black and is tied in the bun at the back of her head.


Back view
Back view


This Hindu woman is wearing a red chiffon sari draped in the popular nivi style. The sari is edged with a gold border made of foil. She is wearing a high-necked golden blouse with elbow-length sleeves. Part of the sari, the pallu, is draped over her head.

She is wearing painted-on red shoes.



Around each wrist she has two gold bangles. A gold chain with a stylised lotus flower is around her neck. She has ear-rings in both ears, each made of a white bead and a blue five-petalled flower.


Close up showing bindi and lotus flower
Close up showing bindi and lotus flower

Background information

This doll is clothed in red, which is symbolically significant as the colour red is considered holy in India. It plays an important role in Hindu customs and beliefs. The overall implications of this colour are universal even though the castes, beliefs and rituals may differ between the various religious sects in India. Red denotes bravery, protection, strength, honour, love and prosperity. It is symbolic of a certain time, place and action in a person’s life, perhaps the most important one being marriage. A girl’s arrival into her role as a married woman is symbolized by the red henna on her hands and is sealed with a pinch of red powder placed on her head. Matrimonial bliss is represented by a red drape and red accessories.
The doll’s sari is a typical garment used throughout India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. A sari consists of a drape varying from 5—9 yards (4.57—8.23 m) in length and 2—4 feet (0.6—1.2 m) in breadth that is typically wrapped around the waist, with one end draped over the shoulder, baring the midriff. It is normally worn over a petticoat, with a fitted upper garment commonly called a blouse (choli). The blouse has short sleeves and is usually cropped at the midriff.

The nivi drape starts with one end of the sari tucked into the waistband of the petticoat. The cloth is then wrapped around the lower body once, then hand-gathered into even pleats below the navel. The pleats are tucked into the waistband of the petticoat. After one more turn around the waist, the loose end (pallu) is draped over the left shoulder either hanging freely, tucked in at the waist, used to cover the head or used to cover the neck by draping it across the right shoulder as well. The navel can be revealed or concealed by the wearer by adjusting the pallu, depending on the social setting. Some nivi styles are worn with the pallu draped from the back towards the front, coming from the back over the right shoulder with one corner tucked by the left hip, covering the torso.

A famous painting (by Raja Ravi Varma) shows the Indian subcontinent as a mother wearing a flowing nivi sari. This doll as a symbol of India is taken further by the stylised lotus flower on her necklace as the lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) is the flower of India. It is considered a symbol of purity.

The woman’s bindi — the red dot between her eyebrows — is an important, though spiritual, symbol, too. Traditionally, the area between the eyebrows is considered to be the sixth chakra, the seat of “hidden wisdom”. The bindi is said to retain energy and strengthen concentration. The bindi also represents the third eye. A red bindi is traditionally worn by married women as red represents honour, love and prosperity as well as protecting the husband and wife.

The doll also has a simple red henna design on the backs of her fingers. Mehndi is variant of henna designs utilised in the Indian sub-continent. It is used by Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Sri Lankan women for festive occasions, such as weddings, religious events and traditional ceremonies.


Source(s) of information



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