So you got married in Goa the other day, said “I do” and are now proudly sporting your wedding ring. On the fourth finger of your left hand. Technically the third finger of your left hand because the first one is a thumb and the ring finger flaunting your wedding ring is actually the third finger. But why is it there and not on the first second or the last finger? Why is that finger called the ring finger?
In the first place, wedding rings are an age old symbol of love and can claim a multi-million sentiment with them in your heart. However there is little or no historical trace of when and how this tradition of wearing rings on the ring finger actually started. Certainly there is a definite sense of symbolism and meaning attached to the tradition for the ring to be worn on the fourth finger and this article is aimed at uncovering some of that.
There is a school of thought that the tradition of exchanging of wedding rings comes from the middle east region of Egypt where reeds and sedges growing by the papyrus tree were known to be twisted and braided to shape up into rings for women to wear in that era. The circle symbolized a sense of eternity with no beginning or the end. The hole or the inside ring space also had a wider meaning as it was considered as a road to things and events known and unknown. A ring to a woman therefore implied a sense of never ending immortal love.
Very soon the materials from which these rings were made changed and soon there were rings made from leather, bone or even from ivory. As is common even today, the more expensive the material, more is the love shown to the recipient of the ring. The value of the ring also reflected the wealth of the person who gave it.
The Romans who later were ruling Egypt also embraced this custom but with their own sense of understanding. Instead of offering it as a gesture of love it was given as a symbol of ownership. So Roman men would have claim over a woman by giving her a ring. Romans are known to be among the first to engrave their rings and their betrothal rings were known to be made of iron.
It was as late as 1860 when Christians adopted the rings in marriage ceremonies. However the rings were not the kind of rings that we see today. Rather they were highly decorative with either linked hands, lyres or doves. Only in the thirteenth century after the church admonished such rings did the rings get more simplified with a spiritual look with the Bishop calling it as the “symbol of a union of hearts”.
In the different eras of history, wedding rings have been worn on different fingers by different people in various parts of the world. Some have even worn it on the thumb and both the right and the left hand have been used to wear wedding rings. However in a tradition which is believed to originate from the Romans, the wedding ring is worn on the fourth or rather third finger(the first being the thumb) of the left hand because it is believed that a vein in that finger, known as the “Vena Amoris” or the “vein of Love” is directly connected to the heart. While this may be still unproven, it has however been regarded as the prime reason for the wedding ring to be worn on the fourth finger of your left hand thereby christening that finger as the ring finger.
Of course there are other theories too. One of them seems pretty probable. They say in Christian marriages, as the priest recited the sign of the cross, in saying ” in the name of the father, the son and the Holy spirit” he would take the ring and touch the thumb, the index finger and the middle finger while whispering “Amen”. He would then place the ring directly on the ring finger. This appeared to be a natural flow of a ceremonial practice which is believed to seal the marriage in the kind of solemnity it deserves.
There is also yet another theory and this has got to do with practicality of life. In that , gold, which is the traditional metal used for wedding rings, being a soft metal if worn on the left hand is lesser prone to being damaged or worn-out due to the fact that most of the world is right handed. Also the fourth finger of the left hand is in all probability the second of the least used finger on a persons hands outside of his little finger. The little finger being small , making a small ring with little surface area available and being easily prone to damage may have inspired people of those days to place the ring on the next least used finger which is the ring finger which we use till today extensively in Goan weddings as a standard practice in Christian or Catholic marriages.
There is also a Chinese explanation to this. If you look at the hand where your wedding ring is on, the thumb represents your parents ,your index finger as your first finger represents your brothers and sisters, namely your siblings, the middle finger represents you, yourself and the fourth finger represents your life partner while the last finger represents the children that you will have someday.
Despite all of the above, there are many countries such as Russia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Bulgaria, Latvia, and some countries carved out of the former Yugoslavia and in some areas of Spain where the wedding ring is worn on the ring finger of the right hand.
Among the Jews, in the customs of their wedding ceremony the groom places the ring on the bride’s index finger, and not ring finger and later the ring is usually moved to the ring finger after the ceremony.
In India, the left hand is considered inauspicious due to common belief and tradition. Hence in India you will note that the right hand is given more significance and the wedding ring is mostly worn on the right hand. However this practice is not followed by Indian Christians who wear the wedding ring on the left hand on the ring finger. Also with the influence of western cultures despite their tradition, other communities in India have also begun to wear the ring on the left hand to match the western cultural practices.