According to north Indian legend, there was once a Shah whose daughter was to marry a minister of the state of Sialkot. When the King heard of the girl's great beauty he tried to seduce her, but failed; he then planted his signet ring in her bed to trick her fiance into thinking that he'd spoiled her chastity. Years later, the minister learned of the King's trickery, and decided to beg the forgiveness of the woman he had refused to marry-however, on his way to see her he fell dead. The Shah's daughter found out about his death, and her own vindication in his eyes, and went to lie with him on his funeral pyre-the site of their cremation is now a temple where the goddess Shila Mata is worshipped. The themes of this story-the spiteful king, the innocent woman, trickery, adultery (in this case presumed), and, above all, the ring symbolizing a sexual encounter-reverberate across time and cultures, so much so that you might think you've heard this story before, even if you've never heard of the goddess whose origin it describes. Why are sex and jewelry, particularly rings, so often connected?
Why do rings keep appearing in stories about marriage and adultery, love and betrayal, loss and recovery, identity and masquerade? What is the mythology that makes finger rings symbols of true (or, as the case may be, untrue) love? In seeking answers to these questions, each chapter of this book, like a separate charm on a charm bracelet, considers a different constellation of stories. Most of the rings in the stories originally belong to men; indeed, just about all the jewelry that women have, they get from men. But it is the women who put the jewelry to work in the plots, and that is what this book is about. Beginning with a series of her own personal anecdotes about jewelry, Wendy Doniger expertly unfolds the cultural and historical significance of rings. The book does not move in a linear fashion but expands outward, as if from a prism, touching on ancient Sanskrit myth, Celtic lore, fairytales, literature, and modern song lyrics, to form a collection of stories as multifaceted as a diamond.
The stories are all different but linked through a common cluster of meanings: the mutual imitation of real and fake, legal and illegal, marital and extra-marital jewelry; the circular form of rings and bracelets, miming the circle of eternity, which persists in the face of human ephemera. The Ring of Truth tells the story of jewelry that preserves (and sometimes erases) true and false memories, making promises that come true and that lie.