Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Chadr

The long cloth used by women as a head cover, the chadr symbolizes womanhood. Phulan wears and feels proud of her chadr, although at first she wears it awkwardly, stumbling over its edges. Shabanu wears the chadr reluctantly and only for practical reasons: it keeps her head cool. Later, she finds it useful as a way to hide her face from men who frighten her. After the fair at Sibi, Shabanu becomes acclimated to the chadr, using it to store and carry things, and she grows to see it as a thing of beauty: she admires her sister's figure in her chadr and sees it as a brilliant addition to the colors of the landscape.


As the two girls draw near marriage, they begin to accumulate jewelry. At first, jewelry delights the girls: Shabanu admires the glass bangles Dadi buys her on the way to Sibi and Phulan's beautiful ruby nose ring. Later, when Rahim- sahib showers Shabanu with jewels, she takes no joy in them. Jewels symbolize physical beauty and riches, but Shabanu realizes how beauty and material comfort pale in comparison to happiness and personal freedom. The jewels become an emblem of Rahim-sahib's claim on her. He adorns her for his own pleasure.


Camels are the desert man's wealth and way of life. They make Shabanu and her family laugh during trying times. Shabanu takes refuge in their warmth and reliable, uncomplicated companionship. Camels symbolize a way of life free from the constraints of society: a herdsman relies only on the desert and the sky. Moreover, camels offer a life free from emotional strife and complication: they are loyal, respond well to a warm heart, and do not demand certain behaviors or require explanations. Camels offer Shabanu an alternative to the inscrutable and unjust ways of the world around her.