I always wore the one gold ring I posessed on my middle finger. It was a sort of desire to different from the routine of wearing it on the third finger, and a sort of rebellious act - when my father forbade me to do so, as the middle finger was supposed to mean the snake finger and one was not supposed to wear a ring on it (guess Americans would have a totally different explanation to give! hee hee). But it changed when I landed in the US of A. During my stay here, for some reason I was wearing it on my third finger - when one day my User asked if i was married. I said - No. He said - then why are you wearing your ring on this finger? That charmed me a lot - for at this point I was madly in love (luckily married to the person now), and it gave me a romantic, sentimental, mushy-mush feeling to wear a ring on my third finger and show it off to the whole world (Back in India, there is not much significance to a ring on a finger - atleast from where I come from).
So much for an intro - today while entering office I wondered why a ring on third finger - to symbolise marriage and I read up a bit on it ... So, here goes.
The third finger theory - is quite known i suppose - the vien from the left hand third finger leads to the heart and since marriage is the closest thing to heart in a person's life (they did not know pace-makers in those days), it is placed on this sanctimonous part of the body.
The reason for a wedding ring -- ah ! there are quite some interesting theories I read about this.
- One theory - the one found very hillarious (not sure if it is true or not) - is the fact that the word groom and bride seem to have been derived from horseman(groom) controlling his horse with a bridle(bride) - so a ring signifies a noose with which he controls the bride... Dare the husbands of the modern world try it !!! ...
- Most of the other theories are centered around the fact that the ring is a circle. Even from ancient days, a circle has been considered the most magical thing, something to be in awe of (remember the Lord Of Rings). It signifies completeness, wholesomeness and most natural shape in the world. And similar a marriage is the most complete thing in life, signifying love and eternity. (Forever -- a question in these days).
The next thing is the matter for the ring. But obviously gold - because it signifis purity and is supposed to ward off all "evil". Strangely this one fact remains consistent in any tradition that you consider, be it American, European, Greek, French, Indian, Japanese or any other. Though catching up fast with Gold these days is Platinum.
Diamond on the other hand has always been the engagement ring - can you beleive that even in the 15th century it was used for engagement rings !! It was to signify that like a diamond , which is the hardest stone, a engagement and therefore marriage would last forever. Personally i never could understand the fancy for this rock. I get better shinny stuff in Pondy bazaar for 1/1000th of the price. Romans considered marriage as a barter, so the engagement ring was given to the bride as a 'security deposit'.
One last note - In Poland, there is a tradition of paying the bride for a dance. The married couple celeberate their honeymoon with money earned this way! Tcha! had I know this before, I would have got married to a Polish :)