What is the meaning of Kempu?


Literally– red


Why do Tamil women love kempu so much?


The Tamil aesthetic is tuned to muted colours and high-quality material.

People love kempu because of high-quality rubies without additional embellishments.

“No jigina,” or sparkly stuff, as traditionalists would say.

Kempu jewellery fits this profile to a T.


How is kempu jewellery designed?


Typically with minimal intervention to showcase the beauty of the rubies.

Common motifs are used.  The mango, peacock, makara, hamsa, and flowers.

But mostly kempu addigais (or choker-like necklaces) string the oval cabochon rubies from Burma without additional fuss.


What are Tamil ornaments for the ear?


Jimikki: dangling earring

Thodu: ear stud

Maatal: behind the ear

Koppu: on top

What she is wearing is a kempu thodu and jimikki


How is kempu jewellery worn?


Typically with Kanchipuram sarees.

Typically as a matching set with necklace, earrings, and bangles

At day or night.  To weddings and pujas (prayer rituals).

The kempu shade is viewed as auspicious.  In sarees, it is called arakku.

When did kempu jewellery flourish?

During the Chola, Pandya and Krishnadevaraya periods.  Between the 9th and 16th century.

Also during the early part of the 20th century when Tamil men travelled to Burma and Ceylon and brought back gems.

It has now evolved into costume jewellery, called temple jewellery.  Mostly because people don’t have access to, or cannot afford the originals.


How has kempu evolved?


Nowadays, women wear artificial gems in the name of “temple jewellery.”

They use silver foil dipped in gold to nest the jewels.

These are made in Vadassery and Nagarcoil.

Used by bharatanatyam dancers