The Indian spectrum
“The range of jewellery available in India in terms of materials used, designs and techniques of craftsmanship is unparalleled,” says author and jewellery expert Usha Balakrishnan. She gives examples.
The Nagas make jewellery using beetle wings, feathers and bones.
Bengalis use conch shells for their bangles.
Andhra brides adorn their braids with the jadai billai. Called jadai nagam (or braided-hair-snake-ornament) in Tamilnadu
From black beads to conch shells
Maharashtrians use black beads as part of their mangalsutra– thaali– the wedding ornament.
In fact, lots of communities begin their most auspicious wedding ornament with black beads, said to ward off the evil eye.
Many states, including Tamil Nadu, use terracotta to fashion earrings and necklaces.
They have regional and caste-specific ornaments whose names can only be said in the vernacular language.
Consider the ornaments available in India
the curved veni hair ornament of Maharashtra, worn above and around a chignon.
the long gold necklaces of the Samvedi Christian community of Goa, with round gold coins the size of a ₹10 coin.
the nagavadam necklaces worn as mangalsutra by Kerala Nair brides.
japa mala chains and bracelets made using seeds and twigs from the tulsi, rudraksha, karugumani and others.
Dangling nose rings in gold and silver
The amazing septum rings or bullukku worn in South India and Himachal Pradesh. Who would think of an ornament for this part of the body?
Ankle bracelets of Rajasthan, Punjab and South India. Called kada up North and thandam in the South.
The fabulous turquoise and silver necklaces of Himachal Pradesh.
Coin necklaces or kasu mala worn by the Syrian Christian brides of Kerala. Also the kunukku for the ear.
The list continues
the loriyan earrings, with their geometric shapes, worn by the Mehr and Rabri tribal women of Gujarat.
the nagbeshar nose ring worn by the Rana Tharu communities of Nepal and Himalayan India.
the amulet necklaces worn by the Muslim communities of Kerala and Hyderabad.
the striking tulu-nadu brass belt of Karnataka, with its cobra head
magnificent gems like The Carew Spinel worn by Maharajahs and later, taken by the East India Company.
In that sense, Indian jewellery conforms to every notion of luxury.
It has provenance in that it is specific to time and place.
It is customized.
Families have certain motifs for their ornaments—like the tulsi plant or the shiva-lingam found in Tamilian thalis—or mangalsutras.
The Chettiar community of Tamilnadu has its own fabulous kalathuru wedding necklace, each with at least 100 sovereigns of gold.
A mangalsutra in India is a sacrosanct symbol of marriage. The same goes for toe rings and nose rings.
The film Bajirao Mastani brought the beautiful jewellery of the Peshwas into soft focus.
Not too many Maharashtrian women I know wear the nath, the beautiful nose ring. But they should. They own it after all.
Often, a bride was blessed by the jewellery she wore:
“May your nath be ever present,” “May your mangalsutra outlast you.”
Parts of this article were first published in Mint Lounge
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