My travel mania brings me all over the world. And my love for great jewelry makes me look with ‘another’ eye to all that beautiful pieces of jewelry women are wearing in the countries I visit. Ages ago (well in the 90s of last century) I visited the Pushcar Fair in Rajasthan/India. That is a big camelfair and to say it bluntly also a marriagemarket. Women come there in their most beautiful outfit, with all their traditional jewelry and they look fantastic. Even the men try to do their best to look as appetizing as possible. Let me tell you a bit more about those traditional Indian pieces of jewelry…
The origine of the traditional jewelry from India
Around 100.000 years ago people learned how to handle tools and started to wear clothing. From that time on people made piece of jewelry made from the materials, they could found in their homestead, like leather, shells, stones and feathers. You can read more about that process in my blog ‘where do jewels come from in the old days’.
In India you can find a lot of gemstones and those rough gemstones were used for making jewelry. When the time passed by the Indian artisans learned how to polish the rough gemstones, how to use metal and the jewelmaking business started to become an art and not only a craftmanship. But the reason why people wore jewelry stayed the same: to show prestige and power, to show rank and wealth and for the women it was a way of accentuate their beauty and as a security. Jewelry had value and in times of need they could sell it. And when the husband throwed them out of the house, they could take their jewelry with them, since they were wearing them nearly all the time.
How do we know all this, since there is no written proof. When you travel in India you see the proof everywhere. You can visit the ruins of very old temples from the Indus Civilisation (around 5000 years old) and the statues in the temples are very detailed. You see the clothing of that time, but also the jewelry. It is so detailed that you can see that the flower motive is a kind of basis in the traditional Indian jewelry.
Besides that, the Greec ‘tourists’ and traders saw the pieces of jewelry and they wrote about it. There are 19 century old texts, like the Ramayana, that describe the fabulous jewelry. In an ancient Tamil text (South India en Sri Lanka) the writer talks about the Vijayanagar empire, where people owned pearls, gold and gemstones.
Why people had so much jewelry?
In India the women like to decorate themselves with jewelry, but that’s not the whole story. They thought that the gemstones in the pieces of jewelry had a mystical quality and they were protected against evil. There are nine gemstones, that are sacred to nine planets and those gemstones are also used as a protection (worn in a particular order). That same counts for the serpent stone or the Tulsi seeds and sandalwood beads. Jewelry is a part of the Indian women: the rich and the poor.
When there is no bank or you don’t trust a bank and the old socks are not safe enough either, you buy golden and gemstones jewelry from your savings. You wear the pieces of jewelry all day, so nobody can steal them out of your house and in times of need you can sell them.
Are the pieces of jewelry only meant to wear by women?
Not really. The Indian pieces of jewelry are used by women for adornment, but the jewelry is also used for religious purposes. In India you can see dancers in the temples and they wear beautiful temple jewelry. That adornment is very expensive and it can take up to a year before the jewelryset is finished. This kind of jewelry is custom made and a set can contain pieces for adorning the hair, feet, hip, arms and ears.
Also the statues of the gods in the temple, the elephants and horses used in the ceremonies and parades are decorated with the finest jewelry. Most of the times these pieces of jewelry are a gift from rich believers and visitors of the temple.
Besides the religious use of jewelry also the men wore pieces of jewelry, like rings and brooches for their turbans. Maharadja’s and Raja’s were collectors of exquisite jewelry and they supported the jewelmaking ‘industry’ with their orders. They had the money to buy the most beautiful pieces and they encouraged the artisans to improve their skills and invent more ways to make jewelry.
New techniques and forms
The Moghuls conquered India in 1526 and were in power until 1858. Their origine was Mongolia and they only wanted administrative power over India. They never tried to force their customs and tradition to the India society. Because they had the ability to buy the expensive pieces of jewelry, they kept the jewelmaking business alive. The result was that the jewelry from that time on was a kind of combination from the Hindu and Muslim forms; that is a rich outburst of ornamentation of elegancy and exquisite forms. The jewelry became extravagance. In the Moghul time the art of enamelling reached its top. They got a few enemal workers from Lahore (Pakistan) to perfect this art. The custom was to enamel the backside of each jewel (minakari).
Regional differences in traditional Indian jewelry
Every region in India had its own way to make traditonal Indian jewelry and every region had its preferences in using certain material. It depended on the availability of certain material in the region and the level of skills of the artisans how and with what material they liked to use.
In the South of India (Tamil Nadu and Kerala) they like to use massive gold for their jewelry (very heavy) and the forms of the jewelry are inspired by nature. In the North of India the styles of the jewels are influenced by the wishes and the traditions of the Moghul dynasty. In the North of India (Rajasthan, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh) the archeologists founded a lot of silver beads and they are used until this day.
In the East of India (Assam and Orissa) the influence of nature can be seen in the jewelry, while in Manipuri artisans like to use, gemstones, claws, shells etc. But all of them, in the whole of India, liked gold. The Indian population consumes the highest amount of gold per year in the whole world.
The traditional Indian jewelry can decorate your whole body!
A fully bejeweled Indian women wears necklaces, bracelets, rings on hands and feet, earrings in the ear and in the nose, hair decoration and head pieces, jewelry for hips and even a kind of breastplate. All decorated with gemstones, semiprecious stones, pearls and made of mostly gold and silver. My father would call it a ‘Christmastree’, but the pieces of jewelry fit beautifully together and one way or another the Indian women can wear it and they become more beautiful with their jewelry. The artisans use repetition and symmetry in the jewelry and that’s why they total set does not like ‘too much’.
India, Indian women and jewelry are one entity; not only in daily life but also in the religion. Due to the fact that the Indian artisans and jewellermakers could make high quality jewelry, using beautiful high quality gemstone beads and discovered much earlier than the environment a way to use gold, to enamel and to polish gemstones, India is far ahead of the rest of that part of the world in the field of jewelry.
In the European Age of Discovery India was not only very popular because of the spices, but alsof or their gemstones and jewelry. In the Age of the Silk Route the jewelry was traded to many places in the world. And still… the place where I like to buy my gemstone beads is definitely India. Not only because of the high quality of the beads, but also because of those beautiful women, that wear their jewelry with so much pride.
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