My latest story for the VO Plus magazine’s September 2016 issue talks about the multi-fold nature of Indian jewellery. The feature briefly takes you through the history of Indian jewellery, reasons behind its diversity and Indian women adorn jewellery from head to toe.
Indian jewellery is as old as Indian civilization itself and has affected each and every aspect of Indian lifestyle. Its design and workmanship are breathtaking, and now, this art is finally ready to conquer the rest of the world.
Backed by historical references leading up to the past 5000 years, India has always been considered one of the most culturally rich nations when it comes to precious jewellery. With the ups and downs of the various dynasties that have ruled India in the past, the jewellery industry has always flourished and adapted the languages of all its ancestors. The fertile Indian land also produced the largest of diamonds and coloured gemstones that abundantly fueled this industry with this much-needed raw material.
Today some prominent jewellery houses have ventured onto international grounds and what was once paired with only Indian garments is now being paraded effortlessly at global fashion circuits.
It is commonly said that Indian cultures change every 100 km in terms of language, attire, food and lifestyle. Similarly, jewellery also changes in size, grace and techniques used according to the religion or bridal custom in every state. What might seem over the top for southern India residents is a must for the flamboyant northerners. Indian ornaments are made for practically every part of the body right from the hair to the toes.
Traditionally worn to ward off any evil spirits, they have now become a must for the bride and her giggling group of friends and sisters. A mathapatti runs from one temple to the other and cuts a T across the centre parting of the hair. A South Indian version of the same is worn with studded Moon and Sun symbols on each side of the parted hair. Maangtika is a simple version that sits on the forehead and goes back across the centre parting. These maangtikas come in an array of sizes, motifs and shapes like spherical ones called borlas, which are peculiar to Rajasthan.
One very unique piece of hair jewel is the jadai bangara, which literally means a hair serpent, which is worn on long, pleated hair in southern India. This heavily embellished snake jewel can weigh several kilograms using 22 karat gold and numerous emeralds, rubies and diamonds.
Northern India is heavily inspired by the Mughal jewellery and due to cross marriages between the Mughals and the Rajputs, the kundan polki technique (the setting of uncut diamonds on 22 karat gold) is now imbibed in their culture.
Though it is the smallest piece of jewellery worn, the nose pin is just as important as the other pieces. It is the epitome of femininity and grace. A symbol of virginity in some Indian cultures, the nath, as it is called in India, comes in various shapes and sizes. From the smallest golden dot on the nose to the largest and heaviest ring-shaped floral versions that are attached to the hair with a chain, Indian brides adore them all.
The nath worn by Maharashtrian women is somewhat unique in its shape as it is inspired by the aesthetically delicate paisley motif, it is woven with pearls and is set with coloured gemstones.
Earrings are by far the most popular pieces of jewellery in India. Right from a toddler’s age, girls get their ears pierced in an effort to imitate their mothers by wearing little tinkling chimes and the pleasant sound from the earrings often adds an extra bounce in our step.
Ruby and emerald studs in yellow gold, suspended with little jhumkis (inverted hemispheres with drops) or long-beaded tassel earrings offer a very good medium for designers to play with. Chaandbalis (crescent-shaped earrings) are the latest earring trends often worn at weddings by the bride’s friends and sisters.
The global trend of ear cuffs also takes its inspiration from the original Indian kanphool (decorating the ear with floral motifs), which traditionally was in the shape of a blossoming flower climbing up the ear. However, today you can find ear cuffs in all shapes, sizes and patterns.
Necklaces in India start from just below the chin and go all the way down to the waist. Often worn in layers, brides from various regions adorn themselves with almost 5-6 necklaces at a time… all heavily encrusted in 22 carat yellow gold.
Kundan polki chokers, with pearls or tumbled coloured gemstone drops add the required confidence in young women. Long, multi-layered haars (necklaces) add a queen-like grace and are suitable for women of all ages. Kings also wore elaborate necklaces in the olden days and the Cartier Patiala necklace is one of the finest examples of the same. Grooms to this day wear beaded strings on their wedding day imitating royalties, as it is their turn to be the ‘King of the day’.
From typical South Indian temple jewellery studded with uncut diamonds, rubies and emeralds to the famous pearl-studded Nizam jewellery from Hyderabad, Indian jewels depict the legacy of the Maharajas (kings) that ruled them in the past. The Mughal influence can be seen throughout the North with elaborate kundan polki necklaces featuring intricate enamel work.
Peacocks and paisley are two beautiful motifs that are everyone’s favourites and can be seen in jewellery from across the country offering a variety of interpretations.
Bare hands are considered inauspicious in Indian cultures. Thus, right from the fingers to the upper arms, you can find exquisite jewels for every inch of it. Bangles play a very important role in the bridal attire and are a must for a married woman after the wedding. Heavily embellished gold & gemstones kadas (thick bangles) are worn as ends to a stack of bangles. Kadas are either broad or are known as pacheli where the width has been enhanced with either 3D floral motifs or ornate work on each side.
Rings are probably the most common pieces of hand accessories across the globe and so are in India, preferred with large coloured gemstones in the centre with old multiple claw settings. The international trend of hand ornaments starting from the fingers to the wrist takes its origins from the Indian Hathphool ( jewel that decorates the hand with flowers). One very interesting piece of jewellery is the armlet worn on the upper arm. Flexible ones in the north are called bajubandh and the stiff ones in the south with peacocks are known as vanki.
Tinkling anklets and toe rings, two important pieces for the feet, are mostly crafted in silver as gold is considered sacred and signifies disrespect if worn on the feet. Other accessories like the kamarbandh (waist belts) add sensuous glamour to the sari and when clubbed with gold ornate hand clutches, it surely adds oomph •
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