India’s pride and joy, jewelry - Part I

01 Feb / 16
India’s pride and joy, jewelry - Part I
India’s long and storied history would not be half as exciting or colourful, if it were not festooned with tales of treasure and jewelry. Legendary gems, famous navlakha necklaces, bandhani jewelry and all types of folk and traditional jewelry are ingrained within the very fibre of India’s soul. This two part series will examine the history of Indian jewelry and examine its cultural, religious and social importance, along with modern trends in jewelry, especially in terms of design and evolution. Jewelry in India, through the ages: The Ancient times: Whenever we think of jewelry, we couldn’t be faulted if the first images that come to mind are those of religious statues bedecked in ornaments of all kinds. Jewelry, since time immemorial, has intricately been linked to religion. The Goddess of Wealth, Laxmi has always been associated with gold and prosperity. Little wonder then that us Indians are devoted to gold. Where there is talk of gold, how can diamonds be far behind. Diamonds are one of the most precious stones indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. Referred to in ancient South Indian texts as ‘ratnas’ or ‘manis’ they were supposed to have been so plentiful, they could just have been harvested from the river beds, especially that of the Southern river Krishna. Ornaments and ornamentation were said to have been a very important industry in the ancient times. Even the legendary Alexander of Macedonia, was so captivated by the variety of designs he saw, that he commissioned several necklaces and other ornaments for his concubines! Styles in Jewelry: The Middle ages Ornaments were of great importance as status symbols even in the ancient times. This meant that kings and royals, had first right to the finest designs. No wonder then that India had such a rich tradition of royal, estate jewelry (more on that later). It was the patronage that the royal families offered artisans that led to the development of the various styles of jewelry that India is known for. Almost every region in India has a signature style of jewelry. Kundan Jewelry: Primarily favoured amongst the Rajputs and Marwari people, kundan jewelry was the style of choice of the royal families of Jaipur, Amer, Jaisalmer and Bikaner in Rajputana. It featured cut and polished multi coloured gemstones into an exquisitely designed pure gold or faux metal base. It is supposedly the oldest form of jewelry worn in India. It was later adopted as the favoured form of jewelry in the Mughal court as well. South Indian temple jewelry: In the South, the preeminent use of jewelry was as offerings to the Gods. These offerings came as thanks for favours granted by the deity of a particular temple. The Balaji Temple for instance is rumoured to receive hundreds of millions in donations of gold from thankful devotees every year. While no one uniform style is visible in this type of jewelry, the use of pure 24 carat gold seems to be nearly always the standard. Court Jewelry of the Nizam: The Nizam of Golconda is said to have had a fetish for all fine things and jewelry was no exception. The Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad is testament of the Nizam’s penchant for luxurious living. The Nizam was one of the first Indian ruler to have commissioned world famous jewelers like Cartier and others to handcraft necklaces, rings, and other items of high value, which he would often bestow on visiting dignitaries or to his family members and members of his entourage.
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