Jewellery has been part of the Indian civilization since ancient times. Ornaments made of gold, silver, copper, ivory, pottery and beads have been discovered in civilizations as ancient as the Harappa and Mohenjodaro. The Indus valley goldsmith knew how to make moulds for metal and terracotta ornaments. Gold jewellery from these civilizations consisted of bracelets, necklaces, bangles, ear ornaments, rings, head ornaments, brooches and girdles. Perhaps the earliest finds in jewellery have been excavated from the Chalcolithic sites. Highly decked terracotta figures, copper rings, beads, bangles and hairpins found here are dated between 3500 BC and 2000 B.C.
Traditional literature records sixteen modes of female adornment described as the Solah shringaar. Shringaar (adornment) followed certain basic patterns. Alankara (embellishment) consists of floral wreaths, jewellery and garments as well as the various unguents applied over the limbs. Some of the women’s decorative ornaments mentioned in the Agamas or traditional treatises include chudamani (crest jewel), mukuta (crown), kundala (ear ornaments) and kila (ear tops). Neck ornaments included muktavali (pearl necklace), harsaka (serpent shaped necklace) and sutroka (gold thread). Bangles called hestali and valaya were worn on the forearms, while ruchika was the bracelet and vecitka was the wrist ornament. The keyura (armlet) and angada (armband) were worn over the elbow. The ornaments for the cheeks were the patra lekha while the padapatra was the jewel for the shanks. An additional embellishment for the feet was the alaltaka. The Indian women use the bindi as an indispensable part of her apparel. She also puts sindoor (vermilion) on the forehead and kajal and surma in her eyes. Some of the traditional jewellery in common use in India consists of the mangalsutra of Maharashtra, the saj of Kolhapur and the panchikam of Gujarat.
The jewellery of the later period is reflected in the sculptures at Bharut, Sanchi, Amarnath and Orissa, and these have influenced the later Indian jewellery both in design and craftsmanship. In certain parts of India excavations have brought to light jewellery pieces of high craftsmanship and skill which show the various influences. The finds of Taxila are particularly noteworthy as they show the Greek influence in Indian art. This art has been perfected with modern styles and use of new materials. Besides gold and other metal jewellery, stones, conch shells, wood and plant seeds were used.
Under the Muslim rulers, gold and silver jewellery became more and more elaborately embellished with precious stones and enameling. Jaipur is the centre for gold kundan work and diamond and emerald cutting. In the Kundankari technique the gemstones are set within solid walls of gold. Kundan jewellery features precious gems on one side and meenakari work on the reverse. The kundan work of Gujarat and Rajasthan is the influence of the Mughals. The Thewa jewellery of Rajasthan is an extremely fine work in gold leaf depicting scenes from rasalila episodes. Pratapgarh in Chittorgarh district is famous for thewa jewellery, where articles like pendants, earrings, small sindhoor boxes and jewel cases are made in this fashion. Rajasthan is also famous for various silver ornaments like the hair adornments (morpatta and rakhadi); ear tops (phul jhumka, karanphul, toti, lathan and papal gatti) and foot ornaments (angustha). Orissa is famous for its silver anklets called painri and paijam and silver knitted ornaments called gunchi. Cuttack in Odisha is famous for its attardans or rosewater sprinklers, bowls and decorative animals and birds, especially peacock figures made in the filigree technique. Madhya Pradesh is famous for its anklets called lauang kasuathi.
The folk and tribal jewellery of India is much varied, in the use of materials, which include lac, glass, shells and beads. Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and the tribal zones in central, eastern and southern India are renowned for ornaments in silver and a particular type of alloy called Pewter, that imitates silver.
Chunky bead-and-metal jewellery of Himachal Pradesh is very popular and is in great demand. The enamel workers of Kangra, Chamba, Mandi and Kullu have produced exquisite ornaments and jewellery. The Pahari women wear necklaces known as chandanhaars (a bunch of long silver chains linked by engraved or enamelled silver plaques), chokers called kach (made of silver beads and triangular plaques) and the collar-like hansali, besides heavy anklets, bangles and silver bracelets (kare). In Lahaul-Spiti, ornaments are studded with semi precious stones like coral, turquoise, amber and mother-of-pearl. The jewellery of Ladakh mainly consists of fi (amber), churu (coral), yu (turquoise) and tiny seed pearls made into necklaces and earrings. Perak is a fascinating ornament of this region.
Motifs of the sun, moon, serpent and images of deities are predominant in the jewellery of the southern states. The thali, an essential component of the marriage ceremony of many communities, is a gold necklace consisting of numerous emblems, usually a phallic symbol, which hangs in the centre. Profusion in use of jewellery is still a feature of the rural countryside.
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