Indian jewellery is enchanting, captivating the hearts of people globally by its ornate varieties, heavy embellishments, and diverse design and materials. The use of jewellery in the Indian subcontinent traces back to a long history.
Over time the use of jewellery, its making, modes of creation, have been influenced by socio-cultural and political factors. So, it’s absolutely not surprising that the present day varieties of Indian jewellery and its legacy has charmed the world, igniting new ideas of creative fusions between western and Indian trends.
Let’s delve into the journey of Indian jewellery through brief visits to its developments over time and how it continues to prosper at present days.
The use of jewellery in India goes back to more than 5000 years ago, touching the eras when the great epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana took place. The physical traces of some ancient Indian jewellery are found from the Indus Valley civilization. The initial jewellery was simple, made from beads, strings, and stones. Later on, people of the Indus Valley region learnt to make ornaments and jewellery from metals.
The advent of the Mughals in the 16th century brought about innovations in jewellery use and design. They brought in the art and knowledge of jewellery engineering in the use of gems and metals. Also, the possession of precious metals and gems was restricted as it began to be used as a symbol of social status.
India had always held a high status in the imperial world for being a leading exporter of gems. India was the first to mine diamonds. The first mines were at the Godavari Riverbanks near Hyderabad. The use of diamonds too had much diversity. Sometimes it had been used as royal gifts for appeasement, regaining trust and also for gaining immortality.
Diamond dust had been used for poisoning people to death under conspiracies. Also, Indian history has stories of diamonds bringing blessings or curses. One such is the Hope Diamond which is said to be stolen from one of the eyes of the statue of Sita, Lord Rama’s divine consort. It is believed that anyone who touches it would be punished with imminent death. Today, diamonds are coveted items of jewellery on weddings or light-weight jewellery.
Indian jewellery encountered cross-cultural inspirations and exchange of ideas took place among Russia, Europe, and Indian craftsmen. European influences are more evident following the colonial rule in India. The early 19th and 20th centuries were a phase for the intermingling of styles. Famous names of jewellery houses like Cartier, Lacloche Frères, Chaumet, Van Cleef & Arples, Mellerio, and Mauboussin became a part of such tradition. Cartier is known to have designed stone jewellery for the Indian Maharajahs inspired from Paris. Likewise, the famous tutti-frutti style by the Cartier’s was inspired by South Indian motifs of flowers.
History and traditions have culminated to the variegated forms of Indian jewellery that we see today. Their splendour and regalness are preserved through today’s masterpieces developed by jewelers in India and abroad.
The Indian jewellery tradition is interesting because of the different reasons they are worn. They are beautiful beyond any doubt highlighting one's beauty, but their possessions go beyond the sole purpose of adorning oneself.
Gold and silver in India is not only a precious metal but also sacred. This is one of the reasons why gold or silver jewellery is bought by Indian households on auspicious days like Akshaya Tritiya and Dhanteras as it is considered as lucky. There also goes a word called ‘Stri Dhan’ meaning ‘a woman’s wealth’. The tradition of gifting women gold jewellery on her marriage has been done for providing financial security for the woman starting a new life. The Vedic Hindu tradition also regards gold as a symbol of immortality. The ancient scriptures mention the origin of human life from the Hiranyagarbha or ‘golden womb’.
The concept of Navaratna is the use of nine gems amulet worn by a Maharajah or an emperor. The use of nine precious gems symbolizes the power of nine Hindu deities. The collection of the nine gems includes diamond, emerald, ruby, pearl, sapphire, cat’s eye, topaz, coral and red zircon. The wearing of this could mean the supremacy of the ruler connected to the divinities.
There are many jewellery items worn for safeguard and forms a part of Indian tradition. One of them is the mangalsutra. Mangal means ‘holy’ while sutra means ‘thread’. It is worn by married women for the well-being of their husbands. The nazar kada is a bracelet made of silver and black beads tied on the wrist of a baby. This tradition exists to protect a baby from the evil gaze or ill- wishes (nazar). There are other things that are worn as well for protection like tabeez which is a metallic encasement of some holy flowers or divine offerings.
The dazzling works of Kundan, Jadau, Meenakari, Lacquer, Navaratna and others thrive among beautiful renditions by jewellery designers. While Indian jewelers have produced exquisite collections, particularly those for bridal wear, we find interesting fusions and creations abroad as well.
Indian jewellery brands are being led by personalities of both well-established dealers as well as emerging designers who have received positive acclaim like Nitya Arora, Suhani Pittie, and Moni Agarwal. Fusion jewellery combining Indian and western tastes have often lighted up the ramps of popular fashion walks.
The charm of Indian jewellery has captivated the hearts of the celebrities of the west who have showcased their passion for it on various occasions. Mang Tikas, Tiklis, Nose rings, jhumkas and other tid bits of Indian jewellery have been embraced by Hollywood celebrities every now and then. Natalie Portman, Katy Perry, Jessica Alba, Selena Gomez, Madonna, Shakira and several others have donned the look with Indian jewellery in award functions, music videos, movies or performances.
Indian jewellery holds an enchantment, drawing legacy from the Mughals and Maharajahs to the exquisite contemporary bridal jewellery. It would be rather difficult to come across a fashion lover without a taste for such beautiful creations.
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