Traditional Indian Jewellery
The art of adornment goes back to primitive man who used, for decoration, flowers and beads, carved wood, shell, bone and stone. The material used changed in time to ivory, copper and semi-precious stones and then to silver, gold and precious stones, but our rich tribal heritage can be seen in the flower motif which is basic to Indian jewellery designs even today.
Indian jewellery is as old as Indian civilisation itself. The ruins of the Indus Valley civilisation, going back to 5000 years, have yielded examples of beaded jewellery. In the sculptures at Bharhut, Sanchi and Amaravati and the paintings at Ajanta can be seen the wide range of jewellery worn by man and woman, by king and commoner. The temples of South India, Bengal, Orissa and Central India present a veritable cornucopia of the jeweller’s art.
Greek visitors to ancient India marvelled at the elaborate Indian jewels of the time. The epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and the Arthasastra, a text 19 centuries old, mention the intricate arts of the jewellers of yore. The Silappadikaram, an ancient Tamil classic, talks of a society dealing in gold, pearls and precious stones. Paes, a Portuguese chronicler, writes of the Vijayanagar empire where visitors were dazzled by the jewellery worn.
Jewellery in ancient times was not only an adornment, but each stone was endowed with a mystical quality and used as a protection against evil forces. The navaratna or nine gems, each sacred to a planet, are worn in a particular order for the same reason to this day. The maniratna, called the serpent stone, was used as a talisman to protect the wearer. Rudraksha and Tulsi seeds and sandalwood beads are worn even today during Hindu worship.
The advent of Moghul rule further embellished Indian jewellery. The synthesis of Hindu and Muslim forms and patterns resulted in a great outburst of ornamentation, elegant and exquisite, and of a lush extravagance never seen before. Although traces of enamelling have been found in ancient Taxila, this art reached its zenith only under the Moghuls, when even the unseen reverse side of each jewel was covered with intricate enamel work (minakari).
Jewellery later became a means of putting by savings, like a bank today, and of providing financial security to women who sold it in times of need.
The Indian love of gold may have been a means of acquiring wealth. But the Indian love of jewellery is really a love of the beautiful and the aesthetic, of man’s aspirations to reach perfection in form, design and colour. Repetition, symmetry and orderly progression in design are typical of the Indian belief in order, or R’ta, in the cosmic universe.
Air-India hopes to preserve some of our traditional jewellery for posterity through this year’s calendar. Since only 12 pieces could be selected, only ornaments of gold and precious stones have been shown and the whole range of silver and folk jewellery left out of the study.
We present this collection as a homage to the art of jewellery in India, to our ancestors who conceived these jewels, to the artist who designed them and to the skilled artisans who fashioned them, and preserved, through millennia, this priceless art, our precious heritage.