With a history of more than 5000 years, Indian jewellery is a remarkable representation of India’s aesthetics and culture. The history of these jewels has been found through references that are made in texts, myths, legends, and chronicles. While there exists some archaeological proof of rings, bracelets, and other forms of jewellery in the other regions of the Indian subcontinent, most of our knowledge regarding Indian jewellery is derived from Indian art including paintings and sculptures. The concept of beautifying oneself with ornaments gained popularity during the Ramayana and Mahabharata times.
The earliest records of Indian jewellery are from the Indus Valley civilization, also known as the Harappan civilization. During this age, India was known to be the largest producer and exporter of beads to other parts of the world. India was home to the diamond and Indians were known to be the ones who devised the diamond drill. The artisans of the Indus Valley civilization made use of semi-precious stones in their jewellery, including, agate, turquoise, carnelian, faience, steatite and feldspar. These stones were then fashioned into a tubular or barrel shape. They were also often embellished with carvings, dots, bands and patterns, some even had minute gold detailing. The most popular piece of jewellery from this age was the jewellery seen on the famous sculpture of the dancing girl. From a necklace with three pendants to armlets on both her arms, each piece showcased sophistication and intricate engineering. Some of these designs are still used to this day in many parts of India. The perfect example of this is the Rajasthani borla, which holds great resemblance to jewellery worn by Didarganj Yakshi, an ancient Indian sculpture.
After the decline of this civilization, the craftsmanship and skills of the craft of jewellery making became more complex. New, improved designs were seen with gold embellishments and micro-granulated decoration on pendants. The Bharhut, Sanchi and Amaravati sculptures and the paintings found in the Ajanta caves display a wide variety of jewellery worn by both men and women, irrespective of their social status.
Apart from the jewellery displayed in Indian art, temple jewellery played a pivotal role in shaping the history of Indian jewellery. At first, these jewellery pieces were used solely for religious purposes, but, as time passed, dancers who performed at the temples were seen wearing replicas of jewellery styles that were commonly used for idols. With the rise in popularity of Bharatnatyam, temple jewellery became more accessible to the public and crept its way into the craftsmanship of heirloom pieces. The spirituality of jewellery was further exemplified by the navaratna, a necklace that comprises nine types of precious stones that depict the nine gods of the Hindu universe.
With the arrival of Mughal rule, the craftsmanship and expertise of jewellery making in India was taken to the next level. The amalgamation of Indian and Central Asian styles led to artistry and mastery that was never seen before. The technique of enamelling in jewellery was made popular during the Mughal rule. Several geometric, floral and nature-inspired designs were incorporated into jewellery. Another method that gained recognition during the Mughal rule was the Kundan method, which involved the setting of stones in gold. The most popular colours used during the Mughal period were green, red and white. Buddhist jewellery was dominated by a method called polychromy. Polychromy is a popular form of painting that is applicable to other art forms as well.
Q1. What was the significance of jewellery in ancient India?
In ancient India, rulers regarded jewellery as a symbol of power, good fortune and prestige. However, for women, it was seen as a form of social and economic safety. This stands true, even today.
Q2. What is the association between Hindu culture and jewellery?
Wearing the jewellery that is associated with Hindu deities signifies protection and a way of asking for blessings from these divine powers. It holds great meaning in Hindu traditions and practices.
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