Thirubuvanam, Tamil Nadu, India...
The jewelry is made out of silver and white metal these days and adorned by the tribal during festivities. The women acquire them for marriages and other social gatherings. The men too are fond of jewelry and are seen wearing bracelets, rings and ‘Kadas’ on their feet.
Various types of earrings, chains, chokers, bangles, anklets, toe-rings and hair ornaments are crafted with this regional silver jewelry craft.
Jewelry marks the identity of various communities. The tribal ornaments have gathered various meanings over time, symbolically speaking of their spiritual and emotional life. The various patterns and motifs are thus expressions of their cultural background.
Ornaments are also believed to ward off the evil eye and appease the planets, which affect the human destiny. It proves to be an element used to connect the surroundings – the natural and the supernatural. There is a strong belief system which uses certain rituals and symbolic offerings. Various charms and amulets have been crafted to represent these symbols. This has led to the use of jewelry as protection from bad energy and ailments.
A tribal myth explaining the inception of tribal jewelry goes like this. One day Lord called Mahadev and Parvati, and said to them “Visit the world, see how it has been made and if it lacks in anything. - When Mahadev asked how they can find their way into the world, Lord turned to a spider and asked it to conceive a thread for them to slide down to the earth. Mahadev and Parvati made their way into the world through the thread, and when they landed, they came across the snake god Nag Dev. Soon the snake coiled itself around Parvati and she screamed in fear. But Mahadev noticed that the snake had come to Parvati with good intentions, he declared â€œThis creature shall be your ornament. You shall wear it around your neck, wrists and arms for beauty and adornmentâ€. This is how the women began to wear ornaments.
(From Verrier Elwin’s Tribal Myths of Middle India)
Jewelry is a lasting remembrance of the past, especially in India. The patterns which existed in the Indus Valley Civilization and cave paintings of Ajanta can still be seen in the jewelry of the modern times. Jewelry has always held a strong place in Indian culture.
The Rig Veda describes jewels as having divine attributes and the precious stones were believed to be revered by Gods themselves. Karnasobhana was an earring, Kurira was a head ornament, Nishka was a gold necklace and Rukma was a breast ornament. Figurines wearing ornaments and remains of jewelry were found from the sites of the Harappan civilization. The bronze statuette of a young girl from Mohenjodaro has coils of bangles on her left arm. Anklets and rings made of hollow tubes can be seen on pottery figurines.
A study of sculptural ornaments also shows the flourishing conditions and the common usage of ornaments. The Gupta period saw the honing of the craft using metal and precious stones. Heavy and elaborate ornaments were in demand during the rule of the Chalukyas. During the reign of Mughals, the crafts related to ornaments gained. As it was believed that the glory of a prince is made tangible by the buildings, libraries and jewels in his country.
In 1518, a Portuguese India officer and traveler named Duarte Barbosa mentioned the attire of people in the kingdom of ‘Guzerate’. It was written that they were clad in long cotton and silk shirts and wore metal jewelry with precious stones embedded. The women were described to have piercings in their ears, which were wide enough for an egg to pass through; this was the result of wearing heavy and thick gold or silver earrings.
Jewelry was an integral part of the tribes of India since ancient times. The tribes are known to have descended from Rajasthan and dispersed over the region near Gujarat. The Kutch region was a strong centre of trade with Arabian, Persian and European countries. These factors had various influences on the designs of the jewelry such that it resulted in some thirty-five different kinds of earrings alone for the men, women and children of various communities (like Rabari, Ahir, Bharvad, Jat, Satvaras). This wide variety of jewelry is only prevalent in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh.
The Sarafa Bazaar in Bhuj is a famous silver market existing for almost 200 to 250 years. The metal is made into lavish lifestyle articles like candle stands, furniture and tableware. Islamabad and Karachi were also good markets for the silversmiths of Kutch. Trades faded with the increasing tensions between the borders, leaving only 10 – 12 families in the city that still make traditional jewelry. The rest have switched to selling lighter articles like ‘Payals’ or belled anklets, as they have a contemporary outlook from the sales point of view.
Jewelry has there on taken new forms and dimensions in the lives of the people. It ceased to be mere adornment but also expressed identity and had great symbolic significance. It spoke of the rank and status of the wearer. It has magical properties with inscribed amulets or with figures of local deities to protect the wearer from evil.
Jewelry developed as a symbol of status when the society turned agrarian from nomads. The jeweler was also given great importance in the society. The state of jewelry was also exalted with the fact that it was the only form of investment which could be used during financial crisis. In the Vedic society, jewelry was considered to be Streedhan (woman’s wealth) – comprising a part of inheritance from her father and gifts from the husband. Jewelry was an essential for married woman. When she was widowed, it was taken away. This too speaks of how jewelry was eloquent of a person’s state or role in the society.
Jewelry was crafted not only for humans, but also for the ceremonial elephants and horses and idols of gods and goddesses. India was a treasure trove and various kinds of jewelry developed over time. The influences were from natural forms, to that of invaders or changing rules. While the designs in solid gold jewelry of Tamil Nadu and Kerala are inspired by nature and the temple culture, the Meenakari and Kundan styles of jewelry making have been influenced by the Mughal dynasty. There is a huge range of silver beads found all over India, especially in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. Their availability led to the development of the bead jewelry, which is popular even today. Assamese jewelry is influenced by local flora and fauna, Manipuri jewelry – makers make use of items like shells, animal claws, teeth and precious and semi – precious stones. The country is specked with numerous examples and variations of the work of skilled craftsmen.
The designs are traditional and they have not changed much. The designs are abstract interpretations of surrounding elements. The motifs of snakes, fish, scorpions, butterflies and flowers are commonly seen and they are all related to fertility and prosperity.
The rings are crafted with intricate carvings and endings with faces of animals like an elephant or a tiger. The men wear thick bracelets called the ‘Nhar mundya kada’ which means ‘Tiger faced bracelets’.
The popular ornaments for the women are:
– Basta Kada (Armlet)
– Khilli wala kada (Wrist band)
– Daal and kavali (Bangles)
– Hansuli, Mangalasutra, Taagali (Necklace)
– Paan waala haar (Neckpiece inspired from a betel leaf)
– Jhumki (Dangling umbrella shaped earrings bordered with little bells)
– Bichua, Angootha, Kandora (Finger rings made of spiraled metal wire)
– Sigod wala haar (Necklace with chains spanning two triangles, joined by the betel leaf motif at the centre)
– Bhenda (Ornament for the forehead)
– Jhanjhar (Anklet)
The craft of making jewelry is seasonal. The demand comes in during the Bhagoria festival or the marriage season. The rest of the time the craftsmen need to seek other sources of employment to sustain their livelihoods. The rising prices of silver have pushed the craftsmen to use white metal, which is comparatively cheaper. The migration of tribal people towards urban areas is one of major threats for the business of local craftsmen.
– Silver wires: Used for detailed work, these are sourced from Indore.
– Ghunghroo: These are little metal bells which are sourced from Indore.
– Silver: Available locally in the form of bricks or plates, it is then melted or beaten or drawn into wires and formed as per the design.
– Acid polish: To provide a finish to the ornament.
The only waste during the whole process is the ash from fuel used for heat generation. The ash is sometimes used in household for various purposes or if in large quantity, it is sold to brick making companies.
– Iron dies and moulds
Once a match is made during the Bhagoria festival (where the young men and women choose their partners to marry), the womenfolk head towards the local market with a bride. There the bride fills her basket with the jewelry she wants. The marriage season is usually from February to mid July, when the jewelry sales hit the peak.
Blocks of silver are beaten or melted and molded into plates and rods. These are then cut or bent to form the basic shapes of the jewelry. The craftsmen add little ‘Ghunghroos’ (ankle bells), twists in the wires, or patterned punches to embellish the pieces. Acid is used as a final finish to impart sheen.
The metal bricks, rods or plates are acquired and then melted. The tribal jewelry is categorized into two forms based on the form of raw material.
For rods, the molten metal is poured in iron moulds of particular shape. The moulds have previously engraved motifs.
Once it cools, the resulting shape is taken out of the mould and bent into closed curves to form armlets, bracelets and necklaces. Sometimes, two thin rods are wound around each other, to form a choker. Various playful permutation combinations of the metal in its different forms leads to a plethora of jewelry designs.
For plates, pressure is applied on the solid sections bought from the market and these sections are beaten into flat pieces. These are then cut according to the desired outline of the pendants. The motifs and patterns are transferred onto them using the dies, or sculpted using small chisels and hammers.
Embellishments like the pendants and ghungroos are attached to the main pieces, or to the main metal rods using metal wire linkages. The ends of the chokers and hooks of the earrings are all made by twisting the rods or the wires. Thus the material used is uniform and it has no external attachments.
The last step is the polishing of the ornaments. These are dusted with a thick bristled brush and then polished with acid to bring out the luster.
List of craftsmen.