Traditionally the tribes used beads as money, talismans and for decoration purposes but later the beads were used in making ornaments, handbags, table runners and other accessories.
In older times beads were highly prized and were considered extremely valuable by Indians and western civilizations. They were primarily used as money by the natives to purchase goods from other natives and foreigners.
Beads were also used to make colorful accessories which members of tribes wore to signify leadership and hierarchy.
Thousands of years ago, when the beads were considered to be of high monetary value, they would be transported from one place to another in the form of necklaces which the tribal folk would wear around their necks for easy transport.
The bead work also lends a sort of hierarchy for a woman in the family structure. The more efficient and elaborate bead work she makes and wears, the higher the stature she is given. The craft tradition is passed through the generations from mothers to daughters and the designs are mostly inspired from tribal art with slight changes made to suit contemporary tastes.
Myths & Legends
The history of bead work spans at least 5,000 years and is believed to have evolved as a craft after embroidery.
Lothal developed as the most important port and a center of the bead industry until 1900 BC, when a great flood apparently resulted in 300 years of decline. However, the Indus civilisation survived here in the 1600s and 1500s, after which it disappeared from the northern provinces.
The factory comprised 11 rooms, which included worker's quarters, warheouses and guard rooms, surrounding a courtyard. The main bead making machine was a twisted chambered kiln, made from mud plastered bricks, which was used for heating the stones used to make beads. Bellows helped raise the temperatures within.
Lothal was especially famous for its micro-beads. These were made by grinding materials, rolling them on to a string, baking it solid. Finally the baked roll was sawed into required shapes and sizes.
From the excavations done at the tombs of 'Ur' in Iraq, it was found that around 2,500 BC remarkable bead work constructions were created using thousands of very tiny, fairly consistent lapis-lazuli beads. These were sewn onto a base to create a covering layer of bead work, and made into a fillet or crown. This piece still exists today.
In the ancient Indus Valley or Harappan Culture, craftsmen made millions of tiny beads and the constructions made from them were considered masterful. In Egypt, billions of small beads would be made, for the sole purpose of creating bead works. People would wear them in their everyday life as well as during funerals. As early as 500 BC, the netted technique presently called the 'gourd stitch' was developed and used for bead work, broad collars, funerary jewelry, and mummy nets.
When the Europeans explored Africa and Asia, they wanted to be involved in goods exchanges. They discovered that beads could be used as a medium of exchange (like currency), were durable and transportable. However, they also soon found that the receivers of beads had particular tastes and desires, and that not just any bead style, type, or color was universally popular.
The common practice is to use the same colored thread with the same colored bead and the necklaces made with the beads are classified in terms of number of threads being used in them such as 3, 8, 10 or 12 Dora (thread) necklaces.
Certain colors are specifically worn to mark certain occasions for example white is used for marriages while green colored jewelry is worn for engagements.
The traditional patterns used are 'Phulki', 'Hayedi', 'Pati', and 'Toteni' and are inspired from natural surroundings. These designs are unique to the craft and are passed from one generation to the next.
Most times, the beads for making the chain are sourced locally wherein it is difficult to get an equal diameter for all the beads. This lends a very rustic and unpolished effect to the final product, making it difficult to get a good selling price for the products.