A display of superior craft skill, the silver jewelry of Kutch is more than just ornamentation. They serve as markers used to differentiate various tribes of the region. Their simplified forms and elaborate textures employ techniques of high precision. Each piece of jewelry has a definitive purpose and is worn as per the age, handed down by the ancestors as heirloom wealth.

Usage

Bhuj's silver work includes lifestyle products like dining sets, tea pots, cups, cutlery, bowls to 'Jhulas' (in-door swing set), candle stands, 'Jhumars' (chandeliers) and furniture apart from the traditional jewelry made for the numerous local tribal communities. The jewelry made is used differently by different tribes. These are worn by men and women in the form of 'Kadas' (broad and thin bracelets and anklets), 'Payals' (anklets for women), necklaces, nose rings, earrings, finger rings etc. The metal is also used in making utility items like toothpicks and ear cleaners that dangle around the neck in the form of lockets.

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Significance

Silver jewelry has an important place in the culture and traditions of 'Kutchi' tribes, where every tribe wears differently designed jewelry and their unique designs help in differentiating them from the other tribes.

The total weight of the jewelry that is worn by a single tribe woman amounts to one to two kilos, making it unusual and often difficult to wear in the harsh climates of Kutch. Nevertheless, the functionalities of the jewelry are many. Being mostly of nomadic origins, people here have always had very minimal shelters like carts covered with thatch or mud 'Bhungas' (huts), which guaranteed little or no security. So, they used silver jewelry as a kind of investment, generally worn in the purest form and kept under vigilance by wearing them over themselves all the time. These were sold only in dire circumstances or in the event of a natural calamity. 

Amongst some other unique uses, protection against wild animals and eve teasers can be evidently seen in their jewelry. Women wear traditionally designed broad bracelets 'Kada' with sharp conical protrusions on their surface when they enter forests for cattle rearing and collecting firewood. Silver jewelry is a means for enhancing the beauty of Kutchi women by shining in contrast against their dark skin but their positioning on the body and their weight has a deeper science behind it. These are often placed on strategic pressure points on the body for health benefits. 'Thoriyas' are studs for the cartilaginous cavity of the ear and are said to provide acupressure for enhancing reproductive health. 

In India, the left side of the nose is generally regarded as the ideal position for nose rings. According to Ayurveda, the spot made by piercing of the nose is associated with the female reproductive organs. It is generally believed that women who have their nose pierced on the left side experience less pain while delivering the child and they also have less menstrual pain. It is a common belief that wearing nose rings makes the process of childbirth easier. Nose rings are also a symbol of marriage in India.

Silver jewelry leaves green stains on the skin under the place of contact; this is due to silver getting absorbed in the body. It usually happens in warm days. Silver is highly important element for balancing other elements in our body. It keeps our blood vessels elastic. It is really important for bone formation and healing, skin formation and repair. Silver jewelry has a strong effect on people suffering from arthritis. Silver (especially magnetic jewelry) is known to increase blood circulation and reduce pain in muscles.

Bangle ~ Constant friction of bangles improves the blood circulation and gives the needed friction to the pulse points in our hands. The electric charge passing through outer skin is returned back to body because of bangles, which has no end to pass the energy outside but to send it back to the body. This way a woman regains her strength, which is presumably wasted otherwise. 

Ring ~ It is commonly believed that nerve passing through ring finger is evenly spread across brain neuron cells and any frequent metallic friction caused in this finger is very good for one's health. It is said to improve one's general capacity in handling life situations with ease and confidence.

Toe rings ~ The nerve in the second biggest finger of our toe connects to the uterus and passes through heart. Because of this, the constant friction caused while walking and doing all sorts of chores during a day revitalizes the reproductive organs. 
Silver being a good conductor also absorbs polar energy from the earth and passes it to the body, thus refreshing the whole body system.

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Myths & Legends

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History

The oldest origins of Asian Jewelry can be traced back to the Neolithic-age, Mehrgarh culture (7000-5500 BC) and Cemetery H Age. The period precedes the Iron Age, when major developments in metal-casting and metal working happened. It is believed that in late Harappa period craftsmen had started working with bronze, copper silver and also gold making head bands, bangles, necklaces and other jewelry items from metal casting and using other embellishments such as glazed faience, terracotta and shells. The mostly used patterns and forms comprised of anthropomorphic symbols including animals, trees and reproductive organs, owing to the prevalent Pagan faith and matriarchal spiritual beliefs. In those times, jewelry was mostly meant for women and the sets were passed on to new generations instead of being buried with the deceased

During the period of 'Maha Jandapadas' (Great kingdoms between 700-200 BC), Indian subcontinent with its growing opulence, revived jewelry designs and the region became a center for global trade. Trade between ancient Greeks and India was well established by 130 BC, the Indian spices and Indian gem stones were traded off for gold and other Mediterranean commodities such as copper, silver, olive oil and wine. Soon Romans too expanded their trade and the trade volume grew with Tamil Chola, Panyan and Chera dynasties. In exchange for spices, live peacocks, gemstones, Indians used to get lots of gold. Contrary to other parts of the world where gold was used as currency, Indians were using it for ornamental purposes, to make jewelry. Pliny the elder once criticized this trade saying "we must be made for bankrupting ourselves for India". India's obsession for gold and silver was because of the tradition of Solah Shringar 'The sixteen adornments'. In ancient Hindu wedding customs of Medieval India, the bridal set included 16 adornments made from precious metals and gemstones.

The sixteen adornments included 'Borla', a conical hair ornament worn near back, the head attached to hair. 'Tika' or 'Mang tikka', are single pendants attached to Borla, these dangle from the hair partition. 'Gaajra', which is a hair decoration of flowers and pearls. Earrings hung from 'Karn phool' or ear flowers, which is ear lobe piercing.  Other jewelry includes, 'Sarpech' or feather pin, 'Arsi' or Archer's ring, a 'Hansali', which is a collar type choker. A black beaded necklace called 'Mangal Sutra', which is a symbol for marriage and worn by the women for her man's wellbeing. The face is adorned with 'Bindi'; a single dot wore on foreheads. Nose ring called 'Nath', black eye shadow called 'Kaajal'. 'Pajeb' or Anklets, Armlets, Bangles, Bracelets, Earrings, Nose rings and toe rings complete the total set of mandatory adornments.
In 1518 AD, an India officer and traveler of Portuguese origin named 'Duarte Barbosa' mentioned the attire of the 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 holes in their ears wide enough for an egg to pass through, caused by wearing heavy gold and silver earrings.
The Kutch region was a strong center of trade with Arabian, Persian and European countries. This factor caused various influences on the designs of the jewelry such that it resulted in some thirty-five different kinds of the earrings alone for the men, women and children of various communities (like 'Rabari', 'Ahir', 'Bharvad', 'Jat', and 'Satvaras'). This plethora of variety is only prevalent in Gujarat and is comparable only to the jewelry in Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh.
A study of sculptural ornaments shows the flourishing conditions of the time and the common usage of ornaments. The Gupta period saw a lot of development in the craft using metal and precious stones. Heavy and elaborate ornaments increased in demand during the rule of the 'Chalukyas'. The 'Mughals' are said to have taken the craft of ornamentation to great refinement and believed that the glory of a prince is made tangible by his buildings, his library and his jewels.
Silver and Gold were made into lavish lifestyle articles like candle stands, furniture, chandeliers and tableware. The 'Sarafa Bazaar' in Bhuj is a famous silver market existing for almost 200 to 250 years (from the Mughal period). 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 still making traditional jewelry and some smaller lifestyle products. The rest have switched to selling lighter articles, which have a contemporary outlook from the sales point of view. For eg. 'Payals', thin anklets worn by girls are a product evolved from traditional 'Pajeb' (heavy anklets) to suit modern requirements. 

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Design

Territorial and cultural markings are still quite common among various tribes and communities as a way of marking their identity. This can be seen in the use of ornaments unique to each tribe that have not changed over the years. Silver is mostly preferred in its original color but in some cases 'Meena' (colored glass) work is done to impart vibrance. 

The following are a few examples of the communities and their characteristic ornaments:


Rabari 
Nagali: The womenfolk wear distinctive heavy brass earrings called Nagali, which hang low, stretching the earlobes. These earrings are made from thin brass wires coiled around many times to create a sort of scale with conical shapes and rings at the base. They are gifted by the groom and are a symbol of marriage.

Bungri or Phul: Worn in the helix of ear by 'Rabari' and 'Bharvad' men and boys, it sits on top of the ear like an umbrella and is a prime mark for the identity of tribal men of this region.

Dhabo: Another flat circular earring with a name which means a 'lid'. It is made with brass or gilded silver and worn by the boys of the tribal communities. It can be worn up till the age of thirty.

Tungal: A metal wire earring, which is in a loop that goes through the ear. This loop is adorned with tiny beads which are coloured or filigreed. The 'Bhopa' and 'Vaghadia' Rabari women wear it in the middle part of the outer rim of the ear.

Buttis: Studs with circular front plates that are commonly shaped like baroque blossoms. These are favored by the women who are above thirty and they also call it the 'Chapva'.

Tavit: Earrings that comprise of a woolen sling fastened using a button and are worn in the lobe. It is made of a thin molded gold sheet. Solid copper rings and gold lozenges decorate the woolen sling. 

Shibora Kada: Worn by Rabari women, this thick tubular bracelet is made by turning sliver sheet into five faced tubes (hollow from inside). This tube is then curved in the form of a bangle and at the two open ends decorated with textured animal faces. 

Dat Khotadi: A set of handmade toothpick and ear-picking tool in silver, tied together in a silver loop. It is awe inspiring to see how tools of daily personal utility are made and worn with so much thought and beauty by these tribal communities. To keep them within reach, the men wear them around their necks like pendants. Made by flattening and texturing thick silver rods and tapering them in a loop at one end, while the other end is tapered into a point for the toothpick and made into a small ladle for the ear pick. Three circular disks stuck on top in a row is a characteristic feature. 


Harijan
The necklaces worn by the 'Harijans' are heavy silver chokers made by coiling thick silver wires like the 'Nagali' (spring earrings) and are a sign of marriage.

Toti:  A type of earring that consists of a slightly convex gold sheet for front plates and is molded and backed by a wax core. A green glass stone is placed in the center, which is surrounded by little red glass beads. The back is covered by a silver plate with a plug and a screw.

Thoriyas: Worn through the concha of the ear by a sharp permanently bent wire or a loop-peg, they have very fine granulated decorations and are sometimes embellished with red or green enamel, red glass stones and gold/silver plating. This ornament is commonly seen as a part of all the communities in Kutch.

Kadli: Hollow tubular bracelets concealed by a flat silver plate on the inner side. Made with a unique hinge locking mechanism that enables perfect fitting. The semi cylindrical surface is etched and embossed with traditional flower motifs in perfect geometry.


Ahir
Akota: Are flat circular disks, worn on the ear lobe. They are fastened with the help of a horizontal part, which balances their weight and prevents slipping.

Kareli: A special kind of earring gifted at the time of birth but worn from the age of five to seven only. It is a latticed sphere attached with a round hook on top, which goes through the ear lobe.

Vedhla: Earrings which are made of metal sheets joined to form cubes or multi-faced 3D shapes and are kept hollow inside to keep them lightweight. The 'Ahirs' wear 'Vedhlas' ending in pyramidal shapes. Cubical 'Vedhlas' are 140mm in length and are worn from the age of six onwards only on festive occasions.

Tungal: A metal wire earring, which is in a loop that goes through the ear. This loop is adorned with tiny beads, which are colored or filigreed. These are worn by the 'Ahirs' in the lobe or upper ear.

Dat Khotadi: A set of handmade toothpick and ear-picking tool in silver, tied together in a silver loop. It is awe inspiring to see how tools of daily personal utility are made and worn with so much thought and beauty by these tribal communities. To keep them within reach, the men wear them around their necks like pendants. Made by flattening and texturing thick silver rods and tapering them in a loop at one end, while the other end is tapered into a point for the toothpick and made into a small ladle for the ear pick. Three circular disks stuck on top in a row is a characteristic feature. 

Haidi: An elaborate neckpiece worn by the women of 'Jat' and 'Ahir' communities, it is an assortment of a number of 3D and 2D forms put together in a pair of slings (snake chains) and embellished with lots of 'Ghungroos', that not only make it look good but sound delicious too. It is characterized by a big pendant (inspired by Islamic motifs) with 'Meena'(colored glass) work and embossed textures (granular). 


Jat
Allulakh: An ear ornament worn by the 'Jats', which is a latticed capsule with a stiff connection to the tops. The design is said to be a Sindhi influence and similar pieces were discovered from South Persia too. 

Dhan: A kind of headband which serves as a support for the heavy weight of the earring. It is sometimes accompanied with a finely crafted silver hook for the hair.

Haidi: An elaborate neckpiece worn by the women of 'Jat' and 'Ahir' communities, it is an assortment of a number of 3D (capsules) and 2D forms put together in a pair of slings (snake chains) and embellished with lots of 'Ghungroos', that not only make it look good but sound delicious too. It is characterized by a big pendant (inspired by Islamic motifs) with 'Meena'(colored glass) work and embossed textures (granular). 


Charan
Loriya: A dangler on a circular fastening worn on the ear by married 'Charan' women. They are combined with three 'Saralia' in a helix.

Mumna or Vari: A set of earrings worn by young girls in the helix of their ear before marriage. They are decorated loops with a chiseled dangler attached stiffly to the middle.

Kadli: Hollow tubular bracelets concealed by a flat silver plate on the inner side. Made with a unique hinge locking mechanism that enables perfect fitting. The semi cylindrical surface is etched and embossed with traditional flower motifs in perfect geometry.


Bharvad
Kankari: An ear ornament that is a hollow loop fastened across ears with the help of a long screw. Women wear it in the lobe and the men wear it through the hole of the 'Bhungri' in their helix. 

Kokarvan: Flat filigreed circular ornaments worn through the concha of the ear. These are believed to ensure good health.

Machkanian: Worn on the tragus of the ear and are given to a girl as a wedding gift by the in-laws.

Bharvad Nagali: Unlike the 'Rabari Nagali', it is rather plain and has a very raw appeal to it. It is a simple upturned cone formed by looped wires and attached to the lobe with a loop.

Chandan Haar: Worn by Bharvad men in weddings, it's a piece of jewelry made differently from most of the 'Kutchi' jewelry. Seven (two heart shaped, two hexagons, two rectangular and one pentagonal) flat plate pieces, decorated with floral designs made with cut work, studded with semi precious/ precious stones and textured by etching and embossing techniques are linked together in the form of a necklace through silver chains. These silver chains are also special in the design of their units and the linkages. A bigger heart shaped piece with three little closed bells (Ghunghroos) dangle at the bottom of the pentagonal central piece, completing the elaborate set up. 


Mutwa Muslim
Pupat: A characteristic earring of this community and is formed by a hook which is as long as the entire ornament itself. This hook is decorated with shapes, stones and enameling.

Sonethekawara: A partly gilded 'Vedhla' (a loop ending in a stiffly attached dangler). The ones with small discs in the front are called 'Ektak bonda'(one disc) and 'Betak Bonda' (two discs).
Siri: A simple, punch-dye formed convex plate worn on the earlobe. They wear them combined with two or three 'Chelakeri' (Chela - pendant, Keri - hook) in the helix of the ear.

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Challenges

The increase in cost of silver has raised the price of the jewelry craft causing many buyers to leave and purchase much cheaper imitation jewelry. Also the detailed designs in the jewelry require a lot of time and effort causing slow production, which leads to poor sales. This has caused a lot of the younger generation of the craftsmen families to take up better paying jobs. Tribal families who are facing destitute conditions because of faulty economic policies are selling off their traditional wealth for meager money. These heirloom pieces are mostly melted and molded into newer designs, often machine made and of very little craftsmanship value.

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