Hindu Jewellery

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Hindu Jewellery

Probably in no country in the world is the love of personal ornament so manifest as it is in India. The sight of the great princes in full gala dress is a dream of brightness and wealth, and even the poorest day laborer manages to possess some ornament if it is only silver, or even copper ring for his finger, or toe.

Any little extra gain and savings are almost invariably invested in jewels. The owner is happy if on gala days he can adorn himself, or his family with so much jewelry, and he likes to be spoken of as a man possessing so many rupees worth of the same. A man’s wealth is often spoken of as the possession of so much in jewels.

Bharhut Yakshi, Ornaments
Bharhut Yakshi, Ornaments 2300 years ago

Ornaments for Men

Men have the ear, both the different parts of the outer rim and the lobe, pierced for various kinds of ornaments. They also have the nose pierced for a small jewel. It may be done in either one of the nostrils, or in the div on between the two. They often wear old or silver beads around the neck which are sometimes used as a rosary.

It is very common to wear a silver or gold belt around the waist. This is often made in circular or square plates, joined together each plate being either plain or ornamented with embossed or raised work. Even an ordinary coolie, or laborer, may be seen wearing one of these silver belts. Men wear bracelets on the upper arm and on the wrist; the latter sometimes beautifully ornamented. They wear more rings on the fingers than the females and sometimes the gems in these rings are very valuable.

Vishnu's Ornaments
Vishnu’s Ornaments

Probably the most valuable part of a man’s ornaments is the gems in his ear-rings, and finger rings. A man may have very little on in the shape of clothing, the lobes of his ears are ornamented with diamonds of great value. Sometimes a man has a ring on his big toe. There is an idea that it is beneficial to health, for a toe ring is said to benefit impaired energies.

There is a peculiar custom prevalent amongst the Hindus when a child is born to a married pair after a long time, or one survives after several have died in infancy. In such a case, and especially if it be a boy, but also sometimes in the ease of girl, the parents will beg money from their friends and even from strangers— the money must be obtained this way — and with what is realized, they get jewels made for the ear and nose, to be worn as amulets. It must at least be enough for one ear and one nostril but if sufficient is obtained to meet cost, both ears and both nostrils are thus ornamented. When these are once put on, they are never removed. The great danger would be incurred by removing these charms. It is very dangerous for a visitor to praise the ornaments of a child. Praise of this kind is believed to bring a nemesis with it, or it may suggest an envious glance of the malignant.

Ornaments for Women

Women jewellery

The ornaments for women are naturally far more numerous. There are no less than twelve different kinds for the head alone. Probably this does not exhaust the list, but these are those in ordinary use, either for gala days or for everyday wear.

There is an ornament called the betel leaf, made of gold, ornamented with little balls along its edges, and worn on the top of the head towards the front. Another ornament made into the shape of the petal of a certain Indian flower is worn just behind it. Next comes a large circular ornament named after the Indian chrysanthemum, and placed at the end of the chignon, which is worn at the side and not at the back of the head. A golden sunflower, with a crescent attached to it by links, is put on the crown of the bead. These four ornaments are in ordinary wear by well to do females; those hereafter mentioned are, as a rule only worn on gala days.

An ornament shaped an inverted A, sometimes set with pearls, is worn on the forehead, the angle is attached to the hair the line with the parting. Pendant from is a locket adorned with pearls. On the hair in the front and just between the shaped A-shaped ornament and the betel shaped one are two jewels; the one on the right is called the sun, and the one on the left, being of a crescent shape, is named the moon. Both of these are sometimes adorned with precious stones.

There is also a kind of gold buckle worn on the side of the chignon, which is used for attaching to it any artificial hair that may be necessary to make the bunch of the approved size and appearance. An ornament like a chrysanthemum with an emerald in the center is also worn on the chignon

On great occasions, such as her wedding day or other gala days, a Hindu lady may have all these ornaments on at the same time. There are two head ornaments that are worn instead of those on the chignon, when the wearers are young girls. Their hair is plaited into a tail, hanging straight down behind, and beautified with a long ornament of gold, often set with precious stones. At the end of this yet another article is attached, consisting of a bunch of gold ball- like ornaments fastened on with silk.

Nose ornaments

Strange as it may seem to Western ideas, ornaments frequently attached to the nose by Hindu ladies. Each nostril and the cartilage between the two are pierced, and one or other of the following ornaments are attached to the nose.

First, there is a pendant from the center, hanging down over the upper lip. In the middle of this ornament, there is a stone of some kind and pendant from that again is a pearl. Into one of the nostrils, a short pin with a precious stone as a head is put. A pendant pearl is attached to it. Into the other nostril, a flower-shaped jewel of gold and small pearls may be put. These three jewels are in daily wear by those who can afford them. For high days and holidays, a ring, sometimes as large round as a rupee and ornamented with pearls or precious stones, is worn in one of the nostrils; whilst the other may be a flower-like jewel of smaller size. A half-moon shaped ornament is also attached to a nostril. It is not possible to have all these on at one and the same time, but a number can be thus worn together.

15 Ear ornaments

There are at least four parts of the ear, and some times, even more, that are pierced to enable the various ornaments to be attached to it.

I have a list of fifteen different kinds of ear-jewels, all known by different names. Some are of ornamented gold, whilst others are richly set with gems and pearls, according to the means of the owner. Some are for the lobe of the ear and some for the tip and middle of the outer rim, each place being pierced for the purpose. There is also a hole pierced in the little prominence in front of the external opening of the ear which is made to serve the purpose of holding a jewel. The variety of neck ornaments is very great. I have the names of twenty-four. The style and quality differ very largely Some are tight bands, fitting close around the neck, usually composed of flat gold beads or tablets strung together on silken or other cord. Among st poorer people the gold beads are alternated with those of colored glass. Some of the neck ornaments are loose hanging chains. A very favorite neck jewel is composed of gold coins, or French five or ten francs Australian sovereign pieces, or the old Indian gold Stamp (mohur).

There are jewels for the upper part of the arm and for the wrists. Those for the upper part are like bracelets of various kinds. Some are like chains and some are merely plain bands, whilst others are beautifully in various patterns. Others are ornamented with precious stones. Bangles and waist ornaments, anklets and toe rings are usually worn by all females.

Bangles

It is a universal rule that all Hindu females, from their very childhood, should wear bangles. A widow may wear gold bracelets, but not glass ones. A little infant of a month old has one or two glass bangles on its little wrist by the fond mother, and the number increases with the age of the child. Some females wear a few, whilst others have on a dozen or more, nearly covering the arm from the wrist upwards.

Toe rings

Silver rings of various kinds are worn on the toes. There must always be one ring on the middle toe of one or both feet. If through this extreme poverty a silver ring cannot be obtained for this toe, then one of bell-metal will be used instead. The shape of these rings for the toes of females differs from that for men, in that they are usually shaped like two or three twists of wire; hence the Telugu name for women’s toe rings is tsuttu, which means a twist round. Married women wear a peculiar shaped ring on the fourth toe which has an embossed ornament on the top. Men’s toe rings are more like ordinary finger rings, except that they can be pulled open and pressed again when put on or taken off.

All these ornaments are not worn at one and the same time, but it is astonishing how many jewels can be crowded on to the person. So imperative is it at weddings that the bride should be decked out in jewels, that they are freely borrowed and as freely lent by the neighbors and friends upon so important an occasion.

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Santanam Swaminathan was born in Kilvalur near Nagappattinam in Tamil Nadu in 1948. He is married with two children. He has been living in London from 1987. He has two master degrees to his credit in History and literature in addition to his B.Sc in biology and chemistry. He worked as a part time tutor at the University of London and a part time Health Advocate in a London hospital. Before joining BBC World Service in London he worked as Senior Sub Editor of Dinamani News Paper in Madurai until 1986. He held President/ Secretary posts in four organisations in London. He hails from a journalist family. His father Santanam was the News Editor of Dinamani in Madurai. He translated Anna Karenina of Leo Tolstoy in 1940s which runs to 1500 pages. It was considered a great achievement at that time. Late Sri Santanam was a freedom fighter who was imprisoned with K. Kamaraj and other leaders during the struggle for independence.

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