From the beginning of time, jewelry has been associated with symbolism. True especially for Indians, jewelry is a reflection of their identity within their community, in terms of age, sex, and social status.
Even today, we use rings to symbolize commitment, “mangalsutras” to convey marital status, and the higher the “social status” of a person, the more expensive and designed their jewelry. From Tiffany to Tanishq, “a diamond is forever” is marketed everywhere to the extent that it is synonymous with prestige. But, have you ever wondered where this love for the shiny things in life began? How long have the Indian people adorned themselves with baubles? What is the importance of jewelry in Indian tradition?
Let us explore the spellbinding history of Indian Jewelry!
The History of Indian Jewelry
India has been blessed with a naturally abundant supply of gold, silver, and gems. It has also enjoyed a continuous development of this art form for 5000 years, under the extremely diverse sovereigns that would come and settle here.
India has always been the center, between the warring ambitious European rulers, the Mongols in the East, Middle Eastern monarchs, and more. This is why Indian jewelry has a wider assortment than jewelry from other places around the world.
Let’s see a few examples below, as we explore the brief chronological history of Indian jewelry.
The Indus Valley
Let’s start at the inception, in 1500 BC when the ancient people started making necklaces, bangles, and earrings out of gold, beads, and metal.
In fact, before 2100 BC, the most extensive jewelry trade was that of beads.
Pure gold does not rust like iron or even stone, which is why it was always associated with immortality.
When we look back at historical texts from the Vedic age we see stories about human life born from a golden egg. Gold jewelry was associated with royalty.
This is also when gems become prominent in Hindu mythology, with a special focus on Navratna, or nine stones, ruby, pearl, coral, emerald, sapphire, diamond, blue sapphire, cat’s eye, and Hessonite, all believed to be pure and manifestations of wealth, happiness, fame, longevity, honor and peace.
Mughal paintings show elaborate ear ornaments, neck ornaments with different kinds of pearls and precious stones, “meenakari” or floral finishes, and engraved jewelry, worn both by men and women.
Mughal emperors took “A diamond is forever” to heart, and would inscribe their titles and names into their diamonds to assure their immortality.
Mughal patronage of this art and the inflow of Central Asian styles that fused with the pioneering Indian created some pieces that are so mind-blowing, like the Taj Mahal Emerald, a unique hexagon emerald that is delicately carved.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, ancient Indian ornament designs began to exhibit the influence of the country’s colonial rulers. Designs later begin to evolve to become even more cross-cultural. Indian jewelry and jewelry designed to mimic it can be seen appearing around the world, from Paris to the Americas.
Now that you have read about the story of the jewelry, the next question that comes to you must be, “are there many types of jewelry? The short answer is, “yes!”. Read on to find out what they are.
Types of Jewelry
From kamarbands, and rani haar to kangans, payals, naths, jhumkas, mattha pattis, baju bands, bichiyas… There are so many types of Indian Traditional Jewelry! To approach a study of Indian jewelry from another angle, we look at the three major materials used in the past.
(from the Indus Valley)- All jewelry was handmade at that time, isn’t that fascinating? The bead maker would take a rough stone, and place it into a hot oven till it turned an intense red. It would then be painstakingly chipped to the right size, and have a hole pierced into it. Then to make the beads shiny and attractive they were polished and painted with designs. They also used semi-precious metals like agate, turquoise, feldspar, carnelian and so much more.
In the 2000 years after Mohenjodaro, the craft of jewelry making had become so polished, that we see more and more intense, beautiful pieces with delicate gold work, embossing, and micro-granulations on pendants and earrings from this time. This kind of jewelry was often created for adorning idols or for the rulers, but as time passed, temple dancers and the common man began to adorn themselves too.
The art of diamond mining dates back to as far as 296 BC, with India being the first country in the world to mine them. We have historical evidence that shows that not only was the diamond drill invented here, in fact, but the craftsmen also taught the Romans how to use it! And as for the other gemstones, for more than 2000 years India was the sole supplier of gemstones to the world.
As we explore the history of Indian jewelry, we see its immensity. A single article could never cover it entirely, though we come close to sharing with you how magnificent it is. We hope we have encouraged you to fall down this sparkly rabbit hole, and that you would enjoy studying it when you touch upon it in the course with us!
How can ISDI help:
ISDI will take you on a journey to understand Indian Jewelry more holistically, to provide you with a deeper understanding of how the influences of the past affect the present trends. If we have sparked your interest in the history of Indian fashion then here’s a few programs that you should check out!
ISDI offers various design programs such as Strategic Design Management, Product Design Fashion Design, Fashion Communication and Styling, Interior Design and Strategic Design, Communication Design, and Management. Pursuing one of the degree programs, that is, Bachelors in Design (BDes) – 4-year program or Postgraduate In Design (PGDI) – 11 months program. Either of the programs is an alternative to a career in fashion and design.
The ISDI campus is located in the business district of Mumbai, the commercial center of India. ISDI consists of a curriculum that is based on that of the Parsons School of Design, experienced and industry-leading faculty, and practical project-based training, all situated on a state-of-the-art campus. ISDI is just the right place for someone looking to start a career in design.
- Vedic age jewelry
- Mughals era jewelry
- Gemstone necklace
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