Known for the intricate patterns and beautiful designs, Indian jewellery is in great demand all over the world. As old as Indian civilisation itself, the origin of jewellery in India can be traced back to 5000 years ago. Jewellery excavated from the sites of Indus valley civilisation shows that bead jewellery was very much in fashion in those times. Although women were more fond of it, men also wore beads. Women also loved earrings and bracelets made of shells and clay, which were black in color and resembled doughnuts. In fact, handcrafted jewellery out of seeds, feathers, leaves, berries, fruits, flowers, animal bones was also made as part of body jewellery. Jewellery was not just seen as an adornment in those times but it was also seen as protection against evil forces and that’s why a maniratna or sandalwood beads were worn.
Beaded jewellery remained very popular till 2100 BC. However, by 1500 BC, the concept of metal evolved and gold necklaces, metallic bangles and beautiful gold earrings were made. In fact, we started importing gold and exporting diamond. India being the first country to mine diamonds in 296 BC, started trading them for other precious commodities from other countries. Gold and silver became the most used metals as they were considered to be sacred. Gold represented the warmth of the sun and silver the calmness of the moon. As gold did not corrode with time, it was associated with immortality in Hindu tradition. In fact, gold was so popular in ancient India that it finds mention in most ancient Indian literatures like Silappatikaram. A special bracelet called kada was also worn by people from time immemorial. The patterns of kada were inspired by peacock, elephants and other such animals.
With the royalty coming into picture, wearing gold jewellery became the right of the priveleged, i.e the royal class women and those who received the official permission. It also became more of a symbol of wealth, power and prestige. Navaratna or the ornament studded with nine gems, became very popular among the Maharajas. It comprised of an amulet with nine gems, which were red zircon, cat’s eye, coral, diamond, sapphire, ruby and pearl. These precious stones were revered by the royal family as Hindu Gods and it was said that each of these gems represented a celestial deity.
With the advent of the Mughals in the 16th Century, Indian jewellery achieved a new height. A perfect blend of Iranian and Hindu designs reflected in the jewellery designs during Akbar’s reign. The enamel work on jewellery that was introduced with the Mughals made the jewellery look rich and exquisite. Jeweled turbans, head-jewelry to thick-set toe rings were flaunted in style during this period. Anklets of gold were worn only by those who had a privileged position in the durbar. Shah Jahan was also influenced by Dutch jewellery. Rajputs too had keen interest in jewellery.
In Modern India, jewellery also became an asset for women which they could use for contingency purpose. In Hindu, Jain and Sikh culture, where women did not inherit landed property, jewellery was given to the girl as part of Streedhan at the time of marriage, thus securing her future.
Modern India witnessed jewellery made of various metals with different regions in India having their own style of jewellery making. Fine filigree work in Silver found in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, jewellery with meenakari work in Jaipur, temple jewellery of Nagercoil, beaded jewellery of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Himachal, assamese jewellery influenced by local flora and fauna in Assam, jewellery made of shells and animal claws in Manipur, the setting of semi-precious as well as precious stones in gold popular in Delhi, are now famous all over the world.
Today, you get traditional as well as modern jewellery. It is made with almost all materials like beads, glass, resin, shellac, plastic, wood, terracotta, copper, diamond, sterling silver, gold and much more. Recently antique jewellery is getting very popular. It is actually modern day jewellery in gold or silver, which has undergone a process of oxidization or was buried in a pot of clay for sometime. This gives it a dull and antique look. Chokers and necklaces with meenakari and kundan work, diamond jewellery and South Indian jewellery with its traditional designs are a preferred choice during special occasions like weddings, parties etc. While beaded, plastic, thread, sterling silver and terracotta jewellery are more for day to day fashion.
Over the centuries, the Indian jewellery has undergone various changes in terms of design, material used, style but one thing that has remained constant is its popularity among the women within India and all over the world.