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Home > History of Jewellery > Jewellery in Ancient India
Jewellery in Ancient India
Other Jewellery Jewellery for Head & Nec.. Seals
Coins Beads
Gold has been found practically everywhere in the world, even in seawater, but in vastly varying quantities. Gold coins, when they are minted stand at the head of every coinage. It very often contains an admixture of silver in its natural state. Most of the gold in India proper is found in Karnataka and today it is mined industrially in the Kolar gold fields. Most of the gold in India, however, was imported in the ancient era and is done even today. In India, gold has had many uses. From the artistic point of view, the gold coins of the Guptas are amongst the finest ever minted.

Excavations

Gold, as elsewhere, has always been extensively used for rings and other mountings of gems. One cannot even avoid noticing, the ancient Indian male sculptures, fully adorned with jewellery. Kronos EarringsThe Vedic gods are constantly described as wearing ornaments made of gold, since, the male figures often represented gods, and their costumes & adornments were undoubtedly modeled on those of the royalty and nobility of those times. The Kronos earrings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, provides striking evidence of this the finest pieces of early Indian jewellery known to date. Their excavation place is not known but it has been pointed out that the Chakravartin (World Emperor) on the famous relief from Jaggayyapeta in eastern Andhra during First Century BC wears very similar earrings. This gives a clue, as to why none of the bulky jewellery depicted in the stone sculpture has survived. The connection here between these massive earrings and royalty (the lion and the elephant are royal beasts) suggests that few such sumptuous pieces were ever made. However, most of the information about gold used in ancient India is derived from either from the excavated material from early sites with relatively rare gold jewellery and the visual record provided by countless carved or, more rarely, painted, representations of richly adorned gods and goddesses from the third to fourth centuries BC onwards.

The Indus Valley Civilization

Dancing GirlJewellery has been part of the Indian civilization since ancient history. The traditional art of India suggest a richness and profusion in the jewellery worn by both men and women during those times.Earlier, it had a massive quantity to it but the workmanship was coarse. Ornaments made of gold, silver, copper, ivory, pottery and beads have been discovered in civilizations as ancient as the Harappa and Mohanjodaro. One of the first to start jewellery making were the peoples of the Indus Valley Civilization. Out of the most striking aspects of the discoveries there is also the discovery of the art and crafts and the social, religious and economic condition of that era. The excavations have yielded a rich collection of objects in stone, bronze and terracotta. One of the most known figurines is perhaps the `dancing girl` (in bronze) wearing a necklace and a series of bangles almost covering one arm, her hair dressed in a complicated coiffure, standing in a provocative posture, with one arm on her hip and one lanky leg half bent.

Gold DiscBy 1,500 BC the population of the Indus Valley were creating moulds for metal and terracotta ornaments. Gold jewellery from these civilizations also consisted of bracelets, necklaces, bangles, ear ornaments, rings, head ornaments, brooches, girdles etc. Here, the bead trade was in a full swing and they were made using simple techniques. Although women wore jewellery the most, some men in the Indus Valley wore beads. Small beads were often crafted to be placed in men and women`s hair. The beads were so small they usually measured in at only 1 millimetre long. Both men and women wore ornaments. While necklaces, fillets, armlets and finger-rings were common to both sexes, females wore jewellery in the Indus Valley predominantly, since they wore numerous clay or shell bracelets on their wrists. They were often shaped like doughnuts and painted black. Over time, clay bangles were discarded for more durable ones. Women wore girdles, earrings and anklets. Ornaments were made of gold, silver, copper, ivory, precious and semi-precious stones, bones and shells etc. Other pieces that women frequently wore were thin bands of gold that would be worn on the forehead, earrings, primitive brooches, chokers and gold rings. Even the necklaces were soon adorned with gems and green stone.
Gandhara Dynasty

Of the relatively rare finds of ancient gold jewellery, most are from the north west of the subcontinent, the region known as Gandhara in ancient times, and particularly from Taxila, a flourishing city since the fourth century BC and which has been extensively excavated. Most of this jewellery shows a strong Greek or Hellenistic influence. Earrings often consist of discs from which hang down tiny chains terminating in beads or sometimes-small gold erotes, or cupids, in repousse. Such pendants also hang down over almost their whole length from necklaces when they are of the `strap` variety. Ribbing is practised, sometimes for the terminal elements of necklaces, but spherical ribbed beads, found in considerable numbers, appear to be an Indian type. Pairs of heavy round tubular bracelets of a purely Indian type were also found at Taxila, of the type worn by the yakshi from Tamluk. Of the early sculpture figures, which have survived, none wears as much or as sumptuous jewellery as this yakshi on a moulded terracotta plaque found at Tamluk near Calcutta, of 200 century BC.

Different types of jewellery are so far found in these excavations. These include the strings of beads dangling from her girdle and below; the former even have pendants in the form of small squatting figures. From the discs at the ends of the massive earrings hang, fringe-like, small strings of beads, and part of her girdle is composed of round ribbed beads. The long pins stuck into her headdress are headed, not by figures but by auspicious symbols, such as the trident and the elephant god. The most intricate piece of jewellery depicted, however, hardly visible to the naked eye, is the clasp to the bandolier across the goddess`s chest composed of a deer and a makara (a semi-aquatic mythical beast which plays an important part in Indian iconography). It is quite likely that in the real thing they would have been covered with granulation).

BodhisattvaThe characteristic sculpture of Gandhara during the first three or four centuries AD was produced, in vast quantities, for the Buddhists and their monasteries. Consequently, with the notable exception of Hariti, the figures with adornments are all masculine Bodhisattvas, decked in the finery of a local magnate (the Buddha, of course, wears no jewellery of any kind until much later). These favoured massive earrings, armlets and torques, often incorporating bird or animal forms. On their diadems and armlets can sometimes be seen the high-haunched animals of the Animal Style. Similarly one or two examples, possibly imports, of the Sarmatian and Scythian jewellery from Southern Russia have been found in India. On the other hand, there are examples of the tubular reliquaries almost invariably strung along the yajnopavitas (sacred thread) of the Bodhisattvas. First after the Gupta period (550 AD), the jewellery portrayed on statues becomes increasingly conventionalized and removed from the actual practice.

Sunga Dynasty

Later, due to the advent of the Sunga dynasty, the jewellery became a little refined. In the sculptures of the period references show us that the material used most frequently were gold and precious stones like corals, rubies, sapphires, agates, and crystals. Pearls and beads of all kinds were used plentifully including those made of glass. Certain ornaments were common to both sexes, like earrings, necklaces, armlets, bracelets and embroidered belts. Apart from these forms of jewellery, the only material evidence of a piece of Mauryan jewellery is a single earring found at Taxila dated second century BC, which is similar to Graeco-Roman and Etruscan Jewellery. They are as follows:

Earring (Karnika): These were of three types viz, a simple ring or circle called Kundala, a circular disc earring known as dehri and earrings with a flower-like shape known as Karnaphul.

Necklaces: These were also of two kinds; a short one called Kantha, which was broad and flat, usually gold, inlaid with precious stones, and a long one, the lambanam. These chain or bead necklaces were sometimes three-to-seven stringed and were named after the number of strings of which they were composed. At the centre of each string of beads was an amulet for warding off evil forces.

Armlets (Bajuband): These were of gold and even the armlets made of silver beads were worn on the upper arm, and were occasionally studded with precious stones.

Bracelets (Kangan): These were very often made of square or round beads of gold, and richly embroidered cloth belts completed the male ensemble.

Girdle (Mekhala): Women, in addition, wear girdles called mekhala, a hip belt of multi-stringed beads, originally made from the red seed kaksha.

Anklets & Rings: All women also wore anklets and thumb and finger rings. The rings were plain and crowded together on the middle joints of the fingers. Anklets were often of gold in this period, though silver was more common. They could be in the form of a simple ring, Kara, a thick chain, sankla, oran ornamental circle with small bells called ghungru.

Forehead Ornaments: Forehead ornaments for women were quite common and worn below the parting of the hair and at the center of the forehead. These consisted of thin plate of gold or silver stamped in various patterns, as well as a star-shaped sitara and bina. And a tiny ornament called bindi.

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