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Home > History of Jewellery > The Southern Jewellery
The Southern Jewellery
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The SouthernTempleLP. K. Gode records the earliest representation of nose rings known so far, in the mural paintings of the Tiruvambadi shrine in the Shri Padmanabhasvami temple, Trivandrum, South India. The earliest European reference to nose rings also notes their use in the south, in Vijayanagar. However due to the jewellery of Moghul India has been studied so extensively, the neglect of southern India has been far greater. Unlike the north, where similar forms are found across a wide area and changed relatively slowly across the decades, south Indian sculptures (and, to a lesser extent, paintings) reveal marked shifts in jewellery fashions, many with strongly regional characteristics.

At its simplest level, south Indian jewellery imitates forms found in nature. Chased gold is made to imitate the rudraksha bead sacred to the god Shiva, elements of necklaces may copy cut grass stalks, lotus buds, garlic bulbs or lentils as well as flowers. The naga ear ornaments are a mixture of formally arranged geometric elements, the squares grouped together at the front of the circular base, and a naturalistic cobra-hood, which develops, bizarrely, into a bat-like creature with fangs. This kind of jewellery is not easily accessible to those outside the culture that produces it.

The characteristic arrangements of stones in grid patterns are an abstraction of timeless features found in temple architecture. Thus, the twelve rubies which surround the pearl Nandi suggests the rasi mandala, or Zodiac ceiling panels of the kind found, for instance, in the twelfth century Subrahmanya temple at Pollachi in Coimbatore. The nine stones at the centre of the forehead ornament probably from Madras are the navaratna but the arrangement is again that to be found in temple architecture (for instance in the seventeenth-century Adikesava temple in Thiruvattaru, Kanyakumari district).

The parrots pecking lotuses seen in the sixteenth-century Bhuvaraha temple in Shrimushnam, is a kind of a motif yet found in nineteenth-century jewellery. Technically, jewellery of the south differs greatly from that of the Moghul-influenced areas of India. The precious metal acts both as support and decoration. Sheet gold is far more in evidence than in Mughal jewellery: a thick flat band may be used for an armlet, with flat lozenges set at an angle to support three-dimensional parrots and a jeweled flower. The ring from the Castellani collection has first been shaped from sheet gold: the jeweled sections are then applied on top but do not alter the outline established by the support.

The gold Nandi ring is formed rather differently as its gold-covered hoop has a core probably made from lac, but relies entirely on manipulation of the surface of the gold, or on applied gold, for its decoration. The sapphire Nandi ring illustrates the symbolic use of gemstones: the bull is the mount of Shiva and the stone suggests the colour of the god`s skin, as he is commonly depicted in painting. Sapphire is a stone often thought by Hindus to bring misfortune. Two imperfections on the sapphire bull have been gouged out with no attempt to disguise the marks; once these flaws were removed the stone`s malevolent influence was presumably nullified.

South Indian jewellery often shows considerable monumentality, as can be seen in the so-called `Hawking Ring of Tipu Sultan.` The ring was in the collection of Henry Cornwallis Neville, the fourth Baron Braybrooke. The ring was, according to a catalogue of the Braybrooke collection held in the Department of Medieval and Later Antiquities at the British Museum, taken at the first siege, in 1792. Though Tipu Sultan in all probability, owned the ring, it is unlikely to have been made for him. The drawing shows a devanagari inscription on the breast of the bird; this is confirmed by the British Museum catalogue which shows it more clearly, though not clearly enough for it to be deciphered. The catalogue entry notes that the inscription includes the word `Maharaja`.

The combination of the Hindu title and the devanagari script rule this out as a product of the Mysore karkhana. The many objects, which definitely were made in Mysore, and in some cases specifically for Tipu Sultan, are inscribed exclusively in Persian, with Arabic if the inscription has a religious content. The ring must, therefore, have been taken from a nearby Hindu ruler on one of the many campaigns undertaken by him, or by his father Haider Ali. Nevertheless, the provenance of the ring would make it a key piece in the history of south Indian jewellery; sadly, it was stolen from Audley End, near Saffron Walden, in 1951.

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