Friday, 11 January 2013

Introduction to Indian art beads

Eighteenth-century Mogul enameled gold necklace with pearls and emerald beads. Once precious stones were pierced, they lost some of their intrinsic value, thus such necklaces conveyed their owners' great wealth. The neck-laces of gems and metals created by jewelers of the Mogul court are among the most elaborate ever made, yet their designs are unusually well integrated and not over-whelmed by details.
From the days of the Indus Valley civilization (2600-1600 B.C.) to the present, Indian craftsmen have produced exquisite beaded jewelry, often using precious or semiprecious stones. It is the continuity of the stone bead industry, whose materials, techniques, and styles have remained essentially unchanged for thousands of years, that is the central story of Indian beads.

Quantities of beads from archaeological sites, as well as early icons, reliefs on friezes, and literary texts, affirm that beaded jewelry has always been important to all classes of Indian society: rich and poor, sacred and secular. Ancient clay figures, often representing the gods of the common people, were depicted in typical daily dress wearing beaded necklaces, ear-rings, girdles, and bracelets. Sculptures of Buddha from seventh- to tenth-century Himalayan monasteries are carved or cast with beaded necklaces, as are images of the Buddha as the princely bodhisattva before his enlightenment.

Jewelry traditionally marks every stage in an Indian's life. The Hindu code of Manu ("The Law Giver") specifies certain jewelry is to be worn on designated occasions, making adornment a necessity for even the poorest believers. The parents of a bride are obliged to include gifts of jewelry in their daughter's dowry. Even if they can afford only one piece, it symbolizes her marital status and is worn at the time of her wedding, to be removed only when she is wid-owed or dies.

This strong relationship between beads and religion still exists today. Worshipers of certain Hindu gods wear special beads to differentiate themselves from members of other branches of the faith as well as from non-Hindus. Followers of Siva, for example, have worn Rudraksha, beads made from seeds of the Eleaocarpus ganitrus tree, since at least A.D. 1000 , while Vishnu worshipers wear little wooden beads made of tulsi, the holy basil Ocimum sanctum. The continued importance of wooden beads in India for religious purposes may reflect parallel preferences for wood, clay, and stone in that order for the construction of religious buildings.

 Agate, carnelian, and other stone beads, some possibly more than a thousand years old, from excavations at Djenne, Mali. The shapes and raw materials are representative of stone beads that were exported from India to western Asia and Africa, begin-ning before the Christian Do. A few of these beads may be African-made. Indian stone beadmaking originated about 6500 B. C. While some manufac-turing processes have been modernized, most stone beadmaking tech-niques in India remain unchanged. Lower neck-lace, large faceted car-nelian bead.In India, the poor have traditionally worn beads made from seeds, clay, copper, and silver, while the rich have preferred gold and precious stones. However, beyond displaying wealth and status, precious stones and metals were considered almost holy and believed to have protective powers.57 Gems were also offered to deities as a means of gaining divine assistance.

Indian Stone Beads

Some of the oldest beads in the world have been found in India. Disk beads of ostrich eggshell and an Olivia shell bead from Patne in Maharashtra date to 23,000 B.C., and a bone bead and several cattle incisor teeth grooved for stringing, found at the Kurnool Cave, date to 17,000 B.C.

India's great fame as a beadmaking center stems from the country's abundant and accessible supplies of a wide range of semiprecious quartz minerals: chalcedony, agate, onyx, jasper, and rock crystal. Gravels in some Indian rivers yield agate nodules, and shallow under-ground bedrock agate sources are easily mined. This abundance of high-quality raw materials gave rise to the ancient Indian stone bead industry.

By the early Neolithic period (7000-5500 B.C.), beadmaking technology was sufficiently developed for beads to be shaped and not just simply grooved or pierced. Beads of softer stones, such as steatite, turquoise, lapis lazuli, and alabaster, were produced and traded in the early Indus Valley site of Mehrgarh. The Mehrgarh excavations also revealed that pump or bow drills with a chert bit were used to perforate stone beads.58The discoveries are the first examples of an uninterrupted industry of stone beadmaking within India that remains important even today.

Beadmakers in the Chalcolithic period (c. 4500 B.c.) became increasingly specialized, employing longer cylindrical stone drills made of chert or jasper. The new drills were more efficient for perforating long agate and carnelian beads, a necessary development as patrons demanded larger beads as their wealth and status grew. Used with water, the ground dust acted as a natural abrasive.

The Indus had nourished one of the great ancient civilizations by the third millennium B.C., whose effect on later Indian cultures has been considerable. Mixed agriculture, planned towns with elaborate drainage systems, monumental buildings, a hieroglyphic script, and long-distance trade attest to the sophistication of this highly complex society. Beadmakers Harappa, which alongside Mohenjo-daro was one of the twin capitals of the Indus civilization, mastered stone bead-cutting by 2600 B.C., and they probably traded carnelian and agate beads to Sumer, 1,600 miles to the west.

 "Trade wind" beads of brick red, yel-low, green, and black opaque glass, probably dating to the fifteenth centiny A.D." These dis-tinctive beads were made in India by a drawn-glass technique. Many similar beads were exported, beginning in 200 B. C. and continuing up to the sev-enteenth century. They are labeled trade wind beads because they are found in archaeological sites by the Indian Ocean in East and South Africa and are believed to have arrived there in the ships of Arab, Indian, and Chinese traders, who sailed with the monsoon winds and ocean cur-rents. The beads are also found throughout Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Java, Malaysia, and Sumatra. Of particu-lar interest are the brick red beads, known as "Indian reds" in Africa and as rnutisalah in Timor.From 2600 to 1600 B.C., Indus Valley craftsmen at Mohenjo-daro, Harappa, Lothal, and Chanhu-daro created a vast array of bead shapes, many of which are identical to those found in Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Iran, Afghanistan, Crete, and Egypt from the same era. Carnelians and agates were highly prized, but there were also beads of bone, shell, pottery, faience, steatite (including glazed steatite), onyx, amethyst, feldspar, turquoise, lapis lazuli, copper, bronze, silver, and gold. The discovery of many terminal spacer beads shows that, as in Egypt, strings of beads were combined into necklaces, bracelets, and girdles.

Actual proof of direct contact between Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Indus Valley civilizations is debatable, but some links appear certain. A third-millennium B.C. clay tablet from the Mesopotamian site of Nippur documents the presence of Indian merchants in Babylonia. Indus merchants are known to have visited foreign lands to sell beads and pots and to collect raw materials.61 Lapis lazuli from the Badakhshan district of Afghanistan has been identified in early dynastic Egypt, and it is believed that Harappan traders acted as middlemen in the lapis trade between Afghanistan, Mesopotamia, and Egypt. 

Bead-shaped stone weights found at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro suggest that the value of beads was calculated using a system of weights common to both Sumer and the Indus Valley, thereby simplifying the exchange of goods between them. Furthermore, many Mesopotamian and Indus Valley beads the long, biconical carnelians and gold-capped agates, for example closely resemble one another. The faceting of stone beads also occurs in both the Indus Valley and Sumer, although it is rarer in the Indus culture.

Perhaps the best evidence for trade between the two civilizations are the etched carnelian beads that were made with similar techniques and sometimes display identical etched pat-terns. These beads have been found in Indus Valley sites from 2500 B.C. and in the contemporaneous royal Sumerian graves of  Ur 62.

With the collapse of the Indus Valley civilizations about 1600 B.C., long-distance trade in Indian beads diminished for the next thousand years. Although beads appear to have been made in quantity they were primarily for local use. It was not until trade with the Romans siarted in the second century B.C. that raw agate and agate beads once again were moved on a large scale.

By the beginning of the Christian Era, Indian beads of stone as well as the unworked materials flowed west to the Romans and Persians and east to the Chinese.'" After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the decline in Western bead making provided India with the opportunity to become a major manufacturer of both stone and glass beads. Between A.D. 500 and 1500, Indian merchants greatly expanded their efforts to trade beads, shipping quantities of agate and glass beads into East and West Africa, the Middle East, Egypt, and Southeast Asia.

Indian Glass Beads 

Glass beads appear about five hundred to a thousand years later in India than in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Glass beads occur in Baghwanpura about 1000 B.C. and in the north at Alamgirpur and the south at Maski in approximately 800 B.C. Quantities of glass beads have been found at the trading center of Taxila dating to the sixth century B.C. and later.

 Sapphire beads in shades of blue, yellow, and pink. These contem-porary Indian beads were faceted and pierced by craftsmen on a dirt floor with a bow drill, a method practiced since Mogul days. The shapes of the pure yellow sap-phires are similar to motifs in very early Mogul jewelry The carefully matched and graded stones of the five-strand necklace weigh 530 carats.Roman gold-glass and eye beads were imported between A.D. 1 and 200. Despite this and other evidence of trade in Roman glass beads, the Roman Empire appears to have had little influence on the Indian glass bead industry.67 Beginning in the second century B.C., glass beads were made at different locations throughout India using indigenous techniques, the most important of which was the drawing of glass.

In the north of India, quantities of glass beads, some made to imitate agate, onyx, and etched carnelian, have been found at the sites of Kausambi and Ahichchhatra (250 B.C.-A.D. 450).68 In the south, glass beads and bead material excavated at Arikamedu range from opaque red to hues of black, green, yellow, translucent blue, green, and violet.

Indian glass traveled both to the East and West, following the same routes to the same destinations as agate and carnelian beads. The beads appear in East Africa between A.D. 200 and 1600, in Malaysia and Vietnam about A.D. 1000, and in Sumatra beginning in the first century A.D. In medieval India, glass beads appear to have been manufactured at Arikamedu until perhaps the twelfth century and in Brahmapuri through the sixteenth century.

The Decline and Rebirth of Indian Bead making 

While the Moguls of northern India were rewarding themselves with the riches of the continent, the rest of India and her bead making industries were in decline. By the fifteenth century Venice, and somewhat later the German city of ldaroberstein, established themselves as bead making centers and began to encroach upon India's market. As Europeans colonized the globe, India's role as a major exporting bead producer was steadily destroyed.

The Indian bead industry also declined because new industrial techniques enabled the Europeans to produce large quantities of beads in uniform sizes, shapes, and colors qualities not easily achieved with Indian manufacturing techniques. Furthermore, the New World market, with its immense demand for glass beads, which had not been previously available to Indian bead makers and traders, greatly strengthened the European bead industry By 1805, the occupying British government formulated economic policies obligating Indians to buy European goods, and by the end of the nineteenth century, India herself was importing vast quantities of beads.

There has, however, been a rejuvenation and the Indian bead making industry is once again strong. The mining of agate and stone bead making in Cambay are important industries, while glass bead making has grown stronger since India gained independence in 1947. Even rubies, emeralds, and sapphires, pierced and strung as beads, enjoy renewed popularity.

The Beads of Nagaland 

Nagaland, a tribal territory that gained statehood within India in 1977 is located in a rugged, mountainous region bordering southwest Burma. The nearly eighteen hundred Naga tribes are of Mongolian descent and many remained isolated until the In century partly owing to their remote location and partly because of their reputation as headhunters. Beaded jewelry was an important part of Naga attire.

The traditional Naga people were farmers who lived in villages. The tribes shared an animistic religion. Like many events in Naga life, agricultural seasons were marked by ceremonies to drive away evil spirits and to insure the harvest. Because the Naga lived in a world they perceived as threatened by malevolent spirits, they believed only those with personal power could survive. This power is concentrated in the head. by taking a man's head, the hunter could possess the victim's power and enhance his own prestige in the community.

A chief of the Ao tribe owned this impressive live-strand carnelian bead necklace with bone spacers and brass trumpets. Carnel-ian beads were currency to the Naga; therefore. this necklace, which weighed more than live pounds, had consider-able value. Naga used the lost-wax casting tech-nique to make the brass trumpets.Their isolation notwithstanding, all Naga jewelry is made from traded objects: shells from the Bay of Bengal, carnelian and brass bells from India, and glass beads from India and occasionally from Venice. How the Naga obtained their beads in the past is not clear. Some beads from Venice and many varieties of glass beads made in India were traded to Nagaland, with certain tribes, such as the Angami, probably controlling much of the nude. Carnelian beads from India and imported shells represented wealth.

A people without notable, painting and sculpture traditions, the Naga created exceptionally beautiful beaded jewelry which was endowed with social symbolism. The Naga wore very little clothing, so that beaded jewelry (and tattooing) represented most of their adornment: The degree of ornateness indicated the wearer's exact tank. Their beads were frequently worn during festivals and ceremonies to celebrate planting, harvests, and successful headhunting.

After a oktorious raid, beaded necklaces, passed down through the family and stored in baskets at home, were taken out. The heads seized in the raid were distributed, and the dancers adorned themselves with as many as ten necklaces each and danced all night. The necklaces were then stored, awaiting the next ceremony. C'ertain necklaces mere never worn by day.

As the Naga culture disintegrates today through increasing contact with the" modern world, and beads and shells are no longer traded, jewelry-making has almost disappeared. With traditions eroding and adornment no longer functioning in a ritual context, the craft has lost its meaning. Beaded family heirlooms are now traded for items considered useful penicillin, down parkas, and transistor radios.
Writer - Lois Sherr Dubin 
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