Early sculptures demonstrate that car ornaments were an important constituent of Indian female attire. Three basic shapes are seen: the discal, the amphora and the reel type. From the ubiquitous simple flower heads worn like buttons on the ear lobes and the round spiked forms manifesting solar symbolism (245 ), to large and elaborate pendant forms (247), the range and variety of ear ornaments in India is unparalleled anywhere else in the world. In the rural areas particularly, an extraordinary range and variety of forms and designs are still seen. More sophisticated and complex styles developed over the centuries: the karnaphul (ear flower), the pipal pathi (pipal leaf), Bali (circlet with a pearl), champakali (jasmine bud, worn on the shell of the ear) are only a few of the infinite number of forms in evidence even today in different regions of the country.
Until fairly recently, the ears of both male and Female child were pierced. To The married woman, the ear ornament is auspicious; bare ear lobes signalled widowhood. Additionally a woman’s wealth was conspicuously visible and the ear ornament became ca statement of her status and power; elongated ear-lobes were considered a sign of beauty and wealth the longer the lobe, the greater a woman’s wealth. By appending ornaments to almost every part of the ear, the woman also ensured a continuous state of mental and physical well-being. Recent studies have identified the ear as a microcosm of the entire body the point of vision in acupuncture is situated in the centre of the lobe.
Foreign travellers were fascinated by the sight of elongated ear lobes and have recorded their astonishment. Travelling in Kerala, Edward Terry commented on this practice among gentile women The flaps or nether part of their ears are bored, when they are young, which hole daily stretched and made wider by things kept in it for that purpose, at last becomes so large, that it will hold a Ring (I dare boldly say, as large as a little saucer) made hollow on the sides for the flesh to rest in. Amusing stories of ear holes the size of large eggs and plates, through which many a bold individual attempted to pass his arms, abound.
In south India, the leaves of the date palm were tightly rolled into cylinders, their thickness gradually increased until the desired length of the hole was achieved. The dried leaves expanded when wet, resulting in a gentle and gradual dilation. Sticks from the branches of the neem tree were similarly used, harnessing the natural anaesthetic and antibiotic properties of neem. The process of dilation commenced when a girl child was merely a few days old, culminating when the desired length had been attained. The practice was not restricted to the lower castes and Thurston narrates how young Maravan princesses in Madurai used to hang on to their ears when they ran races in the garden, lest the heavy ornaments should rend asunder the filamentous ear lobes.
The simple daily wear thodu or twin of south India is usually in a flower head form suspended tassels or jimki (254) take the form of bells with flower tops. Perhaps the most enigmatic south Indian ear jewels are the abstract, geometric wmt1 a forms of the thandatti. Variously known as modicum thandatti, pambadam and nagapadam they are worn exclusively by women of the Velalar Nadar class in Tamil Nadu and neighboring Kerala, in areas around Madurai, Ramanathapuram, Tirunelvelly and Kanyakumari. The basic form juxtaposing squares, rectangles and triangles is constant, different names identifying variations in design details. The simplest is referred to as the mudichu or just a knot the thandatti is in a step pyramid form while the one bearing a Minuscule snake face is termed the pambadam or nagapadam .
While the origin of both the form and name of the thandatti are now lost, common belief attributes them to a stylized version of the snake earring worn by lord Shiva, when as Nataraja he danced the tamiava, the cosmic dance of creation. Litymological analysis of the terms perhaps offers some interesting solutions to the vexing problem of the origin of these startlingly abstract and contemporary forms. An Iudiclau is fairly simple, the name a mere translation of the knotted form of the jewel. Thandatti the stem of the sandalwood or strychnine tree originating from the custom of wearing pieces of wood to stretch the ear lobes These earrings, however, are not common all over south India. Similarly, the olai thodu, simply known as olai, derives its name from the form of the pmmmolm', leaves of the date palm rolled and placed in the ear lobes to elongate the lobes. Sometimes these earrings can be enormously large, but fashioned from thin sheet gold over 1 Inc core, they tend to be fairly light.
In Kerala, women dilated their car lobes by inserting, large, heavy, leaden rings. Ear ornaments known as the takka or twin was then inserted. The cordon of the ear lobe fits into the groove on the barrel of the earring. These simple, round disc-shaped ornaments are probably a derivation of the ancient tatankachara found in archaeological sites all over the country. Fashioned From a variety of materials, these jewels ranged from simple small studs to large discs of varying thickness. They were staple forms of adornment for rich and poor. Those that were crafted in sheet gold ranged from the elegantly simple to elaborately worked repousse pieces. Sculptures scattered in all parts of the country stand testimony to the fact that these disc-all forms have come down in an unbroken continuity. One more area to safeguard and display one’s wealth without much fear of loss or theft, the Indian woman’s bejewelled ear offers a sight that prompted the exclamation European ladies are content with one appendage to each ear while the females of Hindustan think it impossible to have too many.
Writer-Usha R. Bala Krishnan & Meera Sushil Kumar