India, including Ceylon and the kingdoms of Arakan and Pegu on the eastern side of the Bay of Bawl, was the homeland of jewels, including diamonds, rubies, sapphires, jacinths emeralds and though they were not gem stones themselves pearls.
It is hardly surprising then, that inhabitants of these regions from kings to peasants decorated themselves with as much jewellery as they could afford and that precious stones ranked with precious metals as treasure.
Swept by the waves of three mighty oceans the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal, the shores of India's southernmost tip are sacred to the worshippers of the virgin Goddess Kanya Kumari. Eulogised by the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (circa A.D. 60)2 her temple stands where she can see the setting sun and rising moon simultaneously. Devotees throng here to purify their soul bathing in the sacred waters. It is said that for centuries, a mystical magical stone a magnificent diamond adorned the delicately chiselled nose of the icon and like a beacon guided ships safely to harbor.
South India was the repository of much of the mineral wealth of ancient India. Kautiliya in the Arthashastra (4th century B.C.) declares that the trade route across Dakshinapatha the south is the superior route for it is rich in mines and abounds in diamonds rubies pearls and gold.3 Dakshinapatha was the source of the raw material which Aryavarta the north drew upon to create exquisite ornaments. Geo. logical evidence of the rich mineral resources of south India reiterates the authenticity of the elaborate descriptions of beryls pearls diamonds and sapphires (vaidurya mukta vajra and indranila) in the Mahabharata and the krsana pearls mentioned in the Vedas. This abundant natural wealth lured a steady stream of treasure seekers from the Roman Empire Arabia China Portugal and other countries to the lush groves and navigable waterways of the western Malabar Coast and the wealthy capitals of the eastern Coromandel Coast.
The poets of the Tamil Sangam sang about the wealth and beauty of the land and the people of the south. The great port cities were the emporia of foreign trade home to wealthy Greeks and seamen from distant shores. In the bazaars, costly merchandise from faraway lands were traded while in Puhar the wealthy river port there were special streets for merchants of coral sandalwood myrrh jewelry faultless pearls, pure gold and precious gems Cannanore Musiri Nelcynda Puhar Nagapattinam, Korkai Argaru and Arikamedu are only some among the many ports and trading centres mentioned by writers on mercantile traffic. Roman traders exchanged immense quantities of gold coins for a great variety of precious stones, for which there was such demand in Rome that in A.D 22 Emperor Tiberius appealed to the Roman Senate How are we to deal with the peculiar articles of female vanity, and in particular with that rage for jewels and precious trinkets which drain the empire of its wealth (gold) and sends in exchange for baubles the money of the Commonwealth to foreign nations
In the 2nd century A.D., the town of Madurai was one of the principal gem bazaars of the south. The Shilappaddikaram vividly documents the quantity and the outstanding quality of gems available in the gem markets Koyalan then entered the jewelers’ special street that no enemy had ever plundered. There shining diamonds were sold, without flaw or stain or crow's-foot, or any fault an expert could detect. The diamonds had the hues of the four castes: (white, red, yellow, and black). Cloudless green emeralds, perfect in form and luster, could be purchased. The rubies called red lotuses (padmam) the sapphires (nilam) the pearls (Hindu) the crystals (sphatika) all seemed of stainless perfection. A cat's eye (pushparaga), mounted on gold cast glances that were just like a real cat's. Attractive gold sardonyx shone like the sun onyx seemed
Made of solid night, the two-colored opals and the five lucky gems that come from the same mines showed all the colors of sunset. There were also heaps of white and pink pearls, and some of more subtle orient. None showed the defects that wind, sand, rocks, or sea water may cause. There were also branches of red coral, not twisted or with stones embedded in them. In the broad street of the goldsmiths tiny flags marked the kind of gold sold in each shop: natural gold, green gold resembling parrot's wings, and fine gold from Jambunada
The ancient dynasties of the south amassed immense wealth and lavished it with unrivalled profligacy on them. What is more, they brought the spoils of war in the form of gold gems and jewels to enrich their chosen temples. The Pallava (circa A.1) 600-850) built their temples in Kancheepuram and Mamallapuram, meticulously recording many details of contemporary life. Images of man and god sculpted in metal and stone were integral to the architecture and design of these ancient temples. A closer look at the ornaments worn by these figures reveals the style of the era (112). Portrait sculptures of kings are shown wearing majestic crowns (kirita) in long cylindrical or conical shapes set with gems and pearls, which arc reserved only for divinities in other parts of India. In contrast Shiva is portrayed in striking simplicity with a simple gem-set band holding his coiled tresses (jatamakuta) in place the simple hair coiffures of women are enhanced by gem set ribbon bands. Ear ornaments are rare in Pallava sculptures where they appear they are simple bead drops. The elegant kanthi is a fiat necklet sometimes plain, or decorated with repousse patterns and gems or made up of a series of tiny mangoes or flower bud forms. Armlets range from a single strand of beads to the
Elaborate makara keyura with ornate clasps set with jewels and delicate spikes raising over crocodile (makara) heads The incessant wars with the Chalukyas the Pallava neighbors’ in the northwest resulted in a positive influence on the work of artisans. Design elements of Chalukya Rashtrakuta ornaments (111) are discernible in jewellery depicted on Pallava and Chola sculpt tires. Striking examples of these influences are the addition of pendant pearl tassels to necklaces and the otherwise plain waistband (udarabandha) the use of lion head images in bracelet designs and on crowns and the elaborate multi-strand pearl sacred threads (yagnopavita).
Offerings in Gold
Offerings in Gold
The Cholas (circa A.D. 850-1150) acquired their wealth through military conquests and held a monopoly over the gold mines and pearl fisheries in their dominions, as well as the gems of Ceylon. Chola kings and queens commissioned bronze sculptors to make festive icons (utsava murthis) for the temples they built. During the annual temple festivals (hrahmotsavams), these icons were taken out in procession and showered with offerings, including flowers made from gold (113). One hundred and sixty-five sacred gold flowers (tirupporpu) consisting of eight hundred and twenty-five karanju of gold each sacred gold flower consisting of five karanju of gold - were offered to the Goddess Umaparamesvari, the consort of our lord Adavallar Dakshina-Meru-Vitankar.
The goddess in India was always invoked with flowers (pushpanjali). The act of worship as ennumerated in the Gandbarva Tantra states that flowers function as a vehicle to convey the devotee's life breath into an outside image. The inanimate thereby becomes animate. As a result of the belief that a giver of gold will receive manifold returns of long life, health, wealth and even release from the cycle of birth and death (moksha), temple treasuries benefited copiously from the generosity of those seeking to appease the gods. The Rajarajeshvaram Temple at Thanjavur was the beneficiary of countless ornaments presented by Rajaraja I the great Chola king, who ascended the throne in A.D. 985.
Son Rajendra too crowned emperor in A.D. 1016 augmented the temple treasury with his munificence. The inscriptions on the walls of this temple are unique in the realm of Indian history providing invaluable information Never before had such detailed records listing jewels presented by royal treasuries and the bounty of military campaigns been kept in any single temple.
Rajaraja I assumed the title Mummudi chola or the one who wears three crowns in commemoration of his conquest of the Chola Pandya and Chera kingdoms By annexing Pandinadu (Madurai) and Malainadu (Kerala) and extending their control over Ratnadvipa (Ceylon), the Cholas controlled not only every important trading port in south India, but the gold mines the pearl fisheries the diamond mines and the gem production of Ceylon as well. While these large reserves were partially used to fund their forays and conquests, the kings retained much for themselves and their queens, in addition to which generous quantities were gifted to adorn their temple deities. For example a single diadem (tiruppattam) weighing no less than a staggering 980/4 kalanjus or four and a half kilograms (one kalanju 4.50 grams) was gifted by Rajaraja to his favourite deity Dakshina Meru Vitankar. It was made from gold obtained during his campaigns against the Cheras. The Chola monopoly of the pearl fisheries off the Gulfof Mannar ensured such an unlimited supply that Rajaraja showered vast quantities 'as flowers at the feet of the Lord.
In order to maintain detailed inventories of these immense assets a Department of Jewels formed part of the palace and temple administration. It was headed by a mularatna bbandarattar or chief treasurer, who was paid by grants of land. Appraisers of jewels kept records of all the treasures gifted to the temples. Their work involved the detailed computation of the composition of the jewel, recording the number of pearls and other precious stones, their quality, the weight and even the condition of the ornament. Working under royal patronage, jewellers employed exclusively by the temple were commissioned to produce a never ending supply of ornaments for the king, his court and the temples. These jewellers, called kankanitattanL2 were paid by the king with shares of the produce of land.
The repertoire of the 123 Chola jewellers was extensive and the names of ornaments have been identified. The many bronze images of gods and goddesses gifted to the temples, together with portrait sculptures of kings and queens in these shrines, showcase the great variety of jewels made and gifted to the temples. To present an offering devoid of decoration was antithetical to the Indian idea "that only things covered with ornaments are beautiful to do so would affront the divine and "bring to the donor disaster The bronze images are fashionably elegant; a fine aesthetic balance is maintained whereby grand jewellery on one part of the body is off-set by simpler pieces on others.
The standard type of neck ornaments shown are a flat collar, the karai or tirukkarai. These necklets were made from sheet gold worked in repousse and embellished with gems. Pearls, beads, or gold drops in flower bud forms were suspended along the lower edge. The tassel that tied the necklace around the neck usually bore a pipal leaf shaped pendant that can be seen lying whimsically upon the left or right shoulder of bronze images of the period. Female deities almost always wear the auspicious marriage necklace with a cup-shaped disc (tali bottu) on a simple wire or chain of beads high around their neck. Multi stringed cascading necklaces made of chains of gold and pearls range from the single strand necklace (ekavali), to the seven strand .ones (saptasari); other varieties include several gold chains held with clasps at the ends
(kantha-tudar) diamonds, rubies and sapphires strung on a gold ring (kantha-nan) and the simple chain (kanthika). Bracelets are of infinite variety, from the basic bangle (valayil),' to those set with gems or corals (ratna-katakam or pavala-katakam), and armlets made from gold and set with many gems (pottu, sri bahu-valayam, or tiru-kai-karai); earrings of pearls ( muttin-mattirai), gold rings (tiru-kambi) and ear ornaments shaped like a crocodile (tiru-makaram), outnumber the ubiquitous round ear studs set with precious stones (thodu). Images are adorned with elaborate gem-set crowns (makutas and Sri Mudi) as well as diadems (tiruppattam). Elaborate waist bands (tiruppattigai) made of gold flowers set with diamonds and other precious stones, with lacelike fringes of pearls along the lower edge, held in place with large demon-face clasps seen primarily on male figures, and with crocodile dasps for female figures, make their appearance in the Chola period. Even the unobtrusive toe rings (tiru-kal-modiram) arc not omitted in the detailed rendering of jewellery on sculptures of the period (116, 119 and 120).
Very few pieces from this vast stockpile survive today. Were the inscriptions and the jewels depicted on sculptures merely flights of imagination perpetuated by royal sanction? Or were they faithful renderings of temple inventories? Travellers in the region corroborate the wealth of the local kings, and when Marco Polo, the Venetian traveller spent several months in south India in the late 13th century, Maabar (the term he used to refer to the Pandya and Hoysala kingdoms) and Ceylon were still producing most of the pearls and gems that are to be found in the world.15 Amazed at the wealth of the country and prosperity of its people, Marco Polo's diaries are replete with vivid descriptions of the kings of the region the variety of the clothes that they wore the abundance of jewels they adorned themselves with and their court life.
The Invaders Arrive
From the 14th century onwards the hitherto isolated south became the target of Muslim incursions from the north. Drawn by rumours of untold wealth Alauddin Khilji orchestrated several military campaigns and appropriated treasuries accumulated over many generations. Having seen with his own eyes the vast tollection of gems - like the ocean, as it were in the treasury of Alauddin the true emperor of the Kali Khilji's court poet, Amir Khusrau, recorded the surrender of Laddar Deo (Pratapa Rudra II) of Warangal to Malik Kafur Khilji's general in 1310. The passage eloquently enumerates the magnificent contents of the treasury so acquired
The boxes were full of valuables and gems the excellence of which drove the onlookers mad. Every emerald (zabarjad) sparkled in the light of the sun or rather the sun reflected back the light of the emerald. The rubies (yaqut) dazzled the eye of the sun and if a ray from them had fallen on a lamp of fire the lamp would have burst into flames. The Cat's eye (ainul hirrat) was such that a lion after seeing it would have looked with contempt at the sun and the Cocks eye (ainud dik) were so brilliant that the Cats eye was afraid to look at it. The lustre of the rubies (la’l) illuminated the darkness of the night and the mine as you might light one lamp from another. The emeralds had a fineness of water that could eclipse the lawn of paradise. The diamonds (ilmas) would have penetrated into an iron heart like an arrow of steel, and yet owing to their delicate nature would have been shattered by the stroke of a hammer. The other stones were such that the sun blushed to look at them. As for the pearls you would not find the like of them, even if you kept diving into the sea through all eternity.
The south is a vast geographical area, each ancient kingdom sharing common borders with the other and ill the course of history, sometimes united under a single ruler. This resulted in cross fertilization of styles and the emergence of pan south Indian designs. In Kerala for example the southern most areas share 148 many commonalities with Tamil Nadu central Kerala the region around Cahem the ancient territory of the Zamorin, is distinctively different with unique patterns, and a synthesis of design elements and manufacturing techniques. Filigree granulation and sheet gold work (nakashu velai) predominate. Areas to the north again have much in common with Tamil Nadu and the adjoining areas of Karnataka. Similarly Hyderabad and the princely states exhibit forms derived from the Mughal tradition, while the native Andhra idiom is based purely on indigenous sources amalgams of an ancient Pallava Chola Chalukya heritage. Although each area produced its own style of jewellery many forms crossed boundaries and became universal designs.
Writer-Usha R.. Bala Krishnan. Meera Sushil Kumar