Friday, 26 April 2013

Overview to Proclamations of Power

This tiny gold crown once decorated a miniature icon in a family shrine. The fan-shaped section is set with rubies on one side and diamonds on the other and can be swivelled around to match the deity's attire for the day to be that ornamentation of the body is an integral part of this life, as discarding such accoutrements is a natural aspect of the act of renunciation.

Proclamations of Power 


"The child who is decked with prince's robes and who has jewelled chains round his neck loses all pleasure in his play; his dress hampers him at every step. In fear that it may be frayed, or stained with dust he keeps himself from the world, and is afraid even to move. Mother, it is no gain, thy bondage of finery, if it keeps one shut of from the healthful dust of the earth, if it rob one of the right of entrance to the great fair of common human life."

Whether god, king, or mere mortal, jewellery, until not too far back in time, was an important aspect of male attire in Indian culture. Men wore jewellery primarily for protective and propitiatory purposes. As social hierarchies evolved, ornaments also settled into the vast language of visual symbols, telling the viewer much about the wearer his rank in society, his sectarian affiliations, his religious loyalties. Designs and styles crystallized from specific functions. The surprisingly modernistic looking avigalu pendant with a concaved centre evolved from the need to house the sacred lingam, indicating the Shaivite loyalties of the wearer. Scalloped Vishnupada pendants confirmed the owner's Vaishnava leanings.

Worked in almost three-dimensional relief, this gold repousse crown once adorned a temple deity. Shiva and his consort Parvati are represented seated on Rishabha, the bull. The gods too favoured bodily adornment, and many an endearing myth is woven around their love of it. The Matsya Purana states that, captivated by the celestial gem kaustubha as it emerged from the cosmic waters, Lord Vishnu appropriated it for himself and wore it on his breast. Hinduism's most sacred pond, the Manikarnika Kund in Benaras, owes its sanctity to Lord Shiva's earrings. Moved by Vishnu's single-minded devotion, Shiva trembled with delight and his jewelled earrings, Manikarnika, fell into the pool. Hindus believe that last rites performed on the adjoining Manikarnika Ghat ensures the soul's liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

Decorating the image of deity with jewellery is integral to Hindu ritual. The daily puja in a Hindu temple involves sixteen offerings (upachara) to the deity. Abharanani, the offering of ornaments and gems, is the ninth upachara. The beauty of the deity adorned with jewels is not "intended for the aesthetic enjoyment of the secular beholder."' The image of a god or goddess was intended to present the divine in human form; but the aspects of the divine, their omnipresence and glory, had all to be recreated in the form of bodily adornment. A jewel was first and foremost a gift of god intended for god. Man only in his role as a servant of god wore it. Even today, a new ornament is first offered to the deity at home or in the family temple before it is worn.

A portable shrine, the carved rock crystal case encrusted with rubies and emeralds houses a Shiva lingam. A rock crystal bull (Nandi) sits on top of the hinged lid.
Temple jewellery is carefully co-ordinated for sbringara, the beautification of the deity. The phenomenal collections of Srinathji at Nathdwara, Gopalji Mandir in Bermas, and the priceless one of Lord Venkateshwara at Tirtipati immediately conic to mind. Astrological guidelines regarding the colours and gems appropriate to the days of the week and scriptural injunctions regarding specific shrimara for festival days are adhered to closely in the process of selection. On such occasions, the usual accoutrements of the deity are replaced by exquisitely embellished ones appropriate to the occasion. Conch shells that are used to bathe the idol, ceremonial umbrellas (chattris), and vessels for offerings (bhoga), embellished with precious stones and gold work, transcend mere function to reflect the celestial glory of their user. 

This gold spear encrusted with rubies and diamonds was gifted to the deity Murugan or Kartikeya by a grateful devotee whose initials are inscribed on the back. Since jewellery belonging to temples escaped the demands of changing fashion, some of the most authentic extant specimens of classical Indian jewellery lie with temple trusts. Unfortunately, few, if any, are accessible to scholars. Zealously safeguarded for fear of undue publicity and theft, only rare and fleeting glimpses of these jewels are possible during a hurried darshan (offering of prayers).

For both the celestial regents and their more earthly counterparts, the grammar in ornaments had already settled into conventional types as early as the 41" century B.C. Listing them according to their place on the male physiognomy, Bharata in the Natyashastra recommends a crest jewel (chudamani) and crown (mttkuta) for the head; earring (kundala), ear pendant (mochaka) and ear-top (kila); strings of pearls (muktavali), a snake-shaped ornament (harsaka), a golden chain for the neck (sutra); a three-stringed strand of pearls (trisara) reaching the navel, as body adornment. Bharata's list also clearly difkrentiates ornaments for the wrist (ruchika and culika) from those for the forearm (hastavi, valaya) and the upper arm (keyura, angada). 

Reproduced by permission of the Trustees Allowing for artistic variations, sculptural evidence amply corroborates these early stylistic norms. Careful details chiselled on a variety of ornament types visible on sculpted male figures in almost every period in Indian history imply the artist's painstaking attempts to represent prevailing styles. Apart from a diadem of pearls indicating their princely status, Gandhara figures of Bodhisattvas dating to the 2"d or 3rd century A. D. usually support stiff torques, characteristic heavy loop-in-loop chains with figural terminals, strands of shoulder pearls, the trademark armlet strap, as well as armlets and bracelets. The presence of elaborate jewellery is, in fact, an essential iconographical feature that serves to distinguish images of Bodhisattvas from the starkly simple ones of the Enlightened One: The unmistakable implication here seems  to be that ornamentation of the body is an integral part of this life, as discarding such accoutrements is a natural aspact of the act of renunciation.


Writer- Usha R Bala Krishnan & Meera Sushil Kumar

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