Judging from portraits and travel diaries, it was I he Maharajas of post-Mughal India, who crossed every conceivable boundary in their opulent, almost vulgar use and display of jewellery. Describing the attire of Bhupinder Singh of Patiala and his son Rajendra Singh, a courtier records: "Several strings of pearls festooned his silken turban, which was crowned with a delicate diadem. Around his neck he wore a great collar of diamonds set in platinum along with four or five other massive and beautifully set necklaces of diamonds and emeralds. Another necklace with exquisite diamonds hung from his waist, with more diamonds on bracelets round his arms and wrists. He also wore diamond buttons on his achkan and around his waist was a gold lame scarf held in place by the clasp of a single emerald, about four inches by two and a hall Also at his waist was a sword in jewelled scabbard, its hilt sparkling with gems."
Indian love of ornamentation was by no means a royal prerogative. Travelling through Vijayanagar in the I 5th century, the ambassador from Samarkand noticed that "all the inhabitants of this country, both those of exalted rank and of an inferior class, down to the inhabitants of the bazaar, wear pearls or rings adorned with precious stones, in their ears, on their necks, on their arms..." In the neighbouring kingdom of Bijapur, a few decades later, Ludovica de Varthema, an Italian, was amazed at the number of the king's servants who wore "...on the insteps of their shoes, rubies and diamonds and other jewels."'' Thomas Holbein Hendley, in his 19th century encyclopaedic work,
Indian Jewellery, describes almost every type of ornament worn by virtually every class and community in India. The baleora, for instance, was typical to Jain and Hindu men of the mercantile class. It was a necklace of plaited chains of gold held together at intervals by jewelled clasps, with a pendant, dhuk-dhuki, a term derived from the slight rising and falling of the pendant as it rested on the pulse just below the adam's apple. A popular ornament even in Mughal times, the gift of an emerald dhuk-dhuki to Raja Rai Singh Rathor, and a diamond one to Prince Muhammad Muazzam is recorded in the Ain-i-Akbari;" one more example of the unbroken continuity in styles in Indian jewellery traditions.
Substantially ornamented male figures of assuredly non-royal status are observed in sculptures from Bharhut and Sanchi. Close fitting torques along with longer necklaces of multiple strands of beads, armlets and wristlets are invariably seen adorning figures of yakshas (temple guardians) on pillars and brackets. Shunga terracottas from Bengal testify to the widespread influence of the tradition. Male figures from Chandraketugarh are depicted wearing the classic men's torque (probably Panini's graivaka), and a three-stringed strand of pearls (the Natyashastra's trisara). Arm ornaments clearly took pride of place, judging from the size and sheer numbers massed and tiered on the left arm. The figures are also adorned with a variety of ear ornaments and girdles. Almost all of these forms find parallels in women's ornaments, except for the mukut (crown) and the kalgi (turban jewel), primarily male ornaments signifying sovereignty and power.
The mukut or crown (Sanskrit — kirita), recommended by Bharata for gods and kings, was the Indian insignia of royalty. Styles ranged from a diadem of pearls with a pendant centre, visible on sculptures of royal figures as far back as the 1st century B.C., to elaborate jewelled caps seen ill 19th and 20th century portraits of Indian royalty.
In south India, crown-like ornaments are seen on early Pallava sculptures of divinities, kings and princes, while in sculptures in north India, the crown was the sole prerogative of the gods; ordinary men sported cloth turbans embellished with jewels. Different kinds of crowns are identified by different names in the south, each term design-specific. The kiritam is long and vertical; the makutam resembles an inverted pot; the vairamudi, simulating a hair coiffure, is completely encrusted with diamonds; the jatamakutam and karpadam are fashioned like the long locks of Shiva coiled over his head, decorated with the crescent moon and the image of Ganga, studded with gems.
As crowning symbols of other-worldly power, some of the best mukuts are to be seen in temple collections in south India, gifted by devout and wealthy patrons. Offering a mukut to a deity symbolized the donor's devotional surrender to the higher power on whose head the crown rested; for in the ultimate scheme of things, He was the true Prajapati (lord of the subjects).
The grandeur of such ornaments is illustrated in just one of the many inscriptions listing jewels gifted by Rajaraja Chola in the temple in Thanjavur: "One sacred crown (sri-mudi), made of gold taken from t he treasury of the lord, containing thirty-eight karanju and three quarters, four manjadiand one kunriof gold. One hundred and twenty-four crystals (palingu) set into it, weighed one karanju, nine manjadi and one kunri. Seventy-one diamond crystals (palikku-vayiram) weighed three manjadi and one kunri. Thirty-two pot ti weighed seven manjadi and one kunri. The pinju weighed one karanju and a half Three hundred and thirty-four strung pearls of brilliant water and of red water, taken from t he pearls, which the lord Sri-Rajarajadeva had poured out as flowers at the sacred feet and with which he had worshipped the feet of the god round pearls, roundish pearls, polished pearls, small pearls, payittam, nimbolam, ambumudu, crude pearls, twin pearls, sappatii and sakkattu, weighed seven karanju. Altogether, the crown weighed forty-nine karanju and a half, corresponding to a value of eighty-six kasu."
Entire festivals were organized around these jewelled statements of the power of the divine; many still continue, particularly in south India. The festival of Vairamudi at Melukote near Mysore centres around the ceremonial placing of the dome-shaped vairamudi, a crown studded with diamonds, on the head of Challuvanarayana Swam), the principal deity of the temple." In the south, tiered mukuts were fashioned to simulate the sbikhara, architecturally the head of the temple.
In north India, mukuts in Vaishnava temples are often crafted in the shape of Lord Krishna's venerated peacock feather (mor-mukut). The idol of Balgopal in the Gopalji temple in Benaras is adorned with jewelled versions of the mor-mukutt9 match the attire of the day. On Baisakhi, the festival of spring in the month of February, for instance, the tiny image of Balgopal is adorned with a mukut of yellow sapphires to match the shades of yellow of his attire appropriate to the occasion.
Indian rulers wore the mukut as an unequivocal symbol of earthly power. As a mark of royalty, the crown owes its origin to divine sanction it is the emblem of God hat differentiates between the people and the divine, between the ruled and the ruler. Though Mughal portraits generally show the rulers wearing jewel-embellished turbans, occasionally illustrated manuscripts of the period depict a crown hovering just above the imperial head. Similar to the aesthetic convention of painting haloes behind the monarch to emphasize spiritual superiority, the mukut indicated the exalted status of the subject.
Later versions of the Indian crown show distinct foreign influences, incorporating western shapes with traditional turban ornaments. One of the most beautiful examples of this hybrid composite of kalgi, sarpatti and mukut was the rajpat of the state of Rewah. It was completely covered with foiled diamonds and emeralds; a row of unusually large oval Basra pearls were suspended front little diamond caps at the bottom. Seven crescent-shaped turban ornaments set with diamonds converged towards the central jewelled plume offset by a large foiled square ruby. A large blue sapphire carved with the image of Vislmu Chaturbhuj dominated the centre an unusual choice of stone for state headgear, considering the general superstition of misfortune associated with this gem. Thomas Holbein Hendley in his book, Indian Jewellery, records the displeasure of the subjects of Rewah at the choice, convinced that the gem's unusually large size would only intensify its maleficent properties.16 The whereabouts of this spectacular crown are today unknown.
The kalgi (Persian: jigba-crest; Hindi: sarpech), a turban ornament, was worn exclusively by the emperor, his family and entourage. It was the ultimate symbol of royalty, or royal favour, similar to the European orders; presentation of a kalgi indicated imperial approval. The Institutes of Timur states that besides the customary klt, sword and horse, a warrior who distinguished himself was to be rewarded with a jewelled heron's feather.' Shaped like a plume, the kalgi was a jewelled brooch with large pearl or gemstone usually dangling from its curved tip. This elaborate creation: evolved from the earlier Mughal practice of pinning a heron's feather (kalgi) to the front A' the turban. Attaching a pearl to the end of this plume so that it curved backwards n a gracefill arc was de rigueur in Jahangir's reign. A style introduced by the emperor iiinself, it is a visible feature in most miniature portraits of him.
During Shah Jahan's reign, the simple pearl'd plume of Timurian descent inclement a radical transformation into an elaborate gem-studded creation incorporating ome of the treasury's finest jewels. Despatching Prince Aurangzeb for an arduous xpedition to the Deccan, the emperor conferred on him a special sarpech composed of ruby and two pearls, which the court biographer, Inayat Khan records was worth "one tkli and fifty thousand rupees."' There are innumerable references in the Shah Nama a expensively jewelled and enamelled jigbas that were ceremonially presented to family lid courtiers in recognition of services rendered.
It is not unlikely that the European aigrette was inspired by this Mughal ornament for the turban. Aigrettes of assuredly Indian origin, complete with feather tucked behind, are occasionally observed in European portraits of the early 7th century. These must have reached European courts by way of western merchant ships. Aigrettes designed by Arnold Lulls, the Dutch jeweller to the court of King James I, feature the characteristic flat-bottomed stem (tana), functionally important in the Indian kalgi to tuck the ornament into the turban folds. Only later, as aigrettes came into their own, was this oriental stem replaced by a practical pin which could also be used on hats.
In a classic case of cross-cultural influences, European aigrettes in turn influenced kaWstyles. Foreign `rareqes' reached the Mughal court as gifts from European royalty through their diplomatic emissaries. Traveller-merchants, especially jewellers like Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, also carried merchandise for trade. Foreign craftsmen were also employed at the Mughal court. Keeping in mind the dynastic love for aesthetic experimentation, one can easily visualize the Mughal emperors, as committed aesthetes, encouraging hybrid jewellery forms in their ateliers.
Over the next two centuries, kalgis became grander and still grander, rivalling the splendour of many a European crown. Escorted into the hall of audience, the Diwan-i-Kbas, Bernier's attention was riveted by one such kalgi worn by Aurangzeb, "whose base was composed of diamonds of an extraordinary size and value, besides an Oriental Topaz, which may be pronounced unpamlled, exhibiting a lustre like the Sun." A convention adopted by provincial rulers consciously aping Mughal court conventions, kalgi styles also developed a host of regional variations. The single jewelled plume soon developed two side attachments at the bottom, which increased to four and even six, forming an elaborate strip, the sarpatti. Even the solitary upward crescent multiplied from one, to three, to five (panch kalangi).
Early twentieth-century versions are markedly westernized. Many, in fact, were made by western jewellers incorporating art deco designs with Indian gems. Hearing of a magnificent specimen executed by Cartier for the Maharaja of Kapurthala with his unique collection of emeralds, Queen Marie of Romania made a special trip to the jeweller's Rue de la Paix showroom to view it. When questioned about its worth, Cartier, like most jewellers, wont to be evasive without undermining the significance of a commission, stated that they would not be able to duplicate the Kapurthala kalgi for half a million dollars. This was in 1926!
Ironically, the growing popularity of this ultimate symbol of Mughal sovereignty signalled its dynastic disintegration. Towards the end (dills reign, Aurangzeb was forced to issue a decree that "no amir to whom a sarpeth of jewellery was granted should wear it except on Sunday." But the general malaise and rising anarchy in the empire was reflected in the indiscriminate wearing and gifting of kalgis in the provincial courts, provoking a contemporary historian's mournful comment that "the jigha and sarpech were no longer regulated by the rank and dignity of the recipient."
Images of Loyalty
During Jahangir's reign, the practice of wearing a miniature portrait of the emperor set in a jewelled frame on the turban made tentative inroads into Mughal court conventions. This jewelled miniature was called shast, a Persian term derived from the practice of hooking it into the folds of the turban to fix it in place. This ornament was definitely of foreign origin, considering Islamic attitudes towards figural representation; but its popularity was unequivocally Jahangiri, considering the emperor's love of paintings.
An incident related to the shast is narrated in particular detail in Sir Thomas Roe's memoirs. During his audiences with the emperor Jahangir, Roe, as part of his court dress, would have pinned on his hat a jewelled portrait of his sovereign, Queen Elizabeth I, an English convention especially favoured by her. Bearing in mind the emperor's keen eye for painting, it is equally certain that he would have noticed and remarked on it. From understanding the ornament's significance to introducing it into his own court was then simply a matter of time for this well-known innovator of fashion trends. But when the Mughal monarch expressly desired a miniature portrait of the diplomat's wife, Roe stoically resisted imperial cajoling, even at the risk of imperial wrath!
At a practical level, the convention of shasts was ideally suited to the Mughal hierarchical set-up. Visible proof of the link between sovereign and courtier, it reconfirmed the latter's status in the inner circles of power. Even so, the tradition was speedily abolished in the first year of Shah Jahan's reign to appease an affronted clergy who viewed the practice as a categorical violation of the fimdamental Muslim injunction against figural representation. The fact that these portraits were pinned on the turban simply added insult to religious injury. Touching the forehead to the ground (sijdah) was reserved for divinity. Placing a portrait of anyone even of exalted imperial status on this part of the body was nothing short of sacrilegious, so the convention soon went the way of the earlier practice of doing sijdah to the sovereign. Most shasts must have been destroyed around the time as a measure of compliance to a law heavily underscoring religious sentiment. The general practice of refashioning unused ornaments would have done away with any remaining specimens.
Evidence of the tradition of shasts in history lies solely in scattered references in court chronicles and miniature paintings of court life of the period, some of which show noblemen wearing a portrait ornament on their turban. A few centuries down the line, the tradition was resurrected among Indian Maharajas, who occasionally wore a jewelled portrait of their sovereign on their turban. This time it was a British monarch!
Archery was a sport and favourite pastime of rulers and nobility in Mughal India. In portraits, Mughal emperors and princes are sometimes shown sporting a thumb ring of unusual shape on the right hand. Several more hang suspended from a sash worn around the waist. These archer's thumb rings, zihgir in Persian, were worn during archery. Such rings were neither uniquely Indian nor exclusively Mughal. They are believed to have originated in China and come to India via Turkey and Persia.
The form of the rings is quite different from normal finger-rings. Fashioned to be worn only on the thumb, they were intended to provide a firm anchor for the drawn back bow-string, to enhance the flight of the arrow and to protect the thumb from the impact of the sudden release of the string. Different from ordinary rings, they taper into a sloping, broad v-shape at one end. During archery, they were worn with the v-shaped point turned towards the wrist; the drawn back string was hitched behind this point, the fingers holding it in place; by loosening the hold on the ring, the string was released from its support with a momentum which catapulted the arrow towards its target at a considerable. speed Wearing the ring in any other way could result in injury to the thumb or the ring itself flying off the finger with the full force of the released bow-string.
Bearing in mind their utilitarian objective, rings actually used during archery were fashioned from a single piece of jade. Most rings were plain, sometimes inscribed with the name and regnal year of the emperor. A hardstone, jade could sustain the pressure of the drawn back bow-string, and was treasured by the Mughal rulers partly due to its rarity, and partly due to a Timurid ancestry when the material was coveted and carved. Jade was also regarded as a symbol of imperial sovereignty and believed to be endowed with apotropaic powers to prolong life and assure immortality. Both varieties of jade jadeite and nephrite were imported from Khotan in Afghanistan and carved in the workshops of Cambay.
Archer's thumb rings served a functional as well as decorative purpose. In most of the portraits where the ring is featured, the ruler is shown wearing the ring, not in the manner intended for its actual use, but with the tapering edge pointing up towards the tip of the thumb, instead of down, towards the wrist." Such rings, no doubt gem-encrusted, were perhaps used only on ceremonial occasions as part of the attire. The gem-stones on such rings would not have been able to withstand the pressure of the released string without loosening from the settings.
The more elaborate ceremonial rings, made of jade inlaid with gold and precious stones, or made from gold encrusted with gems, were engraved with scrolling designs of flowers and leaves and set with fine gold wire, diamonds, rubies and emeralds. Decorative elements inspired from nature and incorporated into functional forms, a characteristic feature of the Mughal decorative arts is manifest in these miniature jewelled beauties.
The custom of men adorning themselves with jewellery is relatively limited in south India. A prerogative of royalty, men from other classes are rarely seen adorned with jewels, with the exception of kaddukans (ear studs), perhaps a navaratna ring, the yagnopavita thread with amulets or a simple locket-amulet strung around the neck. Men of royal birth were entitled to wear gold anklets, and in the Shilappadikaram, Madhavi, "was asked to dance for the ruling monarch and saw on his ankle the heavy circlet that only victorious kings may wear."While royal male jewellery in south India was in keeping with its counterparts in other areas of the country, the one exception was the gowrishankaram.
In sheer size and magnificence, the gowrishankaram is the male counterpart to the kali-tiru, the marriage necklace of Chettiar women. Worn by men only, the ornament derives its name from Gown, another name for Parvati, ihe consort of Shiva, and Shankara, another name for Shiva. The ornament is specific to male memberS of the Nattukottai Chettiar community and the dikshitars (priests) of the renowned Shiva temple at Chidambaram; other devout Shaivites wear it as an expression of their faith.
The gowrishankaram is a necklace of rudraksha beads with a gold repousse pendant with an amulet box suspended below. Another repousse worked end piece rests on the rear of the neck. Rudraksha — rudra = Shiva and aksha = eyes — are seeds of the fruit of the Elaeocarpus angustifblius, known in India as the rudraksha tree and believed to be dear to Shiva. Endowed with medicinal and amuletic properties, the beads are used as rosaries all over India.
The pendants in these ornaments tend to be quite majestic, rendered in three-dimensional relief employing the repousse technique known as nakashu velai. The craftsman uses sheet gold as a canvas to recreate the celestial abode of Shiva. The central figures are most commonly those of Shiva and Parvati seated on their vehicle (vahana) Rishabha (the bull). A plethora of motifs of animals, mythical creatures, prancing lions, nymphs, flowers, and scrolling vines and creepers are crowded around them on the small surface in high relief. Here, the impression is one of detail upon detail combining to result in an effect of extreme ornateness. There is an apparent desire to fill every inch of available space with decorative details. The hollow amulet box below the pendant houses the special twin-bead rudraksha called the gowri-shankar symbolising the union of Parvati and Shiva. The gowrishankaram is worn on most auspicious religious functions. In the many layers of symbolism that is inherent in the jewel, it functions as a portable shrine, consecrating the potent energies of the male and female aspects of Creation.
The jewel in India is an expression of power and wealth. In the realm beyond the earthly, it is "the materialisation of the secret correspondences that exist between man, the small universe and the great universe which surrounds him and of which he is a part." It is a symbol with a meaning and a function beyond mere adornment.
Writer – Usha R Bala Krishnan & Meera Sushil Kumar