Ornaments worn by men, sometimes the absence of them, spoke a complex language of metaphors. Elongated ear lobes, a visible feature in Buddhist and Jain sculpture, indicated a prior use of heavy earrings, and thereby the aristocratic lineage of the figure. Going by the evidence of sculpture, the tradition in men's jewellery gained momentum over the centuries. Even allowing for leanings towards the ornate in Pala and Hoysala art, the abundance of ornaments, especially in the latter, reflects a societal love of jewellery. Ornament-laden gods and goddesses at Belt' and Halebid indicate the increasing significance of jewels as symbols of heavenly glory and earthly power.
The lexicon of jewellery designs derived from changing shapes and forms in sculptures of different periods helps in the dating as well as identification of the sculpture. Earrings especially offer valuable clues. One has only to look at the earrings on the lobes of Harihara images (divinity in its double aspect as Shiva and Vishnu) to-recognize which side represents Hari and which Hara. The lotus-like floral stems entwined around one earlobe immediately identify divinity's creative aspect as Vishnu, while the severe bone-shaped one dangling from the other signals in no uncertain manner divinity in its aspect of dissolution and destruction Shiva. Similarly, Shiva's striking discal earrings showing a woman playing the vina and another in dancing stance reiterate the wearer's role as Lord of music and dance.
From all accounts, ear ornaments were almost mandatory for men through the ages. Abul Paz! in the Ain-i-Akbari mentions gold earrings as one amongst the twelve recommended adornments of Hindustani men; others included in the list are an ornament for the turban, a ring and a sword. In Jahangir's reign, the practice of wearing a bali (loop) with a single pearl or a ruby between two pearls was exceedingly fashionable for men. It originated when the emperor had his ears pierced and wore balis as a sign that he was an 'ear-bored' slave of the Sufi saint Khwaja Muinuddin, whose blessings, 334 he believed, had saved him from a critical illness: "On this the twelfth Shahriwar... I (Jahangir) made holes in my ears and drew into each a shining pearl."
A classic example of the continuity of design traditions in Indian jewellery, these pearl balis of `Jahangir fashion' were probably variations on an earlier theme. There are references to a very similar ornament termed trikantaka in Banabhatta's meticulous descriptions of male attire in his 7th century literary work, Harshacharita. From this narrative it appears that wearing a different style of earring in each ear lobe was not uncommon. Balis of rock crystal, bangles of white sapphire, and jewelled diadems and armlets were not unusual in the 6th and 7th century A.D. In one of the most striking word pictures of the text, the dazzling shafts of light from king Harsha's armlets (keyura) are likened to Vishnu's arms.
Knowledge of gems was an important clement of state economics. Kautiliya, in his 4th century B.C. Arthashastra, considered mines and all products that were derived from them of supreme importance to the nation and society for, according to him, the treasury has its source in the mines; from the treasury the army comes into being. With the treasury and the army, the earth is obtained with the treasury as its ornament."' In the Kadambari, Banabhatta includes ratnapariksha (science of gems) as part of the educational curriculum of the young prince Chandrapida. Going even further back in time into the warp of myth and legend, it is said that Rishabha, the first Jain Tirthankara taught the science of gems to his son Bahubali.
The indulgent excesses to which this initially pragmatic principle was susceptible were manifest in the dynastic courts of India. Extending the meaning of personal adornment to its absolute limits, daggers, swords, quivers, even saddles of royal mounts were made in precious metals and studded with gems. Descriptions of the emperors by travellers to the Mughal courts provide striking examples of the use of jeweller), as a statement of imperial power.
Writer - Usha R Bala Krishnan