The technical expertise available and the manner in which such details were inscribed in stone for posterity are truly remarkable.
In the 16th century, Duarte Barbosa refers to the Malabar region as the centre of the gem trade. The best craftsmen, skilled in handling gold and gems, gathered here to cater to the trade. Rubies were imported from Pegu (Burma), where "they know how to clean but not how to polish them, and they therefore convey them to other countries, especially to Paleacate, Narsinga, Calicut and the whole of Malabar, where there are excellent craftsmen who cut and mount them." They had devised their own methods for distinguishing between rubies from different mines. The ones from Pegu were the finest, called numpuclo, the ones from Ceilao (Ceylon) were called mancca and spinels were referred to as carapuch. To test the quality of the rubies, "the Indians put them on the tongue; those which are finest and hardest are held to be the best. To test their transparency they fix them with wax on a very sharp point and looking towards the sun they can find any blemish however slight.
Jewel merchants were organized into guilds. In the city of Vijayanagar in the 12th century, for example, tradesmen of the various guilds were located in the market. They enjoyed such complete freedom in their trade, that all manner of precious stones were brought and sold openly in the markets. "The Ainnurruvar, often styled the Five Hundred Svamis of Ayyavolepura (Aihole), were the most celebrated of the medieval south Indian merchant guilds... Among the countries they visited were Chera, Chola, Pandya, Maleya, Magadha, Kausala, Saurashtra, Dhanushtra, Kurumba, Kambhoja, Gaulla, Lata, Barvvara, Parasa ( Persia), and Nepala. They traversed land-routes and water-routes, penetrating all the countries of the six continents. They traded in elephants, bloodstock, sapphires, moonstones, pearls, rubies, diamonds, lapiz lazuli, onyx, topaz, carbuncles, emeralds and other precious articles; 'they paid the Sunka regularly and filled the royal treasury with gold and jewels."
The crafting of jewellery was a product of teamwork, involving a variety of specialist skills. The designer (naqash, chitera); the goldsmith (sonar); the engraver (gharailvala, khodnaker); the enameller (minakar); the gem-setter (kundansaz); and the stringer (patua). All these skills were nurtured within the caste. This combination of skills necessitated a degree of aesthetic convent ionalism. Working with familiar stereotypes, each specialist was able to execute his task and pass the unit on for the next process in a well-orchestrated sequence of teamwork. Individualism in this scenario would have only bred aesthetic chaos. The whole emphasis on the solo act was, in fact, foreign to Indian aesthetics, particularly in the plastic and decorative arts.
Traditionally, since craftsmen worked within a guild system, each specialist contributed his particular skills towards creating a thing of beauty. That is what mattered and personal identity was effaced to the objective, though not personal commitment. If anything, the latter intensified in inverse proportion to the former in the quasi-religious atmosphere of the Indian crafts, where the craftsmen worshiped their tools, as many of them still do, before the day's work. Being a family-based profession, areas of specialization were nurtured within the family. When they moved from one atelier to the other, or migrated to other parts of the country, the entire family moved, ensuring minimum disruption in the workforce.
As members of the lowest strata of society, craftsmen and people directly or indirectly connected with handling precious gems remained anonymous; but there were rare exceptions. Jewellers were permanently employed by temple administrations during the Chola period, to execute commissions of jewels for the temple deities. The Mughal emperors established workshops or karkhanas within the precincts of the court, each supervised by a master craftsman of repute. In Jahangir's court, mention is made of goldsmiths and in aycrs. The names of Puran, Kalyan and Hunarmand are credited with manufacturing ornaments, jewellery and thrones of exceptional quality. The design and manufacture of the Peacock Throne is attributed to one Austin Bordeaux who was given the title of Hunarmand or skilftml, in recognition of his skills. Hortensio Borgio was credited with the first cleaving of the Koh-i-Nur diamond; "Bebadal Khan, the Darogha of Goldsmiths' workshop in Shah Jahan's time was a celebrated lapidary, a great calligraphist and also an author of some respectable verse."17 Ram Singh Malam, who worked for Rao Lakhpatji, the ruler of Kutch (1741-60), was a multi-dimensional craftsman. He lived in Europe for 18 years and on his return extended his skill in areas ranging from architecture to glass-making, jewellery and enamelling. Many members of the goldsmith caste were also painters of repute.
Jewellery designers were versatile, crossing boundaries and extending their proficiency to other areas. As early as in the 8th century,an inscription in the Virnpaksha temple at Pattadakal near Bijapur "records that the royal architect who planned that edifice, used to design the palace jewellery"; earlier, an inscription on the hand of a Yaksha figure of the Satavahana period dating to the early 1st century B.C. records that the sculptor of the image was the goldsmith Kanhadasa.
In the 16th century, when Portugal controlled the gem trade in India, Goa was home to goldsmiths and jewellers from different parts of the country and world. They gathered on the km Direita to work with the best stones that came out of the mines of India and to meet the demand for exceptional quality jewels in the country and abroad. Indian goldsmiths travelled to Lisbon, and "Raul Li Xatim, the son of a Goan goldsmith, actually stayed on in Lisbon between 1518 and I 520,21 perhaps to undergo training and gain knowledge of the kind of items sought after in Portugal. Business flourished, fuelled by high demand within the country and overseas. Together with foreign dealers, goldsmiths from Portugal also settled in the city, executing commissions for the governors and viceroys. Between 1622 and 1628, Domingo Nunes, a Portuguese jeweller living in Goa, "carried out several commissions for Dom Francisco da Gama, the viceroy.
Writer – Usha R Bala Krishnan & Meera Sushil Kumar