Sunday, April 26, 2009

Timeless Beauty.

  • In South India, jewellery has an integral part of the temples since times immemorial. All these started with traders who returned with precious jewels. Only the kings of the time were in a position to spend on the costly jewellery. Because of their bhakti on deities they decorated temple deities with various forms of jewellery. The kings and queens also were fond of wearing various ornaments made of gold. For this purpose, the help of the asaris (artisans) were sought for and they became the members of the royal family.
  • Set in gold, and interspersed with precious gems of all kinds, these were fashioned into crowns, elaborate necklaces and other unique ornaments. For the royal women, jewels were fashioned to be worn from the head to the toes. Thus were unique pieces created such as the hair and head ornaments like the Jadainagar, Rakkodi, Thirugu Billai, all worn on the long plaited braid, the Thalai Saman for the top of the head, the Maatal, Thodu and Jhumki for the ears, the Addigai or the Choker around the neck, the Vanki for the arm, different types of pendants known as Padakkam, the more elaborate pendant known as Makarakandi, bangles, rings and so on. The most striking among the various ornaments for the neck is undoubtedly the large necklace which rests on the chest, known as the Maanga-Malai (garland of mangoes). The nature was the main source of inspiration for the jewel crafter. Like the lotus and the parrot, the mango became a recurring motif. When the British took this pattern to weave woollens in a small Scottish town named Paisely, the whole world labelled it the paisley pattern.
  • Why did these ornaments become famous as temple jewellery one might wonder. Well, as mentioned earlier, royals ordered them for themselves and their favorite deities. Kings and queens vanished from our lives long ago. But the jewels they gave to temples survived, atleast some of them did. We can see still some of these unique antique pieces during temple processions. Then how did dancers come to wear temple jewels, we may ask. In ancient times, temple dancers or Devadasis were a vital part of not only temple rituals but also court culture and royal celebrations. They wore all the elaborately studded ornaments to dance in front of the king. When the modern day Bharatamatyam dancer began to perform in sabhas, her guru instructed her on what ornaments to wear. But she had to make do with the copies which were more affordable.
  • As with many ancient crafts, jewellery making has survived against all odds in India, but not without many compromises in quality. The temple jewellery one buys now is very well crafted. Generations of craft men's families in places like Nagarkoil, Tirunelveli and other parts of TamilNadu continue making this type of jewellery. If provided with real precious gems and tonnes of gold, they can still make them fit for a royal purse. But they have survived only because they can make affordable "temple jewellery" for dancers and brides among whom it is popular, using gold plated silver and semi-precious rubies. They may not look very royal or be fit for the gods, but they can take the glare of the limelight and make a classical dancer loook pretty attractive.
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