(Last Updated on : 23/10/2010)
Jewellery in Rajasthan has been acquiring a special position amongst fashionable women since ages. Besides, royal Rajasthani women, these jewelleries are used and possessed by people from all over India.
Even in the earliest records of costume in India, jewellery is seen as a vital accessory to everyday attire. The jewellery from Rajasthan is much like costume, which is the manifestation of refined design responsiveness and skill that has evolved by a civilisation over the millennia. The vast and diverse range of jewellery exists especially in the present day as an indication of the creativity and aesthetic consciousness of the Indian craftsperson, as also the innate desire for personal ornamentation.
The association between ornaments and religion is very strong in the norms of Rajasthan. Particular pieces of jewellery and even the material, of which they are made, declare the religious affinities of a group. For instance, the pendants depict the gods and goddesses. The pious Hindu associates gold with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and others recognize it as symbolic of the sun. Like the sun, gold is also held to be immortal and sacred. Similarly, the cool, white shimmer of silver is thought to be representative of the moon. Ornaments made of specific gems and metals are believed to play a protective role by warding off any evil that threatens the wearer and attracts good fortune instead.
Continuity and the co-existence of India's urban civilization and tribal cultures have bestowed a particular cultural identity to the traditional ornaments of Rajasthan. This is especially authentic in Rajasthan, where master-craftsmen in the urban centres enjoyed royal patronage and, thus, were able to develop their skills and imagination to create beautiful pieces of jewellery. On the other hand, tribal and rural communities of Rajasthan remain rooted in their traditions. Today, jewellery frames the context of its wearer's social status, economic status and even the political power or inclination if any. Much as they have always done, ornaments in Rajasthan also serve the purpose of distinguishing one socio-ethnic group from the other one.
Apart from its symbolic value, Rajasthani jewellery is also an important investment because of its easy liquidity. This is especially true in this region with its harsh desert environment, its unremitting internecine warfare and history of turbulent political upheaval. Feudalism, invasions and instability made it essential to accumulate movable assets for security. These assets were in the form of ornaments that were made of gold, which has always been recognised as the universal standard of exchange and an important and reliable means of savings. This was especially appropriate for women who in a feudal, patriarchal society have conventionally had little or no opportunity for financial independence. Their personal ornaments, usually received at the time of marriage, are a way of safeguarding their future.
Precious ornaments in Rajasthan were also an evaluation of survival for displaced dynasties and a means for new pretenders to the throne to buy legitimacy. Rulers, in an attempt to legalise their reign, often traced their origins to Vedic heroes and even to the deities like Surya, the sun god and Chandra, the moon goddess. They were creatively assisted in this attempt, by the priestly classes, to soothe whom religious institutions were munificently gifted with gold, the most sought-after metal in the world. From the Mughal period, however, the use of gold came under ruthless scrutiny.
Several laws were enacted, which clearly restricted the use of the metal in Rajasthani jewellery. Royalty alone had the power to display gold ornaments anywhere on their person, whereas the rest of the social classes were allowed to wear gold only from the waist up. All other sections of society were permitted the use of gold in strict moderation, for instance, only in case of nose rings. Otherwise, it was believed that the purity of this precious metal would be tarnished. Thus society in the region was further divided by the wearing of gold. Almost two centuries of colonisation could not change the Rajasthani tradition of jewellery as daily wear. While its use as ornamentation may not be so routinely noticeable in urban India, it is still an indispensable part of the everyday attire of the rural Indian. Rajasthan, like so many other parts of India, has a rich living tradition of jewellery. It has its ornaments, motifs and designs, which are native to its people and are worn even today.
In fact there are different kinds of jewellery for the hand, neck, forehead, ear, nose, arms, ankles, feet, waist and head in Rajasthan. The designs carved on these ornaments make the pieces exquisite. Native crafts like, Kundan, Minakari, Filigree and others are employed to design the jewelleries of Rajasthan.
The Soni community is the traditional jewellers of Rajasthan. They use a multitude of materials, both organic and inorganic, from which they create beautiful jewellery. Although ornaments in Rajasthan are crafted from a wide variety of metals, gold and silver are the most popular. Apart from their artistic appeal, religion and mythology grant them their fortunate status. Silver has always been the unmatched favourite in Rajasthan, as it is found in great abundance in the region and, therefore, more affordable than gold, which is beyond the reach of ordinary people. So great is the attachment to silver that once it is worn, it is almost never taken of. For example, the village-jeweller in Rajasthan who makes the silver kada as an anklet will be asked to remove it only when the wearer has passed on. The silver mined in Rajasthan is regarded of very high purity, which also makes it a reliable form of currency. However, the disadvantage of silver is its weight, which makes it cumbersome and, hence, places limitations on its usage. Gemstones like diamonds, rubies, pearls, sapphires and emeralds are also widely used for making jewellery, as are non-minerals such as lac, grass, feathers and cowrie shells.
Lac, aptly termed 'the common man's gold' is greatly admired in Rajasthan. It is also considered extremely promising by certain communities like the Bishnoi. The Bishnois are nature-worshippers and lac, a natural substance, is believed to be a mark of their religious beliefs and so considered auspicious. Today this belief has spread among other communities, and lac bangles are hugely popular for special occasions like family weddings, Teej and other festivals. Ivory is closely associated with Ganesha, the Hindu God of prosperity that was extensively used for beads, wedding bangles, rings, brooches, ear tops, and pendants. However, it is now not used and is no longer utilized to make ornaments. Lac Bangles are made through an interesting process, with natural materials.
The coarse lac is initially melted down and overwrought through a muslin cloth. The residue obtained is called chapadi. The next stage involves the preparation of the guni and batti. Guni is the lac stick and it is prepared by heating together coarsely pounded lac, beroza powder and crushed soapstone. These are finally rolled on to a wooden stick. In order to make the batti or colour cake, the chapadi is initially softened by heating and coloured powder is added. This mixture is kneaded, heated a little and cut into small cakes. Immersion in water then cools these cakes and a wooden stick is attached. Once the guni and batti are prepared, the batti is heated and rolled onto the surface of the guni. Several coatings are made so that the guni gets a generous amount of colour. This coloured guni is then heated and pressed into an unbroken column with a tool, known as the hatta in the locality. This column is cut to get bangles of the needed size.
Lac bangles are usually worn in sets of odd numbers on each hand. They display tremendous variety in style and design. The most common design is the leheriya, a wavy or zigzag pattern. Some bangles may also be studded with little mirrors, bright stones, beads or gold and silver powder. Popular varieties are hinglu ka chuda, nagon ka chuda, leheriya ka chuda and Laron ka chuda. Lac bangle-making is a family-based cottage industry. The men are responsible for cleaning and dyeing the lac, while the women are involved in the decoration of the final product. Today, although many traditional crafts seem to be losing their earlier markets, lac and the bangles made from it still enjoy the patronage of the public and the industry has seen growth and continuous support even in the contemporary times.
Grass, straw and feathers are other materials that are widely used for ornamentation by the tribal people. Garasia women braid grass chains into their hair and ornate with wheat stalk tassels called choti jhumka. They also create bracelets from rice stalks. Cowrie shells are used to decorate women's hairpieces and also in trappings for animals. In Rajasthan, coconut shell bangles are called kasla and are worn mostly by Bhil women in a graceful manner. There is an endless range of raw materials available to inspire the Indian jeweller's craft and there is a corresponding plethora of techniques at hand for jewellery making. Of the innumerable processes employed by the master craftsmen of India, there are some that are almost synonymous with Rajasthani jewellery.