History Of Antique Indian Jewellery

The history of traditional Indian jewellery is as old as Indian History. The Indian subcontinent has the longest continuous legacy of jewellery making and has enjoyed a continuous development of ART forms for some 5000 years.

I would like to share with you the traditional Indian Heritage Jewellery Art that has been very popular, rare, unique and one of kind.

GULABI MEENAKARI

Let’s walk through the bylanes of Varanasi, near Gai Ghat in Uttar Pradesh, and see the popular art practised.

Ancient Indian Jewels
Image Credit: Amit Verma and Swara Jewellery

Gulabi Meenakari is one of the rarest crafts in India. This art was brought to the city of Varanasi by Persian enamellists during the Mughal era around the early 17th century.

The word ‘Mina’ is the feminine form of the Persian word ‘Minoo’ and means ‘Heaven’. It refers to the azure “Colour Of Heaven”. Meenakari can be found popularly in three forms.

1) Ek Rang Khula Meena: Only gold outlines are exposed and a single transparent colour is used.
2) Panch Rangi Meena: Five colours of red, white, green, light blue and dark blue are used.
3) Gulabi Meena: Pink, is the dominant colour.

Ancient Indian Jewels
Image Credit: Voylla Blog

Meenakari from Varanasi is known for its signature PINK colour which is obtained from the Gulab (rose.) The bold, beautiful and bright pink jewellery is characterized by pink brush strokes or dusky rose pink on an opaque white ground or white enamel. This piece of art may take 1 month to 6 months for its completion depending upon its complexity.

Procedure for Gulabi Meenakari

Video Credit: Youtube: Etsy Seller Stories.

Step 1: Crafting of Silver mould.
Step 2: Different colour glasses are used for different colours. The powdered glass is mixed with a liquid made of pomegranate seeds and water to give a shining surface. The craft is decorated by applying attractive colours.
Step 3: The enamelled craft is heated in the furnace, set between 750 to 850º C, here the colours fuse and harden to become one with the surface for a long-lasting glossy surface.
Step 4: Stones are added to embellish the artwork. The preheated craft is painted with the unique colour combination of pink on white, which is again heated in the furnace. Content Credit: Dsource.in Blog, Siliconindia.Blog.

It’s always a pleasure to dig in the rich heritage and craftsmanship history of India, and take you through some masterpieces.

TARAKASHI

Let’s travel to Odisha and learn about the beautiful art of Tarakashi.

This is a type of silver Filigree work from Cuttack, a city from Odisha in the eastern part of India.

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Image Credit: Silver Linings India

This highly skilled art form is more than 500 years old and is traditionally done by local artisans. The process is highly elaborate, using precision, patience and skilled handwork, apart from the ingenuity and creativity of the artisans.

The Procedure of Tarakashi

Video Credit: Munapy on Youtube.

Step 1: The artists work with an alloy of 90% or more pure Silver. The silver bricks are melted and drawn into wires of different gauges using a wire drawing machine. The thickness of the wires is determined by the design. Silver wires of various thicknesses are used in the production of any one piece. The thin silver wire is carefully twisted using the tool.
Step 2: After the design is manually drawn on paper, silversmith curls and cuts off little pieces of fine silver wire, to use in his design. Thicker wire is used to make the frame and thinner wires are used to add the details insides. The fine silver wire is twisted and moulded into fine and elaborate designs. These are fitted exactly into the frame. All the individual pieces are assembled to make the final product.
Step 3: Soldering is done by placing the piece into a mixture of borax powder and water, sprinkling soldering powder on it, and then placing it under the small flame. This ensures that the detail of the design will stay intact.
Step 4: Cleaning & Polishing;

Once the objects are ready, they are ready to be washed, cleaned, polished and dried. The silver filigree is first immersed in a solution of dilute acid for cleaning, followed by a polishing solution to get a perfect shine. Content: Arts and Culture. google blog. Dsource.in Blog.

Various forms of miniature animals, birds, flowers, models are made up of silver filigree and are in great demand.

Well, this is proof that when you look into the history of your homeland, you’re bound to discover gems!!

THEWA

Moving on from Odisha, where we learned the Tarakashi work in the previous post, today I would like to take you Pratapgarh district, Rajasthan.

Ancient Indian Jewels
Image Credit: Raj Soni

It is a word from the local Rajasthani language which means “SETTING”, it is a special art of jewellery making which involves fusing of intricately worked out Gold sheet on molten glass. Nathu Lal Soni, initiated this art in 1707. The secrets of the craft have been passed over generations to Raj Soni’s family, they are the only family doing Thewa Work in 25+ Colour’s & Geometric Art in Pratapgarh.

The Procedure of Thewa

Video Credit: Raj Soni.

Step 1: 23k Gold sheet is tapped by wood to tear out all the waves in the metal.
Step 2: Silver wires are joint and giving the exact shape depending on the design.
Step 3: Shouldering of the Gold sheet and silver wire.
Step 4: Laakh (Raar) is filled on the shouldered Thewa piece, to give the basement for crafting.
Step 5: Carving of the design according to the theme.
Step 6: After the carving is done, the next step is Glass Cutting, which has to be done very accurately.
Step 7: After the glass fusion, Thewa is almost done.
Step 8: Thewa is fitted with the help of a hammer and its ready to be adorned.

The process of making Thewa work is detailed; time-consuming and intricate, taking up to a month to complete each piece.

Ancient Indian Jewels
Image Credit: Raj Soni

Besides jewellery pieces, non-jewellery Thewa decorated objects are also very popular.
Thank you to the entire Raj Soni and family for keeping this legacy alive !! Content Credit: Raj Soni, Silicon India, Dsource.in Blog.

DHOKRA WORK

The journey of discovering the heritage art of India has now reached to Jharkhand to West Bengal and Odisha.

Dhokra is a non–ferrous metal casting using the lost wax casting technique, used for over 4,000 years and is still being used. The name Dhokra is coined after the tribe of Dhokra Damar, who are settled in the central part of India.

Ancient Indian Jewels
Image Credit: Hemant Shah

The Procedure of Dhokra

Video Credit: Hemant Shah.

Step 1: The basic mould is made with fine sand and clay. Goat and cow dung or husk is added to the principal material, which is then layered with pure beeswax.
Step 2: Wax threads are then prepared and wound around the clay mould until its entire surface is covered uniform.
Step 3: The runners are fixed which allow the metal to flow and allow to fill the area with no resistance, the model is coated in a paste and left to dry.
Step 4: The furnace is built above ground with bricks and natural fuel, scabs of brass is melted. The dry moulds are now put in the furnace where the wax burns leaving a free channel for the metal to flow.
Molten metal (mainly brass and bronze) is poured inside the mould and left for solidifying. The moulds are then broken and the cast figures are removed.
Step 5: The portions are retouched and are meticulously scoured at the river with clean sand to give the products a soft polished look.

Ancient Indian Jewels
Image Credit: Hemant Shah

The product of Dhokra artisans is in great demand in domestic and foreign markets, a simple figurine could take anywhere between over 15 to 30 days to make.

Ancient Indian Jewels
Image Credit: EngraveBlog, IndiamartBlog

Dhokra craft doesn’t use any advanced technology and the objects are entirely handcrafted. The craftsmen use their intensive imagination and creativity in making each item. Though, the objects appear quite similar, not a single one is replicated. Content: Engrave.in blog, Mojar to Blog, Dsource.in Blog.

BIDRI WORK

Bidriware is a metal handicraft from Bidar. It was developed in the 14th century C.E. during the rule of the Bahamani Sultans.

Ancient Indian Jewels
Image Credit: Silver Line Jewellery

The term “Bidriware” originates from the township of Bidar, due to its striking inlay artwork, it is a multi-step tedious process, done manually. Bidri work is an important export handicraft of India and is prized as a symbol of wealth.

The Procedure of Bidri Work

Video Credit: Youtube Crafts’ Up Crafts’ Up.

Step 1: A Metal mould is used to create a hollow mould, in special Bidar clay which binds well along with resin and castor oil, hollow mould is then filled with molten metal
( Zinc+Copper). In a few minutes, the metal takes the desired shape. Clay mould is broken to take out the metal piece, which is later smoothened by filing. The casting is now coated with a strong solution of copper sulphate to obtain a temporary black coating over which designs are etched freehand with the help of a metal stylus.
Step 2: In the next step of Carving & Etching, the craftsman uses small chisels to engrave the design over the freehand etching. Fine wire or flattened strips of pure silver are then carefully hammered into these grooves.
Step 3: Blackening and Finishing; here the Bidriware is ready for the final blackening process. A special variety of soil which is available only in the unlit portions of the Bidar fort is used. It is mixed with ammonium chloride and water to produce a paste which is then rubbed onto a heated Bidri surface. The paste selectively darkens the body while it does not affect the silver inlay.

Ancient Indian Jewels
Image Credit: tklvch.wordpress. Deccan Herald Blog and Birdri Handicraft Blog

As a finishing touch, oil is applied to the finished product to deepen the matt coating. The finished product appears black with brilliant silver inlay.

One of the craftsmen who took this practice to national and international recognition is Shah Rasheed Ahmed Quadri, a recipient of several awards like National award. The traditional Indian art is indeed diverse and discovering it is surely a muse for younger patrons.

Ancient Indian Jewels
Image Credit: NDTV

The Karnataka tableau at the Republic Day parade in 2011 in New Delhi, of Bidri artisans, truly Incredible India.

TEMPLE JEWELRY

It originated in the Chola and Pandya dynasties, which played an essential role in the cultural heritage of the southern states in India. Embossed with depictions of gods and goddesses from the temples in South India, these simple yet artful pieces of work are sculpted from Gold and Silver.

Ancient Indian Jewels
Image Credit: Raj Diamonds

Traditionally, “Nakshi” in Hindi means carving and Nagas in Tamil means intricate/ornamental work has existed from ancient times through the 21st century. Each step involved, in the making of these jewellery pieces, is very delicate. Intense and important.

The Procedure of Temple Jewelry

Video Credit: Youtube Mehta Gold.

Step 1: A rough sketch of the design is drawn on paper and then sketched on the gold sheet.
Step 2: After sketching out on the sheet of gold, the sheet is then hammered with the help of a chisel, and embossed from the back of the metal sheet using the embosser.
Step 3: The embossed piece is filled with natural resin by heating the sheet, followed by carving; where the shaping of the design takes place. The carved design is polished and decorated by using chisels.
Then the excess portions of the gold sheet is cut. This is one of the crucial steps as even a single wrong cut would lend the entire effort to waste.
Step 4: After Nakashi work is complete, the next step is closing the backside of Nakashi piece by a gold sheet to add strength to the piece.
Step 5: After the closing is done the rough edges are smoothened followed by cleaning and polishing. Content Credit: GM Jewellery, Art Of Gold, Vogue India, Dsource.in Blog.

Ancient Indian Jewels
Image Credit: Raj Diamonds

Nakshi/Nagas Jewellery has been around for a very long time and this particular art form is quite rare due to the intricate and difficult curves and shapes that have to be hammered to get that appropriate shape, these beautiful creations are unique as no two pieces turn out alike.

If you ever feel lost and need a muse for your creative inspiration, there’s always a good chance that you’ll find it in the Indian heritage and history.

The beauty of Indian heritage is mesmerising, it gives me so much pride and joy in sharing it with people across continents and makes me so proud of my country and its talented artisans for crafting such pieces, precious enough to be adorned by everyone, from the Mughals to the queens and the maharajas.

1 Comment
  1. Exquisite work done by the artisans of India. I so admire their fine skills in the making of the jewellery, appreciating all the more the completed pieces.

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