Hathphool  

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Sanghamitra Sarkar IndiaTribal women of Gujrat in India wearing traditional silver ornaments and blessing a newly married

(Tribal women of Gujrat in India wearing traditional silver haathphool and blessing a newly married woman; image courtesy of Sanghamitra Sarkar.)

Hathphool refers to the term “hand flower” and this terminology originated in India. Hathphool describes a piece of jewellery that is a hand ornament which is a part of the bridal trousseau; it has five rings – one for each finger and the thumb, each ring is attached to a chain which, in turn, is connected to a bracelet that goes around the wrist.

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(Meena Kumari donning the haathphool ornament in a still from a film; image courtesy of Cinestaan.)

The five rings are said to represent five Indian Goddesses who would provide any sort of protection as required by the family of the bride in times of dire need. Later on, these rings were simply said to stand for the bonds of holy matrimony. The rings were connected to chains and a central floral design or medallion of some sort that covers the top of the hand.

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(Madhubala in a film still sporting the hathphool ornament; image courtesy of Pinterest.)

Sometimes the left thumb ring would have a mirror worked into the design which is known as an “Aarsi” and the purpose of the aarsi was to give the bride a glimpse of the groom because the veil covering her face would prove to be a hindrance.

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Baaju-band.

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(Aishwarya Rai in Jodha Akbar sporting the baaju-band on both arms; image courtesy of Pinterest.)

A baaju-band also known as an armband or an armlet is an ornamental piece of jewellery that goes around the upper arm or bicep and it is designed to be close-fitting. It is made of precious metals such as gold or silver or brass. They can be studded with gemstones as well.

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(An ornamental baaju-band on a bride’s arm; image courtesy of Pinterest.)

These armlets form a part of not just the Indian bride’s trousseau but those of a lot of other cultures as well; Balinese, Sudanese and Javanese, to name a few. Sri Lankan history suggests that both, men and women wore armlets and women wore them mostly to ward off evil or bad luck.

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(A traditional Indonesian bride wearing the armlets on her biceps; image courtesy of Pinterest.)

Bol Choodiyan, bol Kangana!

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(A stack of Vilandi, Jadau & gold bangles with enamelled paintings even on the inside; image courtesy of Narayan Jewellers.)

Bangles a.k.a choodiyan a.k.a Kangana are a part of a woman’s jewellery box, especially in India and for married women, in particular, they hold most significance. Brides don bangles of certain colours and made of certain materials depending on what their culture and tradition call for; India being a country chock-full of diverse cultures – there’s a wide array of bangles worn by brides and the resultant reasons for the same.

Beginning with our home-state, Gujarat; bangles made of Ivory are generally passed down from mother to daughter, an inheritance and a gift without which, the bride cannot proceed with the ritual of the seven rounds taking the holy matrimonial vows around the sacred fire, also known as “saat phere” or the “saptapati” ritual.

This is similar and true for the state of Rajasthan as well which is a neighbouring state.

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(A set of Choora and Kalira on a young Punjabi bride’s hands; image courtesy of Pinterest.)

The tradition in Punjab is that the bride wears bangles that are made in the combination of red and white. The white bangles are most often carved ivory and these are known as “Choora”. The bride is supposed to wear these for at least a month or sometimes an entire year because they signify her newly-married status.

The Kalira is a long umbrella shaped ornament that is tied to the bride’s wrists and the ritual involving this is equivalent to the Christian custom of throwing the bouquet; in this case the bride shakes the kalira over each of her friends’/ bridesmaids’ heads and on whomsoever’s head it falls – that young lady is considered next in line to be married. This is made of gold or silver plated design.

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(Maharashtrian bride’s bangle ritual; image courtesy of Pinterest.)

In Maharashtra, the bride wears glass bangles in green along with solid gold bangles called “Patlya” and carved kadas called “Tode”.

In Bengal and Odisha, the brides wear bangles that are made out of conch shell and red coral; yet another combination of red and white bangles.

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(Set of bangles on the wrists of a South Indian bride; image courtesy of Pinterest.)

In the South, brides don bangles made of solid gold as gold is considered most auspicious; these are paired with green bangles which symbolise prosperity and fertility.

Hence bangles are an important part of a bride’s trousseau apart from being an accessory that can be worn otherwise on other occasions as well.

Kamarbandh!

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The Travancore Sisters South Indian Royalty Perfect example of the use of gold belts oddiyanam on LalithaRaginiPadmini.

(The Travancore Sisters, South Indian Royalty with the gold belts {oddiyanam} on Lalitha, Ragini & Padmini; image courtesy of Pinterest.)

The Kamarbandh has been around for centuries as far as Indian jewellery is concerned; this is the piece of jewellery that goes around the kamar (waist) hence is known as the kamar-bandh (waist-band). It began as a trend of ornamentation that was common to sexes, male and female but what was once considered unisex is, in this day and age, solely a female accessory.

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(Simi Garewal in a still from a 1960s film wearing a kamarbandh; image courtesy of Pinterest.)

Be it, for religious purposes or simply as a means of ornamentation and an indication of prestige, the kamarbandh has been around for a significantly long time. In the south, it is an important bridal accessory and is known as an Oddiyanam and most often these are carved with a deity in the centre surrounded by studded gemstones.
Gold embellished with precious gems or silver, the belt goes around the waist of the bride to hold her sari or lehenga in place. It is now an essential part of the bridal wardrobe; whether minimal and delicate or heavy and intricate. The kamarbandh is created in a variety of manners, catering to the many preferences that different individuals may have depending on their attire and personal taste.

Best foot forward.

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(Image courtesy of Pinterest.)

(L to R: A single Indian Silver anklet from Rajasthan ca. 1st half of the 1900s; image courtesy of Pinterest. A pair of silver anklets India from Gujarat 19th-20th century; image courtesy of Christie’s.)

Anklets, nupur and payal are some of the names that the ankle bracelet goes by; girls and women alike, of Indian origin, have been wearing these since time immemorial. It has more to do with tradition than trend so what passes as a mere fashion statement in the West is rooted in history and inheritance on Indian soil. Whether she belongs to a tribe in a village tucked far away or a bustling metropolitan city, anklets are adornments but also a part of her daily life, sometimes never taken off.

(Tribal women wearing different kinds of anklets; images courtesy of Getty Images.)

The belief is that anklets, like most Indian jewellery, have a significant role to play wherein affecting the human body is concerned. The reproductive organs, in particular, have the most to gain from the wearing of anklets by women. It is also believed that a person’s energy is contained and controlled by wearing such anklets, especially in silver.

(Images courtesy of Getty Images and Pinterest.)

Anklets are an essential part of a bride’s jewellery set and a dancer’s alike; in the dancer’s case it’s a delightful set of bells made of metal strung together that are tied to the dancer’s feet and these produce a variety of musical sounds. This musical anklet is known as a ghungroo and is the focus of dances that rely on the sort of choreography that consists of a lot of footwork.

(Indian dancers wear ghungroo on their ankles; images courtesy of Getty Images.)

Having said all of that, it is seen as a fashion accessory but never just that alone.

From the tips of the toes.

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Bridal Feet with toe rings

(Image courtesy of Getty Images)

Toe rings are of great significance as per Indian customs, especially in the case of married women. Silver rings are worn by wedded women in the second toe of their feet, sometimes in pairs, so that’s a ring for the second toe on each foot. This is an indication of the woman’s marital status.

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(Toe rings on a Marwadi woman’s feet; image courtesy of Smita Chatterjee; Flickr.)

Bichiya or Bichwa in Hindi, Jodvi in Marathi,  Metti in Tamil, Mettelu in Telugu. And Minji in Malayalam.

Silver is the metal of choice because the belief is that gold is associated with the Gods, Goddess Lakshmi in particular and to wear this precious metal on a body part below the waist is considered an offence to the deities, hence, toe rings are made of silver. Apart from the religious belief is the apparent scientific reason that says the second toe has connections that run through the uterus which is why it is believed to play a role in the conception of a child and the menstrual cycle. Not to be forgotten is the fact that silver is a good conductor, hence, the belief is that it absorbs energy from the earth and passes this through the body which rejuvenates the entire system.

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(Groom putting on the bridal toe ring during the wedding ceremony; image courtesy of Ammaresh.com)

Wearing toe rings is a trend today and not necessarily restricted to married women. You’ll find them in gold as well, studded with diamonds and other precious gems so it is safe to say times are changing.

Having said that, old school traditions do hold strong and toe rings figure in an Indian married woman’s jewellery box of must-haves.

Big Fat Indian Weddings!

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(Photograph courtesy of Narayan Jewellers.)

Yes, a wedding is about two souls being joined in holy matrimony but, it is also about a joyous occasion that some girls have been planning for years and years; before there was even a hint of a significant other.

The outfit, the hairstyle, the shoes, and the icing on the cake; the jewellery!

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(Photograph courtesy of Narayan Jewellers.)

Indian weddings are long-drawn-out affairs that last for a few days with guests coming in for the whole production full of celebration, song, dance and wardrobe changes. Wardrobe changes require complementary accessories and every bride worth her salt will tell you so.

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(Photograph courtesy of Narayan Jewellers.)

However, for everything a reason and there are delicious details that accompany every piece of jewellery that adorns the bride, little bits of tradition that are at the very root of each significant piece. We’ll talk about it all one at a time in the posts to come.

Stay tuned!

Gold for the win.

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(Burial mask of Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun; images courtesy of Huffpost and Deposit Photos.)

The ancient Egyptians were of the belief that the bodies of the dead were to be preserved in order for the soul to have a place to dwell after death. The mummified corpses had masks that covered their faces; plaster for the common folk and masks made of precious metals like gold for royalty. One of the most famous burial masks belonged to Tutankhamun who was an Egyptian Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty. The mask is carved such that it has a nemes headcloth, bearing the royal insignia of a cobra and vulture.  There are inlays of gemstones and coloured glass, quartz for the eyes, obsidian for the pupils, lapis lazuli around the eyes and eyebrows, turquoise, amazonite, faience carnelian, feldspar and other stones make up the inlays for the collar. This mask is now on public display in a museum in Cairo.

(Illuminated manuscripts, Islamic and Christian; images courtesy of  Pinterest and Wikimedia.)

An illuminated manuscript referred to manuscripts decorated with gold or silver in the form of borders or miniature illustrations. This practice of creating illuminated manuscripts prevailed in Islamic as well as European texts.

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(Kintsugi pottery; image courtesy of Ceramic School.)

Gold dust and lacquer, that is what the Japanese use to fix what’s broken. Pottery in particular. Cracks are filled in with this combination which ultimately results in beautiful scars. It is called Kintsugi pottery, the basis of which lies in wabi-sabi, which in turn refers to acknowledging the beauty in imperfection.

Gold; durable malleable gold has always been of immense value, for good reason, since time immemorial.

Klimt with his Midas touch.

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Visitors of the Belvedere Museum watch Gustav Klimt´s painting 'Der Kuss' (getty images)

(Visitors of the Belvedere Museum watch Gustav Klimt´s painting ‘Der Kuss’; image courtesy of Getty Images.)

Gold in art; it would be remiss of us to leave out Gustav Klimt, especially with regard to the subject of gold leaf.

Klimt was an Austrian artist, a Symbolist painter who lived and worked during the 19th century. Symbolism; as Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé puts it is, “to depict not the thing but the effect it produces”.  The protagonists in his work were largely women, the female body played a consistent role and there was a degree of eroticism in his compositions that often made his work the subject of controversy.

Klimt’s golden phase is what brought him a lot of critical acclaims and those artworks created during the said phase remain the most regaled of his body of work. He used a lot of gold in his paintings and is especially well known for his use of gold leaf.

The Kiss is a painting by Klimt which consists of a perfect square that encloses a couple mid-embrace in elaborately embellished robes; Art Nouveau style. This famous painting is now housed by the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere museum in the Belvedere Palace, Vienna.

Judith and the Head of Holofernes Gustav Klimt Artist Gustav Klimt Year 1901 Pinterest

(Judith and the Head of Holofernes Gustav Klimt Artist Gustav Klimt Year 1901; image courtesy of Pinterest.)

Judith and the Head of Holofernes also known as Judith I is yet another famed golden painting by Klimt. The subject matter is biblical in nature and it represents Judith with the head of Holofernes (whom she decapitated herself). The composition is such that Judith is front and centre, the focus of the piece with the head of Holofernes in the corner, conveniently cropped out of the frame. Österreichische Galerie Belvedere museum in the Belvedere Palace, Vienna houses this work of art.

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907. Oil, silver, and gold on canvas. Christie's

(Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907. Oil, silver, and gold on canvas; image courtesy of Christie’s.)

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, also known as The Woman in Gold is yet another famous painting in gold leaf by Gustav Klimt. It was a painting of a Jewish banker’s wife; Adele Bloch-Bauer, commissioned by the banker, it was embroiled in intriguing events of history wherein it was stolen by the Nazis but recovered years later in order to be returned to the family before being sold yet again. It is the last painting depicting his golden phase in its entirety. It is now displayed in the Neue Galerie, New York.

Nothing beats Gold beating in this case.

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If we’re going to talk about gold leaf, it’s best to begin with Gold beating.

The last artisan battiloro goldbeater in Europe L'Italo-Americano Newsletter

(The last artisan battiloro goldbeater in Europe; image courtesy of L’Italo-Americano Newsletter.)

Gold beating is a process that has been in use since the time of the Egyptians. Gold is a metal that has always been known for its ductile quality and the fact that it is long-lasting in nature. Hence the process of hammering this precious metal became a technique frequently practised by craftsmen and artisans. Gold was hammered into the thinnest possible sheets, as thin as a leaf, which is where it got its name.

The gold with an alloy such as silver or copper is melted then cast into bars which are run through rolling mills several times until they are close to an inch thick. These sheets are then cut into smaller sized pieces, wrapped in goldbeater’s skin (ox intestine membrane) or in modern times – polyester film about 150 in number and this wrapping is called a cutch. This is wrapped further in parchment to hold it all together; placed upon larger surfaces like marble or granite slabs that can withstand heavy blows. Then these are hammered again, for hours together, into thinner sheets as the packages are rotated and turned until the gold within expands somewhat equally in every direction.

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(Gold leaf tissue book; image courtesy of Pinterest.)

They are then removed from the cutch, cut up equally and put into a packet called a shoder which is 100 times the number of skins used in the cutch. The packet is hammered for hours again until the gold expands to about 5-inch square.

The pieces are then removed, cut further, coated with gypsum so that it doesn’t stick to the skin after which it is put into a mold for the final beating which again lasts a couple of hours and the gold is about 6 inches in diameter after which it is finally cut and placed in a book of tissue pages for safe keeping.

A bit more associated with gold leaf in the next post, stay tuned!