South India is famous for its plethora of rich traditions of ancient literature, classical music, conventional dance, customary arts, tantalizing cuisine and above all, majestic temples, which are collectively considered as the "jewel in the crown" of South India. Temple jewelry, noted for their regal look, added another feather in the cap of South India's preserved cultural heritage. Temple jewelry dates back to the 9th century. These divine looking jewelry beautified the appearances of gods and goddesses in temples. Later they was extremely popular among the women. Temple jewelry is often patronized by many classical dancers and highlighted their unique look. Temple jewelry has continued to impress the people for several centuries. Temple jewelry is now in vogue and is customised to suit the diverse taste of buyers.
How my fascination of temple jewelry began
I grew up in a South Indian family where the women in the family attached a lot of significance to jewelry as part of their lifestyle. They considered valuable jewelry as an ideal investment. I recall that throughout my childhood and teenage-hood, I often accompanied my mother and at times my grandmother and aunts to established jewelry stores with reputed brand names. I was dazzled by an enormous array of jewelry pieces of all kinds including temple jewelry displayed in such stores. I learnt a great deal about Indian jewelry, their worth, value and cost details from my mother. Temple jewelry made a grand comeback a few years ago . Temple jewelry is either sold by the ancient family clans or is replicated. Temple jewelry is a huge hit among the female buyers of all ages and graced the appearance of brides and guests at weddings. My mother has a pretty collection of temple jewelry which she has inherited and acquired over the years. The current trend of wearing temple jewelry has piqued my interest and ignited my deep admiration for them.
A brief golden history of temple jewelry
Temple jewelry was prevalent during the celebrated historical periods in South India such as the Chola dynasty, the Pandya dynasty and the Krishnadeva Raya rule from the 9th century till the 16th century. Temple jewelry was popularly worn by the kings, queens and other people of important positions. They had assigned the experienced goldsmiths and craftsmen to chisel the temple jewelry accessories for them. Also these jewelry pieces were presented to the temple by the royal figures, goldsmiths and devotees as offerings to the Hindu deities and this is how it got its name. Temple jewelry pieces were created out of finest gold and embedded with precious stones of rare value and the owners of these jewelry pieces decided to donate them to the temples in order to preserve them more carefully. These antique jewelry pieces are still seen today in temples due to the cautious protection and discreet scrutiny by the temple authorities for numerous years.
Materials used in creating temple jewelry
Temple jewelry is chiefly made of pure gold though silver and base-metallic coating studded with second grade gemstones are other economical alternatives. Temple jewelry is studded with precious and semi-precious gemstones to endow them with a classic look. Rubies, emeralds diamonds and kemp stones are commonly used and can be in cut or uncut form. Uncut precious stones are epitomized as they add an unparalleled touch to the appearance of temple jewelry. Kundan stones and polki stones are other important precious gemstones of North India which are popularly used in temple jewelry. Kemp stones come in either reddish-maroon color or dark green color; kundan stones and polki stones both have white color and resemble uncut diamonds and meenakari is North-indian process of enameling . Temple jewelry come in diverse designs be it traditional such as waves, dots and lines; motif such as floral shapes like lotus flower and birds like peacocks and swans ; abstract such as zig-zag and interspersion of shapes; and temple designs such as gods and goddesses, dancers and royal figure statuettes.
List of temple jewelry pieces
Temple jewelry consist of several pieces which are distinguishable from each other and are created in their peerless forms that enable them to gain instant recognition in the entire market of Indian jewelry. These temple jewelry pieces are most commonly used by Indian female classical dancers and hence they are also called dance jewelry. They range from tiny nose rings to heavy anklets.
Temple jewelry is categorised under two groups:
(i) Regular temple jewelry : Women wear temple jewelry on any ceremony besides weddings such as temple pilgrimages, baby showers, festivals, etc.
This list of regular temple jewelry pieces are listed as below:
2)Necklaces and chokers
4)Bangles and bracelets
5)Rings and toe-rings
(ii) Occasional temple jewelry : These ornaments are used especially by classical dancers for dance performances and brides on wedding days.
This list of occasional temple jewelry pieces are:
5)Waist belt and hip chain
Here is an insight into this entire list of Indian temple jewelry pieces:
Temple chains are one of the most admired temple ornaments which are often worn by women to bequeath them with an exquisite look.
They are cast in both long and short lengths. They usually are featured with pearls, kemp stones and other precious gemstones.
The important designs for long chains are a string of gold coins, small mangoes, flowers, rudraksha stones and Hindu deity figurines. These long chains are also called harams.
2. Necklaces and chokers
Temple necklaces and chokers are much loved by women as these alluring temple ornaments enhance the necks of women. They are augmented with pearls, precious gemstones and semi-precious gemstones. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth often serves as the core representation of necklaces and chokers.
Temple earrings are extremely popular for their endearing bell shaped design. They are frequently created with rubies or kemp stones and ended with a circular swirl of tiny pearls. These earrings can be in plain gold or studded with several gemstones.
4. Bangles and bracelets
Temple bangles and bracelets are lovely ornaments that come in a variety of designs and are created with different gemstones. They vary from thin dangling wrist ornaments to chunky ones with small hanging bells fastened to them.
5. Rings and toe-rings
Temple rings are displayed in an assortment of different designs and set with huge gemstones or minuscule gemstones. Some rings also appear with a god or goddess figurine as a main centerpiece. Like other temple ornaments, rings too are intricately crafted in a number of varied designs. Toe-rings are made of silver and are often worn by married women.
An Indian armlet
An Indian armlet
Source: hema_'s, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr.com
Temple armlets diversify from attachable traditional armlets to armlets with intricate workmanship with strings to tie around the arms.
These traditional armlets often resemble the temple sanctum (carved towering architectural entrance of the temple) or have Goddess Lakshmi as its principal centerpiece.
Temple anklets are mostly produced in silver coated with gold to give them a golden finish. The thick anklets with trinkets embellished on them are particularly used by
8. Hair accessories
Temple hair accessories are fashioned in gold-plated silver decorated mainly with kemp stones, pearls and other semi-precious stones to bestow the classical dancers and brides with exceptional
elegance and traditional attractiveness. These various hair ornaments are fastened from the top of the forehead till the tip of the plait to endow the wearer with a bejeweled look.
9. Nose rings
Temple nose rings are worn by dancers and brides to accentuate their Indian features. These nose ornaments are mainly covered in gold-plated silver with kundan stones and pearls.
10. Waist belt and hip chain.
These temple ornaments don the waist and hips of dancers and brides to highlight an aura of regal refinement and enrich the garments worn by these women. Waist belt and hip chain are complementary ornaments and molded in gold or gold-glazed silver dotted with gemstones and edged with little bells or trinkets.
Temple jewelry and their timeless value
Temple jewelry continues to play a significant role in the Indian jewelry market due to its priceless history and unique designs.
Temple jewelry is sold by ancient family clans or retired dancers to the jewelry stores and is still on display. Hence temple jewelry is priced higher.
South Indian women consider wearing temple ornaments on important festivals and auspicious occasions as a symbol of good luck.
The current rise in gold prices did not stop women from buying these magnificent jewelry pieces as they are extremely exquisite and valuable.
Temple jewelry got an aura of prestige and respectability about them that they got a great demand both in the Indian and overseas jewelry markets.
Temple jewelry pieces are everlasting pieces of India's crafted treasures and are most unlikely to go out of fashion for many more years to come!