Indian Gold Jewelry



Gold, the yellow metal, has captured man's interest everywhere and at all times. As a symbol of perfection, immortality and prosperity, gold is the substance that myths and legends are made of.

Traditionally a major market for gold, India has once again retained its position as the largest market for the yellow metal. The Geneva based World Gold Council, the marketing arm of the gold mining industry, also identifies India as the fastest growing market for this precious metal.

Unlike the Westerners who invest largely in stocks and other options, Indians believe in gold as an all time safe investment. For one, gold gives the security against any financial crisis because of its easy liquidity. Besides the investment angle, what makes Indians duck the global trend is the traditional values attached to the yellow metal. Gold, in Hindu culture is considered auspicious and is symbolic of Goddess Lakshmi (goddess of wealth).

Mythological Origin

It is interesting to trace this fascination for gold. The Satapatha Brahmana, an ancient Hindu text describes gold as the seed of Agni, the God of Fire.

Gold came to be called Hiranya, derived from the root Hri meaning imperishable. The Dharmasastra, another ancient Indian text says, "this universe was enveloped in darkness. He (the Lord) desiring to produce various creatures from his own body first created the waters and in them deposited a seed. This seed became a golden egg, resplendent as the sun, in which He Himself was born as Brahma." Brahma is therefore called Hiranyagarbha or born of gold.

Gold is seen to be the reference point in mythology whenever the highest form of prayer, perfection or beauty is to be described. The goddess Lakshmi, symbolizing fertility, productiveness and prosperity, is said to have been bathed by elephants who carried pure water in golden vessels. Urvashi, believed to be one of the most beautiful women in Hindu mythology, is supposed to have complexion of golden hue. The golden coloured deer plays an important role in the famous Indian epic the Ramayana.

It is said that Lord Shiva (one of the trinity in the Hindu pantheon) taunted his wife Parvati saying her skin was dark. So offended was Parvati that she performed penance to gain access to Lord Brahma, the creator in the Hindu pantheon. Lord Brahma granted her the boon she was seeking. Parvati was reborn as Gauri, or the woman with golden colored skin.

It is not only the Hindu tradition that extols gold. In the Bible, in Genesis 2:10.11, there is a mention of a river flowing out of the Garden of Eden. "And a river went out of Eden, parted and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pison, that is which compasses the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold." The Islamic religion describes the fifth heaven to be made of gold. The Buddha is often portrayed in gold and Buddhist ceremonial objects are made of gold. Astrologically gold is represented by Jupiter.

Historical References

The value of gold has been appreciated in daily life too. The Rig Veda, India's most ancient text, (dated approximately to 1500 B.C.) says the giver of gold receives a life of light and glory. And to receive or buy gold is to welcome Lakshmi. That is why during Diwali time, gold is almost invariably bought. On this festival, it is Goddess Lakshmi who is worshipped.

Arthasastra, a third century A.D. text, lays down the various rules to be followed by goldsmiths and the different kinds of alloys that can be made with it. By the fifth century, ornaments were exquisitely fashioned and Kalidasa, a famous Sanskrit poet, describes when and how each ornament should be worn. The evidences and designs of ancient Indian jewelery are also found in sculptures

Medicinal Properties

Within the human body too the colour of gold is celebrated. The human body, according to Ayurveda, is believed to have many charkas or nodal points of operation. The heart chakra is said to be golden yellow and so the colour itself is regarded as inspiring divine thoughts.

Gold's immunity to rust made physicians feel it had properties to cure diseases. Caraka's medical treatise mentions the use of gold in medicine. The jawahar mohra of Unani medicine uses gold as one of the components of special medicines as do the many other Ayurvedic and Tibetan medicines. The thanga baspam is one such medicine that is supposed to lengthen the life span and act as an aphrodisiac. Gold has been used to fill the cavities in teeth since ancient times. In India, thanga rekha or a fine golden thread is often served with betel leaf after a sumptuous dinner or heavy lunch.

Use of gold in medicine naturally led to the association of certain magical properties with the metal. Gold earrings are said to improve eyesight while those suffering from mumps believe that if they wear a gold chain, their problem will vanish. In fact the ailment itself is called ponnuku vingi or swelling caused by lack of gold.

Gold in Weaving

Gold came to be used in weaving and the making of brocades. Kancheepuram in the south and Varanasi in the north were centres where gold weaving was done. If weaving was one way of wearing gold, another ingenuous method was the art of zardozi in which gold thread is used in embroidery. It came to India with the Mughals. Even today, the intricate detailing that the fine art involves is to be seen to be believed.

A Large Variety of Styles

Jewelry is area specific. All over India, women wear a lot of jewelry and even men used to wear some of it. India of old times had several small kingdoms and so styles in each kingdom flourished under the patronage of the local kings. As such the designs existed in infinite variety. The one common feature was the number of items worn by women. All of them wore jewelry on their nose, on their forehead, on their ankles and even their toes.

One would find that in areas like those under the Mughals, the jewelry of the hands and feet were extremely ornate. The reason being the women wore veils and the only exposed parts of their body were the hands and feet!

The Mughals were showmen who reveled in the fantasy of ornaments. They encouraged international participation by borrowing designs and getting their jewelry fashioned abroad. In fact, documentation of Indian jewelry exists only from this period onwards. Enameling, embedding stones in gold and filigree work were some of the different ways in which gold was embellished further.

Indians who prefer 24 carat gold have a variety of designs to chose from, whether they are buying necklaces, nose rings, earrings (four to seven pieces of jewelry can be worn on the ear alone!), hair clips, waistbands or toe rings.

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