Incomparable Treasures from The Jewellery Collection of the National Museum, New Delhi
This necklace from Mohenjodaro, belongs to the Harappan civilisation. It has steatite and gold beads capped with gold on both sides. The necklace has three pendants of banded agate beads decorated with bright red bands in the middle with five pendants of jade beads on one side and four pendants of jade beads on the other side.
The beads are suspended by means of a thick gold wire that passes through each bead projecting at the lower end and fitted with a small cylindrical bead and a gold cap and coiled at the upper end to form the eyelet for the cord.
The necklace represents the advanced technology of bead making that was prevalent during Harappan times.
One of the most famous jewellery item from the Harappan civilisation, this five row necklace or girdle is made up of thirty long bicone carnelian beads of a translucent red colour. The rows are separated by globular bronze beads sandwiched between flat bronze spacers on either side. At one end there is a semi-circular terminal of bronze.
Another exquisite piece from Harappa, this flat gold brooch is shaped like the figure ‘8’. It has been formed with three thick gold wires laid on a sheet of silver. They are bent to form concentric rows in the form of the figure ‘8’. The two spaces in between the wires are inlaid with tiny cylindrical steatite beads having gold ends.
This intricate piece from Sirkap is ‘leech-and-pendant’ type earrings which combines sheet gold and granulation.
The crescent or ‘leech’, a term derived from the insect of similar shape, is hollow with an inverted bud-shaped pendant suspended from it. The pendant is attached to a moveable ring embossed with gold granules. The clasp is in the form of a double-leech pattern with decorative details.
These square amulets of gold are decorated with a swastika outlined in repoussé beading. At the center of this piece is a diamond-shaped depression and at the four corners are heart-shaped depressions. These might have been inlaid with a stone or filled with paste. The amulets are fitted with four copper rings at the back to facilitate attachment.
These two amulets from Sirkap are the earliest archaeological evidence of the swastika in an ornament.
A one of a kind piece of jewellery from Taxila, this segment with fishes in a row might have been a part of a longer girdle.
It comprises three horizontal rows of four fishes made of thin sheet of gold stamped with a design of fish scales. Holes are pierced in their mouth and tails for the cords to pass through.
The jewels of Sirkap are Indo-Greek in design and workmanship but manifest elements of indigenous idioms.
This elaborately decorated gold necklace from Sirkap, consists of eleven pendants with ten spacer beads and one terminal. The eleven pendents are of two types. The design of one type of pendant consists of an oval cabochon crystal set within a beaded surround enclosed by two repoussé worked dolphins face-to-face. From the tails of these dolphins hang three plaited chains ending in flat gold disks. At the top is attached a spherical bead the surface fully decorated with micro-granules.
The spacer beads between each pendant are of openwork design of circles inlaid with white feldspar and studded with granules. The terminal is in the form of an animal face inlaid with feldspar and black agate outlined with granulated beading.
While the necklace was strung through the beads, there is also a series of gold tubes at the back for another cord to pass through.
This necklace (har) from Rajasthan is composed of nine square plaques, each with a painting depicting an avatar or incarnation of Vishnu and other stories from Bhagavata Purana. The paintings are set into gold frames surrounded with bunches of gold beads. Each plaque is fitted with five loops in the form of flower and strung on a plain red and gold cord.
Such necklaces with Puranic imagery acted as portable manuscripts for pilgrims and others.
This exquisite necklace of gold (kanthla), from Udaipur, Rajasthan centers on a rectangular pendant which is flanked by two fan-shaped pendants. These are interspersed with decorated beads set with gems and pearls. The pendants are strung on thick gold cord and attached to a three row gold chain at the back.
This enchanting necklace (kanthi) from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh is in the form of an openwork torque in five hinged sections.
In the front, the necklace is set with white sapphires in a design of seven flowers with an octagonal stone in the middle. The stone is surrounded with petals, meandering creepers and leaves all set with white sapphires. The chain at the back in the form of a row of single stones.
Turban ornaments are symbols of temporal power and are quintessential to royal attire in India.
This turban jewel (sarpech) designed as three openwork emerald and diamond-set foliate cluster panels represents the excellent craftsmanship of Rajasthan goldsmiths. The scroll aigrette tapers with a row of emeralds in the center and flanked by diamond petals. A single emerald drop and five emerald drops are suspended below.
The head ornament (maang tika) in the form of a crescent is a beautiful amalgamation of kundan work, diamond, pearl and gold.
The crescent is set with diamonds with a flowering lotus blossom kundan, set with diamonds in the middle. It has two pearls on top and a row of pearls hang along the lower end. The ornament is suspended from a row of pearls with a gold hook on top.
This nose ring (balu), a typical ornament of Himachal Pradesh, is of a circular form. It is decorated with pearls, and red and white gems. Delicate gold leaves interspersed with gem-set crescent shaped and fish-shaped elements fringe the bottom of the nose ring.
On the upper portion a drop-shaped gem-set pendant from which are suspended seven gold leaves each with a turquoise in the middle within a granulated frame.
The centre part of the nose ring is decorated with a gem-set lotus and a couple of birds which are set above a row of semi-precious gems.
A chain of stamped gold flowers with a fringe of gold leaves and pearls is attached to the nose ring. This chain is tucked into the hair above the ear to support the weight of the large jewel.
The earrings (chand bali) are in the form of two crescent moons set within each other. Each crescent is studded with diamonds and rubies within geometric outlines. A fish-shaped pendant set with diamonds and ruby eyes is suspended from the large outer crescent moon, which is further edged with a line of pearls and bunches of pearls.
The well crafted necklace (har) from Rajasthan is made of sheet gold worked in repoussé. It consists of twelve lobed diamond-shaped pendants and a central fan-shaped pendant.
Each of the diamond shaped pendents bear the image of Krishna as Venugopala, standing with legs crossed and flute in hand, amidst foliage. Each pendant is edged with gold beads. A chain at the back completes the necklace.
Below the oval piece is a flexible mesh of diamond-shaped pieces set with diamonds. This suspends four tiered rows of triangular units, each set with diamonds and a fringe of pearls. The five diamond-set pieces, fringed with pearls at the bottom, completes this magnificent necklace.
On the back, there is a complex network of loops and rings that holds the various elements of the jewel together.
This rigid collar necklace (arya) from Rajasthan, is crafted from gold and set with diamonds.
The necklace comprises a broad, curved oval piece in a openwork foliate design with table-cut diamonds in foliate against a green enamel ground.
The oval piece is surmounted with gold cups that would have originally held pearls. The cord is in the form of a bunch of woven green and white glass beads. The reverse is enamelled with floral motifs in green, blue, red and white.
Suspended below the oval piece is a network of joined small triangular units in four tiered layers. Each unit is set with diamonds within a green enamel border and a fringe of pearls and blue beads. Three diamond-shaped pendants with a flower set with diamonds against a green enamel ground and a fringe of pearls are suspended below this network.
This elegant necklace (timaniya) is of rectangular form and is composed of a network of gold beads. This network suspends a multi-tiered fringe of triangular stamped sheet gold pieces. The pieces have a fringe of gold beads. There are three gem-set pieces framed in seed pearls with a fringe of gold beads below.
Surmounting the network of gold beads is a rectangular panel set with rows of rubies and emeralds. Above it are diamond flower-heads with blue enamel detail encircled with seed pearls. On either side of the pendant, the necklace is strung with pearls woven into beads interspersed with gold beads and gem set panels.
This single anklet (paizeb) from Rajasthan, is crafted from gold and composed of eighteen octagonal panels. Each of these panels have a kundan set octagonal shaped emerald inset with a diamond framed in gold in the center. The panel is surmounted with a pearl set in a gold cup.
It is likely that the piece was originally a necklace and a portion was later adapted to a bracelet. The clasp is modern.
The ring (arsi) has a large round mirror faceted around the edges set within a gold mount. The mount is of sheet gold decorated with floral motifs in repoussé and the hoop with three rows of granulation.
The ring was traditionally worn by brides enabling them to sneak a look at the face of their bridegroom from underneath her veil.
The necklace (manga malai), from South India is composed of thirty-six gold mango-shaped pendants. A ruby is set on top of each mango and surmounted with an incised attachment for suspension. The mango pendants are interspersed with palmette shaped pieces of thick sheet gold incised with designs. The clasp also of a sheet gold mango form.
The Mughal necklace (kanthi) of openwork foliate design is a masterpiece of jewellery. It centers upon a lotus in full bloom set with diamonds with graduating panels of lotus flowers set with diamonds on either side.
A row of pearls set in gold cups and a fringe of emerald beads flank the necklace from top and bottom respectively. The necklace is attached to three gold chains.
This Mughal armband (bazuband) from Rajasthan is of dome-shaped hemispherical form. In the center is an eight-petalled flower with diamonds kundan-set in gold. It has festoons of diamond flowers and leaves arranged all around on a green and gold enamel ground. Around the edge is a row of diamonds enclosed in gold.
The necklace (guluband) from Delhi is in the form of nine openwork square panels. Each panel is alternately set with a pearl and a ruby in the middle and with ruby and turquoise petals around. The panels are surmounted with pearls in gold cups. A fringe of pendants set with diamonds and pearls are suspended below.
The reverse is decorated with a design of birds in polychrome enamel.
The navaratna necklace (har) is crafted with gold and set with the nine planetary gems each in the center of a flower. The flowers are surrounded with ruby petals.
The nine flowers are interspersed with leaves and scrolling vines set with emeralds, rubies and diamonds and green enamel leaves. There is a two row gold chain at the back.
The light open setting and claw setting manifest the European influence in jewellery manufacture of the period.
The pair of bangles (kada) from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh with elephant-head terminals is a beautifully executed piece.
The tusks are entwined and are set with diamonds. The outer surface of the hoop is set with table-cut diamonds in foiled foliate surrounds on a green enamel ground. The inner surface is decorated with painted pink enamel flowers. The pair of opposing elephant heads with diamond set details is decorated with painted pink and white enamel or gulabi mina.
This magnificent necklace (har) from North India centers upon a foliate pendant. It is set with an emerald within an octagonal frame and surrounded with diamond petals and fishes. The fishes are set with small pieces of turquoise. This is surmounted with a lotus similarly set with gems accompanied by turquoise fishes. The pendant suspends another small fish pendant with rubies and pearls dangling.
The pendant is connected to a necklace made up of six pieces. Each piece is a crescent moon set with turquoise in the middle enclosed with gem set and enamelled fishes on either side. There are pearl pendent on the sides. The pieces are connected with four rows of pearls and a middle row with a spinel and pearls.
The pendant (padakkam) from Kerala features a pair of tiger’s claws encased in gold with beaded outline. This is attached to the bottom of a pendant of cusped arch form, made from sheet gold. A bead is suspended between the claws.
The pendant is strung on a necklace of ribbed gold beads, black and yellow glass beads and tulsi (Ocimumtenuiflorum) beads.
This pendant combines the powerful amuletic properties of the tiger’s claws and the kirtimukha to deflect evil and bestow protection on the wearer.
This sheet gold necklace from Karnataka is composed of eighteen identical panels each in the form of a tiger’s claw. The claw is fitted with a cap decorated with a kirtimukha ‘face of glory’ motif in relief. This is surmounted with a cabochon ruby. The center panel features a flower set with a ruby in the center. The triangular pieces at the end are also worked in relief. All the panels are filled with lac.
Tiger claws were fashioned into ornaments because they symbolised courage and power.
The marriage pendant (tali) from Chettinad, Tamil Nadu of cut work gold is of long rectangular form and arched on top. The jewel is inset with an image of goddess Lakshmi standing on a lotus within an arch surmounted with two female attendants. There are two deer below and a bell in the middle. Fine decorative details are incised on the thick gold sheet.
The necklace (kaluthiru) is made up of three claw-like pendants strung on a cord with round and tubular beads. It weighs more than half a kilo.
The kaluthiru – the name derived from kaluthu meaning neck and uru meaning bead is the marriage necklace of the Nattukottai Chettiar community of Tamil Nadu.
The claw-like pendants are believed to be modelled on shell forms or the paws of a tiger. Embellished with pyramidal architectural forms, wire work and beautifully crafted open work decoration, the three pendants are strung with fourteen gadrooned beads, eight cylindrical beads with fine granulation work and two elongated rectangular beads at the end that are decorated with wire and granules.
The head ornaments (suryan and chandran) represent the sun and the moon respectively. It is worn on either side of the center parting of the hair on top of the head.
The circular sun simulates a chrysanthemum flower with a diamond center surrounded by rows of rubies and diamonds and radiating petals set with cabochon rubies. The crescent moon is also encrusted with rows of cabochon rubies with a diamond, ruby and emerald flower in the middle.
This pair of armbands (bazuband) is in the form of wide gold bands each set with rows of table-cut diamonds. The diamonds are set in rectangular vertical interlocking units that end in loops decorated with gold floral motifs on a blue enamel ground. The armbands are threaded through these loops to fit together.
This elegant torque necklace (hansuli) is in the shape of a hoop. It centers on a multi-petaled flower-head set with white sapphires and surrounded by pearls. The hoop of the necklace is set with a row of gem-set flowers and leaves on a blue enamel background. The enameled arc at the back opens to fit the jewel around the neck.
The underside of the torque is decorated with polychrome enamel.
This is an egg-shaped pendant casket (ayigalu) crafted from gold.
The casket is designed to hold a portable sacred Shiva lingam.
The ayigalu, usually of silver is a sacred amulet worn by members of the Lingayat community in Karnataka.
The presence of the gandaberunda or double-headed eagle – emblem of the Wodeyar royal house of Mysore on the pendant implies that this was a royal jewel.
The pendant has diamonds set in diagonal lines and rows of cabochon rubies around the top and the bottom.
Set in the middle of the diamonds on one side of the casket is a gandaberunda or double-headed eagle motif in emeralds and rubies. The other side has a flower set with the nine celestial gems or navaratna. On top of the lid there is a minuscule emerald Shiva lingam set within a gold snake hood.
A rock-crystal lingam would have reposed inside.
The amulet pendant from Rajasthan is in the form of a slim rectangular box. The cover has a flower in the middle having a ruby center and diamond heart-shaped petals kundan-set in gold. Around the flower are the navaratna gemstones interspersed with diamond-set foliage and a red enamel ground. There are three suspension loops enamelled in green and white and three loops below, suspending emerald beads.
The box is of silver with thewa work decoration on the lid and around the sides. Thin sheet gold with a design of Shreenathji flanked by two devotees amidst a floral backdrop decorate the lid. A design of flowers goes around the sides. The sheet gold with minutely incised designs is fused on green glass in a technique unique to the region, to give a base to the thewa work.
Script and Curation: Dr. Usha Balakrishnan
Collection Incharge - Dr. R.K. Tiwari
Conservation and Mounting - P.K Nagta
Exhibit Compilation - Vasundhra Sangwan and Rajalakshmi Karakulam
Gallery Design - Siddhartha Chatterjee
Design Implementation - Mr. K.K.S Deori, Mr. Kuldeep Pokhriyal and Ms. Priya
Photography - Hariom Maurya, Suresh Mahto & Yogesh Pal
Photo Editing - Hariom Maurya
Exhibition Coordination - Joyoti Roy
References - Alamkara - The Beauty of Ornament, Dr. Usha Balakrishnan, National Museum, 2014, New Delhi.