Quick Guide to Indian Temple Jewellery

Indian jewellery at times can get divided into three types

  1. Temple jewellery
  2. Spiritual jewellery
  3. Bridal jewellery

Temple jewellery was used for dressing idols of Gods and Goddesses in Indian temples. The necklaces are either strung with beads or crafted with intricate filigree. Other ornaments used were bangles (usually studded with gems), earrings, nose rings and anklets. This jewellery style was later adopted by women practicing dance forms such as Bharatanatyam or Kuchipudi. Over the years, the designs became part of the Indian woman’s bridal jewellery trousseau.

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Temple jewellery is considered auspicious in India. During festivals and occasions of worship of Gods, Indian females wear temple jewellery as it is believed to bring good luck.  Items like pendants, bracelets, belts and brooches based on temple jewellery are very popular. The favorite design for pendants is that of Lord Ganesha – the elephant headed god known to bestow luck and fortune. The other emblem, which is also in demand, is that of the sacred syllable OM.

Types of Jewellery

The jewelleries offered in the various temples of South India include the chains of coins (kasina sara), kadagas (bracelets), kankanas (wristlets), jjejjeranki (armlets), waist bands, tali (mangalasutra) and various types of headgear (kirita-mukntas). The jewelleries placed on various parts of the body are `mukha kirithi` (masks), `karnapatra`, chandra-bottu, `abhaya`, `varada hastas` and padtnapithas. These jewelleries were offered by kings and queens from time to time and now can be seen in the various temples of India.

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Design & Motifs

Temple jewellery is crafted by skilled craftsmen and jewellers. Due to the finesse required in crafting it, the time required to deliver the jewellery may sometimes even go up to a year. The stones used in Indian temple ornaments are Kemp stones. They are un-cut polished stones (red & green) and precious and semi-precious stones. The stones are used in necklaces, pendents, hip chains, earrings, chokers, nose rings etc.

Temple jewellery has always maintained a traditional form. Even the Mughal era could not bring much change in the jewellery design unlike other famous Indian jewellery styles. But its influence can be seen in some places. For example the shape of crowns and necklaces changed to the tune of Islamic traditions with the passage of time. The `conical kullah`, a golden cap of the Mughal court was introduced in the temples uring the Nayaka period. The crown gifted by Tirumalai Nayaka to the temples was called Mughal Mudi, which was named after the Mughal tradition.

The goldsmith of South India retained most of their traditional motifs and designs. One of such traditional motif is a double-headed eagle, called `gandabherunda`, which was earlier the royal symbol of the Hoysala rulers. In all the South Indian jewelleries, this particular motif is seen up to the Nayaka period. The temple jewelleries of South India have names based on the local flowers and birds such as `Tamarappu` (lotus flower), `Kallippu` and `Nerinchippu`. Some of the jewelleries are also named after birds and animals, like kokku (crane), tavalai (frog), amai (turtle), makara (crocodile) etc.

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Categories

In South India, the temple jewelleries are divided into two categories

  • The jewelleries offered to the main `Sivalinga`
  • Those offered to the subsidiary gods and goddesses.

The main `Sivalinga` of any South Indian temple is adorned with extremely costly jewellery. Thousands of pearls are encrusted in the costliest jewelleries of the Sivalinga. During the rule of Chola dynasty, the South Indian temples contributed a lot in the growth of the art of jewel making. The South Indian temples even maintained their own workshops, employed skilled goldsmiths and jewellers to fashion jewels. The master craftsmen were appointed and granted royal titles for their mastery and excellence in the art.

Dynasties & Famous Temples

During the rule of Vijayanagar kings, the heights of pomp and lavishness in offerings reached its peak. In the 13th century AD, the Pandyas also donated jewelleries to various temples at Madurai, Srirangam and Chidambaram. But most of the existing gems in South Indian temples today can be traced back to the Nayaka period. Many Nayaka rulers renovated the old temples and built new temples as well. They also offered jewelleries in the names of the famous saints of Tamil Nadu.

Several valuable and costly jewelleries are still well preserved in the Madurai temple. The most significant among them are the crowns of gold encrusted with the nine gems or navaratna. Another important jewellery of this temple is the `Ratnachurmmandu`, a golden jeweled turban. It is worn on one of the festivals of Lord Sundaresvara, who is supposed to have worked as a casual labourer and carried the mud on his head on behalf of an old lady.

During the Chitrai festival at the temples of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Alagar of Alagar Koil many types of jewellery were obtained as offerings. Most of these presents are still used at Madurai and Alagarkoil. The finest gems and jewelleries of the Nayaka period can still be seen in temples at Mannargudi, Nachchiyarkoil of Tanjavur district. The Srirangam temple also has a huge jewel collection, which have historical significance. The names of the donors, mainly the later Nayakas of Madurai are inscribed in most of these jewels. Raja Krishnaraja Wodeyar III of Mysore was renowned for having gifted precious ornaments studded with fabulous jewels, which can be now seen in various temples. He presented a `Gandabherunda Padaka` (pendant) and the `Ramapatta-bhisheka pendant` in the Cheluvanarayana Swamy temple at Melkote. The Pandu-ranga temple of Pandarapura in Maharashtra has a gold pendant depicting the figure of Sri Vitthala, another form of Lord Krishna. The border of the pendant is adorned with navaratna stones.

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Protection

The jewelleries of Indian temples were protected with great care. The temple authorities were given strict guidelines to protect the temple treasures. There are mainly three persons, who are assigned the responsibility. The `Kaivistari` receives jewels on festive days and returns them to the `Kaiyatchri` just after their use. The latter then deposits them in the treasury. These are then locked properly and sealed by the third officer, `Mudradhikari`. During any festival time, when the deity is taken out for a procession adorned with the jewelleries, the temple guards called `Meykaval` keep a watch over them.

 

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