Tuesday, January 24, 2012

indian jewelry and vedic culture

So last year (that's right, last year!) on October 5, FatChanceBellyDance® organized a miniseminar on Indian jewelry. The speaker was Ms. Colleena Shakti, the other half of Nakarali and Odissi dancer / teacher. I really don't need to tell you how fabulous Nakarali pieces are. I, err... I bought a piece of silver belt at last year's Tribal Fest and although it cost me an arm and leg, it's a good investment.

But I digress. Let's begin.

The beginning of Indian jewelry can be traced back to 5,000 years ago. The source of inspiration for the aesthetics came from the Vedas (ancient sacred writings of Hinduism). These Vedas have specific description of the adornments worn by the Gods and Goddesses (yes, I'm totally using capital "G"). These descriptions were made into illustrations by painters, and the poses of the Gods and Goddesses were translated by temple dancers into what is now known as Classical Indian Dance. This style of Indian dance is considered the epitome of Vedas, and therefore Indian, culture. The detailed carving of a God or Goddess or dancer from 500 years ago shows the exact same jewelry worn now.

What's remarkable is that every part of Chakra is covered in jewelry. This means there is a specific placement of each jewelry piece. Placing precious metals on the Nadis contains the power / spirit of the Mother / Goddess, therefore binding the Shakti energy.

The Indian idea of divine beauty is adornment. There is no end of adornment in the Indian aesthetics. The purpose of the body is to be adorned. Even in Kama Sutra illustrations (the classic ones, not the FHM ones) and sculptures, the clothes come off, but never the jewelry.

Jewelry also serves as an identity to show the caste and community. The 10,000 year old culture of India is passed on on both conscious and subconscious levels. The style of adornment reflects which tribe the person belongs to. Communal-mindedness is necessary in a tribe; there is no such thing as a stand-outness. Tribal costume (and jewelry) is not just adornment, but a lineage of ideas. The idea is how to represent people for having a pride in the moral system.

For example, the children of Kalbeliya Tribe, a caste of snake charmers, wear beaded jewelry (lighter, more comfortable, cheaper). When the girl is ready to be married, then she will wear silver that weighs at least 1.5 kg on her body. This is for financial security. Imagine, the people in this tribe lead nomadic life. This means no wall, no indoor plumbing, and now ATM. So if you had USD 5,000, where would you put it? On your body!

Jewelry is investment (like the belt I bought), it's also a transferable asset (you pass it down to the future generation), and it even guards you. Ms. Shakti told us the story of her Mataji who had an accident. Her leg was run over by a car, but she was alright because she was wearing a big-ass chunky anklet. The anklet protected her from too much damage, but it was broken to pieces. So they took the anklet to a shop to be sold to cover the hospital fee. The jewelry pieces are not pure or 92% silver, but they have to be mixed with other metals to endure the harsh conditions the tribespeople live in.

The Kalbeliya women are beggars, but they're adorned in jewelry and that's their right. The jewelry is not meant to be given up to feed the family (I know, right? THE IRONY). Sometimes, these people carve their names on the jewelry, like they have their names tattooed on their forearms because they're illiterate. Nowadays (I guess this also happens in Indonesia), Indians don't want to wear the older, more classic jewelry because they want to appear more western.

I was feeling rather intelligent that night and so I asked a question. The illustrations show Gods and Goddesses adorned in gold, so why is it that silver is the big thing? These are Ms. Shakti's responses:
  1. Gold is more precious (more expensive) than silver
  2. Silver mixes better with nickel and other metal
  3. Gold is reserved for Gods and Goddesses therefore distancing mere humans (Silver) with Supreme Beings (Gold - representing Solar energy)
I hope I didn't leave out important details! I'm sorry it took so long to write this. Sigh. Now that one debt is done, I still have two articles to post: Male ATS costuming ideas and the Extended Prayer.


Desi said...

Valuable post for me!! Wish that you post this before i interviewed by metro tv.. *sigh*
Felt so stupid telling wrong story about accecories and jewelry that bellydancer always use in almost every performances... :'(
Just because i didn't see that kind of question will came up... :(

Anyway... Thank you for sharing this topic :)

Yuska Lutfi Tuanakotta said...

Ahaha, I'm sorry... I'm such a professional procrastinator. Well, we make mistakes and learn new things every day.

chella said...

That was really interesting! Thanks for sharing! :)

jake tyler said...

Indian jewellery is an inspiration for all of the world as we are famous as the world's highest gold consuming nation.Our every religious customs can be done without wearing jewellery.

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