SHAHMAAL: Exploring the Classical Ornaments

Many women, in olden times, would be named after special ornaments
Traditional Kashmiri ornaments
Traditional Kashmiri ornaments Special arrangement

The month of Zilhaj has almost concluded, as we all know it is one of the holy months of Muslim calendar and it is in this month Muslims perform Hajj and offer sacrifice.

But do you know, for Kashmiris this month has also got certain more social and cultural significance. It has locally become the month of marriage ceremonies.

Most of marriages are either arranged or preferred to be held in this month. And markets dealing with marriage items, particularly the jewellery markets, experience more hustle and bustle in this month.

Since it is the marriage festivity season and big show for jewelry display, let us in today’s write up explore the tradition of Kashmiri ornaments. In fact Kashmiri women had a great love and passion for wearing exquisite ornaments. It is not true only about today’s women but in the olden times men and women both had got this passion.

Fortunately today’s men don’t like to wear any type of ornaments, but women have not changed. Women would not live without ornaments and for a bride jewelry is known his Zaiver - which has nowadays got social as well as cultural concurrence. Kashmiri women would prefer to wear variety of the locally made jewelry artifacts.

In fact the tradition of jewelry manufacturing in Kashmir is as old as the civilization. Evidences related to the manufacturing and usage of jewelry is found in the historical records of this place while the archaeological finds also confirm this trend. Records suggest that the art of ornaments here has had its peculiar features, and the design and style have been entirely unique.
In ancient times, there were not only generally women, but Kashmiri Rajas and Maharajas were also fond of different kinds of jewelry items. Kalhana, the 12th century historian, in his Rajtarangni, the oldest historical chronicle, makes a mention about several of the jewelry items worn by the Maharajas and their queens.

The terms which he in his ancient chronicle has mentioned includes Nupras (anklet), Hara (necklace), Kankana (wristlet), Keyura (amulet), Parihara (bracelet) and Kundala ( earings ). These ornaments have been usually proffered by Rajas and Maharajas.

In this chronicle it is not clear either local woman of those ages had also been using such types of ornaments. But we have got archaeological and painting evidences as well which speaks volumes about olden jewelry traditions.

The human motifs displayed either on archaeological artifacts or on olden paintings have shown ornamented postures of men and women.

The earliest evidences of exquisite jewelry motifs were found in the archaeological layers of Burzhama, Semithen, Harwan, Ushkar, Kotebal and Letpura archaeological sites.

The exhumed archaeological material of most of these sites showed the human pattern of men and women wearing brilliant types of ornaments. There are few tiles from the Harwan archaeological site displayed in archaeology galley of Srinagar museum, showing brilliant types of earrings and bangles. The designs and styles followed are really magnificent.

One of the artifacts found at Ushkar in Baramalla depicts the pattern of hair ball wearing a lovely hairpin. Similarly the evidence of brilliant types of earrings and bracelets has been found in the layers of several other archaeological sites of the valley.

The lovely miniatures and colorful manuscripts and documents housed in Kashmir museums also depict illustrations that also show wonderful ornaments being used by kashmiris.

Kashmiri jewelers commissioned variety of ornaments. The jewelry of Kashmir is unique in design and very minutely worked. The various types of jewelry such as earrings, necklaces, bracelets, anklets, amulets, rings, rosary, tin or silver, charm, cases and head bands are all delicately worked, even though the base is sometimes solid. The jewelers seem to have had nature as their model in most ornaments.

Kashmir society has been passionate lover of jewelry, and this is also evident by the fact that we have had several women names, after ornaments.

Many women, in olden times, would be named after special ornaments. Some of such names include Shahmaal, which is basically name of an ornament used by Kashmiri rajas as necklace better known as King’s necklace; Roupmaal, meaning silver necklace and sometimes only Maal which means necklace.

Among these ornaments, Shahmaal has been most popular and impressive ornament. The motifs of this ornament in exquisite designs are very much evident on the sculptures of various gods and goddesses of Hindu and Buddhist pantheon.

Nowadays special ornament sets are prepared and designed for special events and occasions including marriage ceremonies. Kashmiri brides are incomplete without the golden jewelry while people too gift delicate ornaments to the brides.

A jewelry set would usually comprise of a large necklace locally termed as Haar, bangle set (Bungri) earrings (Dour), and rings. The whole of the set is called, in general, as Zaver or Gahna. When marriages are fixed, the issues related to jewelry are also settled as per the wishes of the bride.

It is quite clear that Kashmiri women also have a strong yearning for wearing high class jewelry. They follow it more strictly, but with certain modifications. In olden times silver ornaments were preferred, but in the modern ages the golden and diamond ornaments have replaced the traditional silver ornaments.

In fact the passion for better jewellery is not bad but ignoring the traditional designs and styles of Kashmiri ornament is worrying. It has affected the identity Kashmiri brides.

The art and heritage lovers say that instead of imitating the non-Kashmiri designs, local types and styles should be patronized. The designs that come here from outside are not so bad, but the local patterns had a significant and profound identity.

The goldsmiths involved in manufacturing jewelry need to study the classical designs of Kashmiri Jewelry and re-introduce those designs in new formats. The olden designs can be traced from the olden paintings, miniatures, sculptures and terracotta.

Such designs are very impressive and magnificent. They are purely Kashmiri. If these olden styles and designs are re-introduced in the jewellery market, it would not only help in promoting and reviving the pure Kashmiri styles, but would also help in expanding its market.

Those involved in jewellery trade, and the womenfolk who are the buyers, shall encourage the manufacturing and wearing of traditional Kashmiri jewellery items. It would not only help in re-commissioning of olden trends but would also help in protecting the identity of Kashmiri brides.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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