Cultures & Traditions
The fundamental Mughal design form is the arabesque. Eschewing figurative and narrative art as demanded by Islam, this visual element was originally a purely geometric pattern. Over time the arabesque became the foundation for stunning abstract artworks making use of complex, interlacing, and symmetrical designs. Often these design patterns evoke stars or the heavens. Flowers were also popular design elements, because they could be expressed through geometry. In Mughal India, native Indic floral decorations were combined with arabesque forms to produce lavish decorative fields on everything from buildings to jewelry.
Indian jewelry makes prolific use of the arabesque and other Mughal design elements, as well as indigenous motifs and themes. One of the most visually appealing aspects of Indian jewelry is its abundant use of precious stones, including rubies, diamonds, pearls, and emeralds. For millennia, the highest level of craftsmanship has existed in India for working with gold, silver, inlays, and enamel. Jewelry has always been highly valued in Indian culture, and a strong market has always existed for the creation of exceptional jewelry.
Wearing jewelry in India was far more than a simple fashion statement. Throughout history Indian women have used and worn jewelry as their dowries. Rulers demonstrated their power through jewelry and jeweled possessions. Some kinds of jewelry were rewards for a ruler’s devoted followers. An elite warrior’s weapons were bejeweled works of art. Hindu gods exhibit their divine status by being dressed in lavish jewelry. Even the god Shiva's mount, the bull Nandi, is portrayed with a handsome jeweled panoply, as a real animal might be.
There are clear distinctions between the designs employed in the north and the south of India. Southern jewelry is primarily gold, figurative, and set with gems and may also employ geometric designs. Northern jewelry, which tends to have delicate scrolling designs, features gems rather than large areas of gold and is often enameled on the back. Although aesthetically different, many of the same processes and methods are used in the creation of jewelry throughout India.
Jewelry techniques include enameling, gem cutting, granulation, the use of lac (an organic resin), molds, and repoussé_. _One of the most visually appealing aspects of Indian jewelry is its abundant use of precious stones, including rubies, diamonds, pearls, and emeralds. Precious stones were used to highlight and make more coloristic the basic medium of the piece of jewelry. For millennia, the highest level of craftsmanship has existed in India for working with gold, silver, inlays, and enamel. Jewelry has always been highly valued in Indian culture, and a strong market has always existed for the creation of exceptional jewelry.
"Jewelry," in Anne R., Bromberg, The Arts of India, South East Asia, and the Himalayas (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Have: Yale University Press, 2013), 134.
Text Labels from When Gold Blossoms: Indian Jewelry from the Susan L. Beningson Collection, accessed on TAZ (ID 201283), 7 January 2015.