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Hindu Ornaments


"A wife being gaily adorned, her whole house is embellished ; but, if she be destitute of ornament, all will be deprived of decoration." (Manu,68.)

PROBABLY in no country in the world is the love of personal ornament so manifest as it is in India. The sight of the great princes in full gala dress is a dream of brightness and wealth ; and even the poorest day labourer manages to possess some ornament, if it is only a silver, or even copper ring for his finger, or toe. This passion for jewels hinders a true advance in the welfare of the country. Money which properly circulated would add infinitely to the comfort of the individual, and to the welfare of the community, is locked up in jewels that lie utterly unproductive of good, and are a cause of anxiety. Any little extra gain and savings are almost invariably invested in jewels. The owner is happy if on gala days he can adorn himself, or his family with so much jewellery ; and he likes to be spoken of as a man possessing so many rupees worth of the same. A. man's wealth is often spoken of as the possession of so much in jewels. Even a domestic servant, or day labourer, will have his little savings melted down and made into an ornament for himself, or for one of his family. Such people, when remonstrated with, will say it is a good investment, for when a rainy day comes the money-lender will always give a loan on jewels as a security. A Telugu proverb says : " Jewels worn for ornament will be useful in times of difficulty." Such people cannot be brought to understand what an improvement there would be to health, and domestic happiness, if the money thus buried were expended in bettering the miserable condition 'of the house or surroundings, or in providing better food for the family ; nor do they see the positive gain that might be derived from properly laying out the money, instead of carrying it to the melting pot of the goldsmith. Hindu men adorn themselves in this way more than those of Western countries do ; but it is the women who wear the most ornaments. It is not a question only of her personal appearance ; for her dignity and status amongst her friends and neighbours depend very much upon the amount and value of the ornaments she wears. When women meet at the village well or tank for a chat, jewels usually form a prominent subject of conversation, in the same way as dress is supposed to occupy a large share of the conversation amongst women in Western lands.

Jewels are often" a subject of quarrels in Indian households. If one member has more than another, the wife than the sister or the sister-in-law, or the reverse, the peace of the good man of the house is often disturbed and the household is divided. This state of things has, in fact, become proverbial. There is a Sans. krit saying current which ironically expresses this :" Namaskaram (obeisance) to gold which creates enmity between mother and son ; " and a Telugu proverb says : " Even though the brother-in-law has to go to prison, the elder sister must have her anklets."

Some personal ornament is necessary for it is said :— " There must always be at least a speck of gold on the person in order to ensure personal ceremonial purity." Most Hindus contrive to have some jewel, however small, somewhere or other upon their person, either in the nose or the ear, or on the arm or hand. According to rule, a youth until he is married ought not to wear any ornaments at all ; but, as a matter of fact, they do and little boys are often ornamented nearly as much as little girls. Those who have performed a yajnam sacrifice, and who thereby become entitled to the proud title of somayajulu, are allowed, as a mark of personal distinction, to wear a certain kind of ear-ring and three peculiar shaped rings on their fingers. These jewels at once proclaim to the initiated the spiritual rank of the wearer.

The goldsmith guild, or rather caste, is a very distinct one and there seems al ways plenty of work for its members to do. The ordinary Indian distrusts the goldsmith and takes trusty friends to watch the process of his piece of gold being made into an ornament for his wife. Popular sayings are :—" The jewel belongs to the wearer, but the gold remains with the jeweller." " A. goldsmith will steal a scrap of his mother's nosering."1 The workmanship is somewhat crude and there is a want of finish, as compared with work of European manufacture ; but it is all hand work and done with the simplest tools. Yet what is lacking in finish is made up in beauty of design. If a new jewel should be required, the customer does not go to a jeweller's shop and select the article from a varied stock as in Europe. The designs are well known. The customer must take gold or silver or gems with him, and the goldsmith will work up the materials thus brought. Sometimes the workman goes to the house of the customer and does the work there. Nobles and other men of wealth keep workmen constantly employed in making, or altering, or repairing ornaments. The gold or silver that is taken to be worked up is almost invariably in the shape of silver or gold coins. This is a great drain upon the currency. In the Presidency towns there are shops kept where things are exposed for sale, as in Europe ; but that is not according to the ways of the country people.

The metal employed in Indian jewellery is, as a rule, good of its kind. There is no pinchbeck or plated-ware. The outer covering of gold or silver may be very thin, and the inside mere lead ; but what is seen is pure of its kind. The gems worn by the lower orders are often false, but the setting is almost invariably of pure gold or silver.

Men have the ear, both the different parts of the outer rim and the lobe, pierced for various kinds of ornaments. They also have the nose pierced for a small jewel. It may be done in either one of the nostrils, or in the division between the two. They often wear gold or silver beads round the neck which are sometimes used as a rosary. It is very common to wear a silver or gold belt round the waist. This is often made in circular or square plates, joined together ; each plate being either plain or ornamented with embossed or raised work. Even an ordinary coolie, or labourer, may be seen wearing one of these silver belts. Men also wear bracelets on the upper arm and on the wrist ; the latter sometimes beautifully ornamented. They wear more rings on the fingers than the females do, and sometimes the gems in these rings are very valuable. Probably the most valuable part of a man's ornaments are the gems in his ear-rings, and finger rings. A man may have very little on in the shape of clothing, whilst the lobes of his ears are ornamented with diamonds of great value. Sometimes, too, a man has a ring on his big toe. There is an idea that it is beneficial to health, for a toe ring is said to benefit impaired energies.

There is a peculiar custom prevalent amongst the Hindus, when a child is born to a married pair after a long time, or one survives after several have died in infancy. In such a case, especially if it be a boy, but also sometimes in the case of a girl, the parents will beg money from their friends and neighbours, or even from strangers—the money must be obtained in this way—and with what is realized, they get small jewels made for the ear and the nose, to be worn as amulets. It must at least be enough for one ear and one nostril ; but if sufficient is obtained to meet the cost, both ears and both nostrils are thus ornamented. When these are once put on, they are never removed. Great danger would be incurred by removing these charms. It is very dangerous for a visitor to praise the ornaments of a child. " Praise of this kind is believed to bring a nemesis with it, or it may suggest the envious glance of the malignant."

The ornaments for women are naturally far more numerous. There are no less than twelve different kinds for the head alone. Probably this does not exhaust the list, but these are those in ordinary use, either for gala days or for every-day wear. There is an ornament called the betel-leaf, made of gold, ornamented with little balls along its edges, and worn on the top of the head towards the front. Another ornament made into the shape of the petal of a certain Indian flower is worn just behind it. Next comes a large circular ornament named after the Indian chrysanthemum, and placed at the end of the chignon, which is worn at the side and not at the back of the head. A golden sun-flower, with a crescent attached to it by links, is put on the crown of the head. These four ornaments are in ordinary wear by well-to-do females; those hereafter mentioned .are, as a rule, only worn on gala days. An ornament, shaped like an inverted A, sometimes set with pearls, is worn on the forehead, the angle being attached to the hair in a line with the parting. Pendant from this is a locket adorned with pearls. On the hair in front and just between. the A shaped ornament and the betel-leaf shaped one are two jewels ; the one on the' right is called the sun, and the one on the left, being of a crescent shape, is named the moon. Both of these are sometimes .adorned with precious stones. There is also a kind of gold buckle worn on the side of the chignon, which is used for attaching to it any artificial hair that may be necessary to make the bunch of the approved size and appearance. An ornament like a chrysanthemum with an emerald in the centre is also worn on the chignon.

On great occasions, such as her wedding day or other gala days, a Hindu lady may have all these ornaments on at the same time. There are two head ornaments. that are worn instead of those on the chignon, when the wearers are young girls. Their hair is plaited into a tail, hanging straight down behind, and beautified with a long ornament of gold, often set with precious stones. At the end of this yet another article is attached, consisting of a bunch of gold ball-like ornaments fastened on with silk.

Strange as it may seem to Western ideas, ornaments are frequently attached to the nose by Hindu ladies. Each nostril and the cartilage between the two are pierced, and some one or other of the following ornaments 'are attached to the nose. First, there is a. pendant from the centre, banging down over the upper lip. In the middle of this ornament there is a stone of some kind and pendant from that again is a pearl. Into one of the nostrils a short pin with a precious stone as a head is put. A pendant pearl is attached to it. Into the other nostril a flower-shaped jewel of gold and small pearls may be put. These three jewels are in ordinary daily wear by those who can afford them. For high days and holidays, a ring, sometimes as large round as a rupee, and ornamented with pearls, or precious stones, is worn in one of the nostrils ; whilst in the other may be a flower-like jewel of smaller size. A half-moon shaped ornament is also attached to a nostril. It is not possible to have all these on at one and the same time ; but a fair number can be thus worn together.

There are at least four parts of the ear, and sometimes even more, that are pierced to enable the various. ornaments to be attached to it. I have a list of fifteen different kinds of ear-jewels, all known by different names. Some are of ornamented gold, whilst others are richly set with gems and pearls, according to the means of the owner. Some are for the lobe of the ear and. some for the tip and middle of the outer rim, each place being pierced for the purpose. There is also a hole pierced in the little prominence in front of the external opening of the ear which is made to serve the purpose of holding a jewel.

The variety of neck ornaments is very great. I have the names of twenty-four. The style and quality differ very largely. Some are tight bands, fitting close round the neck, usually composed of flat gold beads or tablets strung together on silken or other cord. Amongst poorer people the gold beads are alternated with those of coloured glass. Some of the neck ornaments are loose hanging chains. A very favourite neck jewel is composed of gold coins, English or Australian sovereigns, or French five or ten franc pieces, or the old Indian gold mohur.

There are jewels for the upper part of the arm and for the wrists. Those for the upper part are like bracelets of various kinds. Some are like chains and some are merely plain bands, whilst others are beautifully embossed in various patterns. Others are ornamented with precious stones,

Those who, from poverty or any other cause, cannot obtain any jewels whatever, have glass bangles. To be without these is a mark of widowhood. It is a universal rule that Hindu females, from their very childhood, should wear these glass bangles ; to be deprived of them would be a great disgrace. A widow may wear gold bracelets, but not glass ones. A. little infant of a month old has one or two glass bangles put on its little wrist by the fond mother, and the number increases with the age of the child. Some females wear a few, whilst others have on a dozen or more, nearly covering the arm from the wrist upwards. An angry woman will sometimes smash all her loved bangles before her husband's face. Such an act is as much as saying, " I would I were a widow," and it is a very dreadful thing to do. Common bangles will sell at about four for one anna (one penny), whilst the better ones are half-an-anna or an anna each. The colours vary, black, blue and green being the usual ones. As a rule, the same colours are worn indifferently by all classes, the better class people having the finer and more expensive kinds. There are, however, a few varieties affected by some of the castes. The females of the cowherd caste, for instance, usually wear a peculiar kind in which the ground is black, but ornamented with green spots or streaks. The toddy drawer caste, again, have a particular kind. In addition to the glass bangles, it is usual for coloured ones made of lac to be worn, two on each arm ; that is, the first and last bangle is usually one of this kind, the glass ones being between. The cost of these is more than that of those made of glass, and they are ornamented with various colours and bits of glass, so as to produce a very pretty effect. The ordinary glass bangles often break and periodically require to be renewed. The bangle-man is a well-known person and may constantly be met, with his strings of bangles over his shoulder. He has his usual rounds and appears to meet with a very hearty welcome. The bangles are put on by the bangle-man, and it seems a very painful process for the poor female. She sits on the ground in front of the manipulator, and he, seated tailor fashion, takes her hand in his, and begins the operation, kneading and pressing with practised fingers. He now and then soothes the sufferer by pointing out the beauty that will be the result of the pain. The wonder is, the circles being so small, how they can be got over the hand at all ; but the Hindu hand is very supple, and the operator knows how to press and squeeze so as to accomplish his purpose. The painful operation must, however, be done, and the sooner it is over and the less fuss made about it the better. The lac bangle is not put on over the hand in this way ; it is cut and pressed open and, after a piece or two has been snipped off to make it the proper size, the ends are heated and pressed together when they readily join. When a female has in this way had her bangles renewed, she makes obeisance to the bangle-man and also to his stock in trade.

The ornaments hitherto enumerated are ordinarily made of gold, the glass bangles excepted. The body or inner part of the jewel may be of copper or lead; especially in the larger sized ones ; but silver is only worn by poor people. The women of the Lambardis and some other gypsy tribes are ornamented in the most profuse and barbarous fashion. Full blown flowerlike silver ornaments, with numerous small globular pendants tinkling softly like little bells fall over their hair ; large and heavy bracelets of brass, or ivory, or even painted wood are on their wrists. Their heavy brass anklets, which are hollow and contain little pellets; give out a tinkling sound as they walk along. The dress of these women is quite different from that of ordinary Hindu females it is very picturesque, and even grotesque, in its shape and material. There is a lavish ornamentation of beads and cowry shells sewn on to the close fitting jacket and to the bag-like pockets, which dangle at the side of their parti-coloured skirts. Though picturesque, it is all very dirty and looks as though a change of raiment were a luxury seldom or never indulged in.

The ornaments for the female waist, legs and feet are more often made of silver than of gold, especially the anklets and toe rings. A broad zone of gold or silver, with clasps, is worn round the waist by those who can afford it. This is sometimes plain and sometimes ornamented with raised work. The effect is very pleasing in contrast with the bright coloured raiment which picturesquely envelopes the figure. The anklets are of various shapes and sizes. Some are circular, like the bracelets for the wrists, whilst others are formed so as to curve over the ankles. Some are chains, whilst others have attached to them a number of little bells which tinkle tinkle with a soft and pleasant sound, as the wearer moves about. Silver rings of various kinds are worn on the toes. There must always be one ring on the middle toe of one or both feet. If through extreme poverty a silver ring cannot be obtained for this toe, then one of bell-metal will be used instead. The shape of these rings for the toes of females differs from that of those for men, in that they are usually shaped like two or three twists of wire ; hence the Telugu. name for women's toe rings is tsuttu, which means a twist round. Married women wear a peculiar shaped ring on the fourth toe which has an embossed ornament on the top. Men's toe rings are more like ordinary finger rings, except that they are not joined underneath so that they can be pulled open and pressed together again, when put on or taken off.

All these ornaments are not worn at one and the same time, but it is astonishing how many jewels can be crowded on to the person. The dress of a woman is not very elaborate as to quantity or shape. A cloth or sari of some delicate material and lovely colour, beautifully embroidered in fine gold, gracefully enfolds the figure; and this, together with a short tight-fitting bodice, forms the chief article of clothing, properly so called. There is no head covering other than the end of the sari thrown gracefully over the head so as to conceal the face at will. The lack of variety . in garments is, however, made up by the number and value of the glittering jewels, which seem to occupy every available space, and which must, in spite of their beauty, be rather heavy and. cumbersome to the wearer; So imperative is it at weddings that the bride should be decked out in jewels, that they are freely borrowed and as freely lent by the neighbours and friends upon so important an occasion.

This open display of valuables is a great temptation to the lawless, and deeds of violence are often done to get the jewels of the victim. On journies, especially in the common bullock cart of the country, robbers attack travellers for the sake of their jewels. In secluded places near to towns or villages, or even in the open streets, jewel-snatchers often manage to secure valuable booty. Little children are sometimes decoyed and sometimes even murdered for the sake of their jewels. Children, without a thread of clothing, may be seen playing about with bracelets or necklets of value, or ornaments of some kind or other on their little brown bodies.

It is an old world notion that magic properties are attached to certain gems, and this idea has been systematized by the Hindus. It is called " the test of precious stones ; " but the testing is largely confined, to the luckiness or otherwise of the particular gem and has nothing to do with its intrinsic value Nine kinds, of precious stones are enumerated, and mention is made of the deity, or planet with which each is connected. It is stated that the wearer of a particular gem receives the blessing of its patron deity. Thus, rubies are the favoured of the sun ; diamonds of Venus ; pearls of the moon ; emeralds of Budhudu, the son of the moon ; sapphires of Saturn ; cats-eyes of the dragon's tail, or descending node of the moon ; topazes of Jupiter; coral of the ascending node of the moon ; and the agate of Mars.

Six kinds of rubies are enumerated, each of which is said to bring misfortune to the wearer. A ruby, with milky layers enveloping it, is said to bring poverty to the wearer ; one with a broken ray in it will cause quarrels and disputes ; one chipped will make enmity between relatives ; one full of cracks will plunge the wearer into sorrows for ever ; one with many flaws will endanger the life of the wearer; one rough and dark in colour will be sure to cause evils. It is advisable to avoid either of these six kinds. It is also said that rubies containing two or three round spots are not lucky. It is not advisable to cast one's eyes upon such a stone on awaking in the morning. It is most lucky to wear good and. pure rubies ; the sun, their patron, will bless the wearer with wealth and prosperity.

Diamonds are divided into four classes, or castes. Those that are pure white are said to be of the Brahmin caste, and bestow great benefits upon the wearer. Those that are red, are of the Kshatriya, caste, and bestow upon the wearer the power of eliciting the obedience of his fellowmen. Those that are yellow, are of the Banyan caste, and bestow prosperity generally. Those that are black, are of the Sudra caste, and. mean ruin to the wearer. When a diamond contains shining streaks, resembling the feet of a crow, it will cause the death of the wearer.

If a pure diamond is worn, Venus, its patron, will bless the wearer with the comforts of life.

There are said to be nine places in which pearls are found. In the clouds ; this kind is said to be oval in shape, and to be worn by the gods. In the head of a serpent ; these are said to be like a small red seed, and to have the quality of relieving their wearers from all troubles. In the hollow of a bamboo ; these are said to be black in colour, and to give the wearer certain attractions. In a fish ; these are white in colour, and protect the wearer from danger by fire. In the head of an elephant ; these are yellowish green and should be worn by kings. In a sugar cane ; this kind is of a reddish colour and is said to have the power of causing all, even kings and queens, to be subjected to the will of the wearer. In a conch shell ; these are said to be like a dove's egg, but they cannot' be obtained by ordinary men ; it requires a knowledge of mantrams, or of magic, to get them. In the tusk of a wild boar ; this kind is red in colour, and is in size like the règu fruit (ziziphus jujuba) ; it will bring fame to the wearer. In the pearl oyster ; of these there are said to be three kinds, of a reddish, a golden, or a white colour. The moon, the patron of pearls, will bless a wearer of pure pearls with fame and the pleasures of life.

Emeralds are said to be of eight classes according to their colour. Poisons have no power over those persons who wear a good emerald. It gives protection against the power of the evil eye ; and develops the mental faculties. Emeralds also have the power of protecting the wearer of one from the designs of foes, from sorrows, madness, internal pains, swoons and various diseases of the liver. A sure access to heaven is promised to that one who freely gives an emerald to a Brahmin.

Sapphires are divided into three classes according to the depth of their colour.. There are also six kinds that are said to bring evil to the wearer ; such evils as quarrels with relatives, loss of children, hazard to life, certain death within a year. A sapphire is purest when, if placed in milk, it gives to the milk a bluish tinge. It is then a true sapphire. A sapphire is said to be electric, when a blade of grass will adhere to it though blown upon. Such a stone is said to bring lustre to the wearer. The planet Saturn, the patron of sapphires, will bless the wearer of a true sapphire with prosperity and immunity from death.

The topaz is described as having a colour like a drop of dew on a flower, and its patron deity, Jupiter, will bless the wearer with immense wealth.

Four kinds of coral are enumerated that will cause evil to the wearer, troubles, grief, disease, and death. There are six kinds of good coral mentioned, according to the colour, and the wearer of such is promised the pleasures of life and the accomplishment of his designs.

The blessing of Mars is promised to the wearer of an agate, which blessing ensures wealth and prosperity.

The details given in this chapter, have, I think, served to show how strong the passion for jewels is amongst the Hindus. One of the most hopeful signs of the times is that the more thoughtful Hindus are venturing to raise their voice against this and other social evils. There is hope, that, as reforms have begun in other directions, so something may be done here to contract within legitimate bounds that love of display, which, though innocent in. itself, causes so much evil and loss, when carried to such extremes as I have now described.

I have now given an account of many of the customs of the Hindu people and have shown how much superstition has entered into the religion of their daily life ; but the fact is that the Hinduism of the present day is not the religion of the Aryans as they brought it with them into India. It is a mixture in which the new has so absorbed and assimilated the old with which it came in contact, and has been so influenced by it, as to have become, at least as far as the outward expression of it is concerned, a very different, if not a new religion. This is more perceptible in Southern India, where the Aryans did not penetrate in numbers sufficient to allow their religious system to overpower the old cults which they found flourishing there. In these Southern parts, amongst large sections of the community, the so-called Hinduism of to-day is more Dravidian than Aryan in its ulterior origin.

Mr. Mayne, when speaking of Hindu Law, makes some remarks that may very well be applied here to the Hindu religion. He says : " When the Aryans penetrated into India, they found there a number of usages either the same or not wholly unlike their own. They accepted these, with or without modifications, rejecting only those that were incapable of being assimilated, such as polyandry, incestuous marriages and the like. The latter lived on a merely local life, while the former because incorporated among the customs of the ruling race

I think it is impossible to imagine that any body of usage could have obtained general acceptance throughout India, merely because it was inculcated by Brahmin writers, or even because it was held by the Aryan tribes. In Southern India, at all events, it seems clear that neither Aryans nor Brahmins ever settled in sufficient numbers to produce any such result. We know the tenacity with which Eastern races cling to their customs, unaffected by the example of those who live near them. We have no reason to suppose that the Aryans in India ever attempted to force their usages upon the conquered races, or that they could have succeeded in doing so, if they had tried.

It is not difficult to see how closely that which may be said of the legal aspect of the case applies also to the religions. Hinduism is but a reflection of the mixed character of the inhabitants of India, not one race but many and each with its own peculiar characteristics. Aryanism undoubtedly brought great religious changes, but it gradually settled down and accommodated itself to circumstances. What it could not break down it incorporated, and yet it was so well managed that the Brahmins ever occupied the seat of authority. The outcome is the Hinduism of to-day. Nothing exemplifies this more clearly than the history of Buddhism. Gautama the son of a petty prince somewhere on the confines of Oude and Nepaul in the 5th or 6th century B.C., founded a religion that spread over India with such irresistible power as to threaten the extinction of Brahminism. This overwhelming force, being met in that accommodating spirit of compromise which is the characteristic of Hinduism, was itself finally absorbed into the all-embracing Hindu. system. Gautama Buddha was elevated by the astute Brahmins to the position of the ninth incarnation of Vishnu, and Buddhism as a distinct cult became, practically, extinct throughout the length and breadth of the land.

Still, the religious disposition of the Hindus, often crude and superstitious, is a ground of hope for better things. None but a people with the strongest religious instincts could possibly have borne for so many ages the accumulated burdens prescribed by their religions ; and when the tide, now so perceptibly on the turn, be gins to flow freely with its irresistible and ever-increas- ing force, and when the mixture of Aryanism and Brahmanism, Buddhism and Demonolatry, the highest philosophical conceptions and spiritual aspirations, with a pandering to the lowest instincts of human nature, a combination forming what is now called Hinduism ;

when all this shall have given place to a simpler ritual and the purer Faith of the one true Incarnation, then the religious life of India will assume a form which even now we can begin to contemplate with joyful anticipation.

" For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same shall My name be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the heathen saith the Lord of hosts." (Malachi i.11.)

( Originally Published 1908 )

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