Mughal Jewelry: Antique Royal Jewelry of North India
About Mughal Jewelry
Five centuries ago, India was under the rule and influence of the Mughal dynasty. The Mughal royalty were connoisseurs of architecture, arts, food, clothing and of course, jewelry. During the Mughal rule, jewelry-making was given utmost importance. This art gave birth to unique jewelry pieces studded with chunky gemstones and enameled with motif designs. Royal family members and people of high rank proudly displayed such jewelry all over their bodies, from jeweled turbans and head-jewelry to thick-set toe rings.
After the Mughal era ended, most of the royal jewelry was preserved in Indian museums.
Centuries later, Mughal jewelry retained its lost glory thanks to the 2008 release of the movie Jodhaa Akbar about a romance between Mughal emperor Akbar and Rajput princess Jodhaa. The magnificent jewelry worn by the leading pair, with its ornate patterns and imperial look, got the attention of both the common people and the jewelers. Now, many jewelry stores are stocked with splendid Mughal-styled jewelry.
Besides North India, Mughal jewelry is also popular in several other states of India. Though present-day Mughal jewelry has a modern twist to its look, it still emphasizes stonework and enameling and stays true to its roots.
The History of Mughal Jewelry
During the Mughal rule in India, which began in the 16th century, the art of jewelry-making flourished. Wearing expensive jewelry marked one's position. Emperors and empresses, as well as courtiers and other people of high ranks, were adorned with heavy jewelry beset with massive stones and beads. Various jewelers were hired privately to create magnificent jewelry pieces for the royal family and other important people. Rajasthan, a northwestern state of India, served as an exclusive hub for jewelry-making. The Mughal royalty often formed alliances with the Rajput rulers and married Rajput princesses. As a result, Mughal jewelry was further influenced by the Rajputs, and thus began the combination of Rajput quaint craftsmanship and Mughal delicate artistry. Some Mughal jewelry pieces were also influenced by 17th-century European Renaissance fashion.
The Impact of Mughal Jewelry on India
The Mughal emperors conquered most of India, and as a result, their influence extended well beyond North India. The typical Mughal style is visible in the jewelry of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, and Orissa. Mughal enameling and stonework were adopted by other Indian regions for their regional jewelry. The most notable jewelry style influenced by the Mughals is the Nizam jewelry of Andhra Pradesh in South India, which is now exhibited at the museum in the same state.
The Artwork of Mughal Jewelry
Important precious gemstones used in Mughal jewelry
- Diamonds (mostly uncut)
- Rubies (cut or uncut)
- Emeralds (cut or uncut)
- Quality Beads
Though there are many more gemstones to name, the above-mentioned gemstones are frequently used in Mughal jewelry.
Mughal jewelry is a marriage of Indian intricacy and Middle Eastern elegance, uniting Indian goldwork with Middle Eastern floral designs. Heavy stonework and elaborate enameling are two major features that distinguish Mughal jewelry from other Indian jewelry. Its base is made mainly of gold. Gold-plated silver and other metallic bases are the affordable alternatives. Large precious and semi-precious gemstones are incorporated into the jewelry pieces. Kundan and polki stones are important aspects of Mughal jewelry.
Polki stones are white colored uncut diamonds with a matte finish. Kundan is one of North Indian specialized methods of setting gemstones in gold jewelry. Enameling is a time-consuming process that produces a stunning floral finish on both sides of a jewelry-piece. Birds, flowers, and paisley are the most common designs used in this jewelry technique. In India, the enameling process is known as meenakari and stone-setting is called jadau. Other unique forms of Mughal craftsmanship include filigree (threads or beads of gold) and thewa (gold patterns fused onto melted glass).
Turban Ornaments and Head Jewelry
The Mughal emperors wore silk turbans sequined with decorative, drooping feather-like ornaments. These turban ornaments are cast in enameled gold and are augmented with precious gemstones and pearls.
Empresses, as well, wore feather-like ornaments on their wide silk crowns. In their palaces, the royal ladies wore dainty head jewelry that hung downwards on one side of their foreheads. Such head jewelry was made of either gold or silver and decorated with precious gemstones and quality beads.
Earrings, Ear Studs, and Earring-Strings
The Mughal emperors and courtiers wore ear studs or small round earrings made of pearls or gemstones.
The empresses wore exquisite long earrings, which could be termed today as chandelier earrings. These stunning earrings were beautifully crafted out of fine enameled gold or pure silver and laden with multiple large gemstones, pearls, and premium beads.
Pretty strings attached to the earrings were fastened to the hair of royal ladies with tiny hooks. Some Mughal earring-strings were so long and thick that they almost covered the whole ear.
Thanks to its introduction by the Mughals, Indian women have developed a special liking for this unique ornament that adorns their noses. Nose rings are produced out of fine gold or silver. They vary from cute tiny pins studded with minuscule gemstones or pearls to great circular hoops covered with multiple gemstones, pearls, and quality beads. Like earrings, nose rings may be joined to long strings fastened to the hair with tiny hooks.
Necklaces and Chains
The Mughal emperors and empresses wore rich necklaces and chains, strewn with pearls, gemstones, and quality beads. Necklaces and chains ranged from thin ornaments with enameled pendants to heavy ornaments with glittering gemstones. Gemstones and premium beads feature prominently on these ornaments, to give wearers a richly bejeweled look.
Bangles and Bracelets
What sets Mughal bangles apart from other Indian bangles are their unique shape and prominent stone-setting.
Bracelets are created in a circular shape with two ends (clasps) that touch each other.
These wrist ornaments are mostly produced with enameled gold elaborated with intricate floral designs and gemstones.
Rings and Hand Ornaments
The Mughal emperors wore multiple showy rings, made of pure gold or enameled gold or jade. Some Mughal rings are so huge that they cover two or three fingers. The ring centerpieces are either circular or square in shape and embedded with bulky gemstones.
Some rings, particularly thumb rings, designed for royal ladies had tiny mirrors installed for them to admire their reflections.
Hand ornaments are string-like jewelry pieces that covered the entire hands of empresses and stretched either from rings or bangles or both.
Armlets worn by royal ladies were adjustable with either clasps or strings. They appeared in pure gold or enameled gold and were studded with many gemstones and pearls.
Waist Belts and Hip Chains
Waist-belts were chiseled out of gold to adorn the waists of emperors and empresses and festooned with gemstones and pearls.
Golden hip-chains strung with gemstones or pearls decorated the hips of empresses.
Anklets and Foot Ornaments
Royal Mughal ladies wore anklets of silver or gold-plated silver. Some anklets were covered with gemstones and trinkets, while others were intricately carved.
Foot ornaments consisted of strings of tiny trinkets, small gemstones, or pearls attached to anklets. Toe rings made of minuscule gemstones were also fastened to the anklets with jeweled strings.
Other Mughal Jeweled Possessions
So great was the Mughal royalty's fondness for enameling and stonework that they commissioned intricate craftsmanship for their swords, thrones, utensils, cases, weapons, and other treasures. The Mughal possessions were made of enameled gold, jade, and ivory and embellished with precious and semi-precious gemstones.
Mughal Jewelry at the British Museum in London (Click "Watch on YouTube")
Revival of Mughal Jewelry After the Release of the Movie Jodhaa Akbar (2008)
After the Mughal Empire declined, most of its valuable jewelry was either forfeited or sold. However, some jewelry pieces were recovered and are now displayed in museums. After the Mughal period, women preferred pure gold jewelry and jewelry pieces adorned with tiny beads and gemstones.
Thus, Mughal jewelry was forgotten for a considerable period of time until the year 2008, when the Mughal epic movie Jodhaa Akbar was released. This much-hyped film was a 16th century period romance-drama. One of India's leading jewelry companies, Tanishq, was commissioned to create the jewelry for this film. It was said that two hundred jewelers were employed to produce authentic-looking pieces in the 16th-century Mughal style. The stars of the film, Hrithik Roshan, who portrayed Emperor Akbar and Aishwarya Rai, who played the Rajput princess Jodhaa, wore such heavy jewelry throughout the film that the leading pair claimed that the toughest task in the entire film-shooting was wearing the bulky jewelry.
The popularity of Mughal jewelry was revived when people viewing the film were stunned by its splendor. Tanishq's Jodhaa Akbar jewelry line got tremendous response from buyers and inspired many other leading jewelry stores. Mughal jewelry is now extremely popular among women of all ages. It is commonly worn by brides at weddings to endow them with a royal look. With the escalation of gold prices, many imitation reproductions of Mughal jewelry were created to cater to enthusiastic buyers.
Mughal Jewelry in the Trailer for Jodaa Akbar
A Concluding Note
Five years later, after the release of Jodhaa Akbar, Mughal jewelry is now:
- every bride's dream;
- part of every aspiring jeweler's inventory;
- a center of attraction in jewelry stores and exhibitions;
- a big hit among the glitterati;
- and a jewelry collector's delight.
Clearly, Mughal jewelry is here to stay, now and forever.
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© 2012 Ishwaryaa Dhandapani