Iqbal Ahmad

The traditional Jewelry of Kashmir

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The earliest evidences of jewelry items were found in the archaeological sites of Harwan, Ushkar and Litpura sites (100-400) AD, where the exhumed material showed the human pattern of men and women wearing brilliant ornaments.

Like other arts and crafts, Kashmiri’s had no less expertise in producing some of the finest and exquisite items of jewelry. Massive workshops were set up in various villages, towns and cities for this purpose and people would toil hard to beautify metals into relics of beauty.
The community dealing with manufacturing ornaments is locally known as ‘Zarger’ (goldsmith)and has been historically known for their craft. Most of the members of the said community would be associated with the same business and would also enjoy a high status in the society.

Although things have changed now and many members of the community switched over to other professions, this community still retains the major portion of this trade in Kashmir and continues to dominate the ornamental manufacturing here.
There are many Zargar families associated with commissioning of the glorious golden ornaments while several other families belonging to other castes have also joined them in their trade.

Contrary to the olden traditions, people from other casts (apart from Zargar) embraced this trade and have setup their own showrooms and workshops in the busy streets of Srinagar and various towns and districts.

Interestingly, there are several Punjabi traders who have also joined this business and are manufacturing brilliant types of jewelry here.
The tradition of Jewelry manufacturing in Kashmir is as old as the civilization itself. Evidences related to the manufacturing and usage of jewelry is found in the historical records of this place while the archaeological finds too confirm this trend. Records also suggest that the art of ornaments here has had its peculiar features and the design and style have been entirely unique.
In ancient times, the Kashmiri Rajas and Maharajas were fond of different kinds of jewelry items. Kalhana’s Rajtarangni, the oldest historical chronicle, makes a mention about the jewelry items worn by the Maharajas and their queens. The terms like Nupras(anklet), Hara (necklace), Kankana (wristlet), Keyura(amulet), Parihara(bracelet) and Kundala( Earings ) refer to the ancient jewelry objects that would be preferred by the Raja’s and Maharaja’s here.
The earliest evidences of jewelry items were found in the archaeological sites of Harwan, Ushkar and Litpura sites (100-400) AD, where the exhumed material showed the human pattern of men and women wearing brilliant ornaments. There are few tiles found at Harwan in the outskirts of Srinagar that show females wearing brilliant types of earrings.
People of Kashmir have been passionate lovers of jewelry and this is proved by the fact that we have had names, mostly of female folk, after ornaments of different types. Many women, in olden times, would be named after special ornaments. Some of such names include Shahmaal (King’s necklace), Mali (Necklace),
One of the artifacts found at Ushkar in Baramalla depicts the pattern of hair ball wearing a lovely hairpin. Similarly the evidence of earrings, bracelets etc, like designs have been found in the layers of Letpura.
The tradition of Jewelry continued later in the Hindu and Muslim periods in Kashmir history.  The lovely miniatures and colorful manuscripts and documents housed in Kashmir museums also depict illustrations that also show ornaments being used at length.
Kashmiri jewelers commissioned a variety of ornaments.  According to a jeweler “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.”
In present scenario, gold smiths here record good business and make fortunes. 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 also gift delicate ornaments to the brides. A jewelry set usually comprises of a large necklace locally termed as Har, bangle set (Bungri) earrings (Door), 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. Earlier silver ornaments were preferred as compared to the golden ornaments which are now more in vogue.
The passion for better jewelry is not bad but ignoring the traditional designs and styles of Kashmiri ornament is worrying. 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  may not be good, but the local patterns had a significant and profound identity.
The gold smiths and the units 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’s. Such designs are very impressive and magnificent. They are purely Kashmiri.
If these olden styles and designs are re-introduced in this industry,   it would not only help in promoting and reviving the pure Kashmiri styles, but would also help in expanding its market. The institutions involved in the jewelry trade need to check the non-Kashmiri trends while the government, particularly the handicrafts department, too should take note of this matter.

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