Protecting traditional Jewellery in hills

Sunny Dua
Precious metals like gold and silver, according to Hindu belief, are considered sacred. While gold symbolises warm Sun, silver is treated as cool Moon. Pure gold being non-corrosive is associated with immortality and since ages several Gods and Goddesses too had been depicted wearing ornaments for spiritual and economic reasons thereby influencing societies to prosper and embed their faith in cosmology, according to which several temples were also designed and constructed in the past. Ever since then jewellery had been a part of human existence and passed on to royals and then commoners.
While Egyptian Kings wore expensive and rare jewellery to depict their political and religious power, they also decorated their dead (Mummies) with jewellery before resting them in pyramids (Graves) along with other goods. Contrarily, in Indian sub-continent jewellery is worn by the living and also by deities in temples considering it precious and pious. It also has its religious and economic significance in people’s lives especially amongst the rich and famous where they believe in displaying their social status through this mode.
India is known to be manufacturing and using jewellery as part of its traditions since Indus Valley Civilisation after which Royals adopted this and is today being carried forward for the past over 5,000 years. Use of jewellery and its designing has come a long way in India but manufacturers and users in hilly regions of our country have since ages been protecting traditional jewellery which is also becoming quite popular amongst urban elites now a days. These people have also not adopted new techniques or machines but are continuing to protect art of hand-made jewellery designing.
The age old tradition of hand-made jewellery practiced in mountain regions is so prevalent that even those into modern day jewellery have started procuring such art pieces from hills. While modern day jewellery, due to cost effectiveness and to cater to large segments, has adopted new techniques and started harvesting pearls or develop artificial gemstones, mountain regions continue to use pure gold and in most cases silver to cater to their needs.
Raman Suri, President Sarafa Association Jammu (SAJ) who has also been appointed Vice President of Jammu and Kashmir Board of India Bullion and Jewellers Association Ltd. (IBJA) when contacted said, “India is a land of diverse cultures and so are the jewellery designs that are used as region specific choices. The entire Himalayan belt beginning from Seven-Sister states in the East to Nepal and to the villages of Trikuta Hills and Kashmir besides Ladakh region specific jewellery is in vogue since ages and hardly any changes have come into their designs or materials”.
Today United States with a market share of 30.8% is largest jewellery consumer country and India comes at third rank but China and India are likely to increase their shares in coming years. Coming back to hilly areas, one thing that jewellers of these regions are doing is to protect the art of traditional jewellery making. They are the ones who are keeping traditional jewellery alive to the extent that they even use weights and tools of that era from where their forefathers started the tradition. For example in Jammu region there are specific types of earrings called Jhumkas, Tikka, Nath worn in nose and nose pins used by Dogra women while Gujjars and Bakerwals use different kind of traditional jewellery that is used to tie around waists. Similarly, in remote hilly areas of Kashmir and Ladakh certain specific types of gold, silver and stone besides pearl jewellery in still in vogue.
While we in urban areas have moved on to weighing jewellery in grams, several hilly regions are still weighing the gold in Rati, Massa and Tola. According to their traditions, 120 Milligram equals One Rati, 8 Rati equals One Massa and 12 Massas equal One Tola. For Jewellery manufacturers, goldsmiths and Jewellery retailers gold purity and the gold weight are of critical importance and so is it for buyer.
Traditional jewellers don’t use machines to make jewellery in hilly areas but are continuing to use same age old tools to melt gold and shape them into jewellery. Away from the easy access of weights and measurement department, these traditional jewellers work mostly on faith. Consumers too are solely dependent upon weights and measures of jewellers and it is also believed that some ladies are expert in assessing the quality and weight of gold by just weighing them in hand or feeling the purity.
Villagers it is observed also believe in buying pure gold and silver jewellery and thus land up buying heavy necklaces, bangles, ear rings or rings. Unlike urban areas where machine made jewellery can be camouflaged with many more artificial gems or rounded upon other metals or materials, people in hilly areas prefer to buy pure gold and silver which they keep passing on to their next generations after generations. This is the reason jewellery in hilly areas is not resold again and again but due to its purity passed on to generations after generations like that only.
Some believe that people still wear jewellery based on their caste, creed, region or religion at many places. Those belonging to humble classes wear jewellery on their hands and feet while affluent classes wear the same on heads as well. This way they symbolically depict their class while evading law that punishes people for discriminating on the basis of social discrimination. Mukat or Crown is another form of jewellery which rich or people of so called upper classes wear to show their dominance in the society in several villages or hilly areas even today. This way they also display their socio-economic stature. Almost similar kind of display of jewellery in urban areas is also done to show influence and financial status of owners.
Regarding procurement of raw material for making jewellery, several jewellers from hilly areas now a days come to urban centres but traditionally they used to depend on traders who after procuring precious metals and gems used to travel from coastal areas right up to Himalayan regions only to encourage barter system. On their way back to coastal areas these traders even used to sell gold, silver and buy herbs, gems and stones in return. This was how jewellers in mountains used to get raw material for making jewellery.
Kuldeep Sawhney, jeweller and jewellery evaluator from Jammu said, “Few years ago Amritsar was believed to be hub of raw gold procurement but gradually the market shifted to Delhi. Prior to this and before partition silk route was also considered as major gold trade route where gold from Mumbai used to be brought to Afghanistan and on way back traders used to take home Neelam and other precious stones found in Himalayan ranges. Trades in hilly region was also based on seasons and depending upon the production. Those into business used to take home with them even herbs and other precious articles in exchange of gold and diamonds”.
Regarding safety of gold and gold ornaments, traditionally people in hilly areas still used their old techniques of protecting precious metal from thieves by burying them in ground or hiding behind brick masonry. In many cases elders in home never left their places just to protect homes, livestock and of course gems and jewellery kept in homes. Since many villages in hilly areas still lack bank locker facilities, people and jewellers prefer to keep their treasure safe through traditional means.
Prices of ornaments in hilly areas are fixed as per labour charges, prices of gold and silver and a marginal profit all added together. Due to globalisation, prices of precious metal on hills also stays more or less the same but with a slight increase in cost. Earlier, people even used to sell wheat bags and buy gold for marriages. Traditionally, this was barter system which also fluctuated during reaping season and based on the crop yield price of gold was decided. Accordingly, number of bags was exchanged in lieu of one tola gold which varied from five to six bags and even more.
Now the consumers too have become aware of their rights and privileges which is why they too pay a fixed price as declared by bullion market. Trading in precious metals especially in traditional jewellery is done depending upon demand in respective states or areas. For example places like Jammu, Rajasthan and Ladakh have huge potential of traditional jewellery as compared to other states or plain areas. Another factor that counts in hilly areas is that villagers don’t prefer artificial jewellery and for most of the time prefer silver over gold.
Traditionally people of a particular religion in hilly areas of Jammu and Kashmir prefer Silver while others believing Gold and Silver as reincarnations of God Vishnu worship it and prefer to procure as much as they can, according to their financial capacities.
Raman Suri said, “Now that government has brought in a law for Gold hallmarking those into the trade in hills are going to find it difficult to get their jewellery hallmarked as there are least chances of government centres opening in hilly areas. Hallmarks protect consumers from dishonest jewellery manufacturers but getting the ornaments marked for hilly areas is going to be an uphill task which the government must take care of”. He added that to stop use of tungsten for making gold jewellery Hallmarking is needed but how to help those into the trade in hilly areas is a point worth pondering upon.
Kuldeep Sawhney said, “We had been using jewellery for social status, religious or social purposes, artistic display, love, mourning, a personal milestone or even luck besides superstition. In hilly areas most of temples have deities wearing gold and silver jewellery. Traditionally people who worship Gods and Goddesses offer gold umbrella (Chatter) at temples due to which business flourishes. Rich also offer jewellery to deities, which is why special kind of ornament is made in hilly areas that resonate with cultural ethos. In creating that jewellery, gemstones, coins, or other precious items are often used and they are typically set into precious metals.