Ornamented for Style

I have never hated a man enough to return his diamonds—Zsa Zsa Gabor, American actress.

The above remark has been associated with Ms Gabor for well over half a century. It’s unlikely to come unstuck from her name because of her long association with both men and diamonds. In her nearly 100-years long life, she came to be friends with a slew of men and wore a lot of jewelry. In all, she had 9 marriages and loads of ornaments. But while she is known for that quote, she is by no means leagues ahead of millions of women across the world who have also had a strong bond with jewelry, especially diamonds. That fascination continues unabated, which is why they say diamonds are a woman’s best friends.

Wearing jewelry is universal and predates recorded history. In ancient times, wealthy Egyptians wore all manner of gold and silver jewelry like crowns, bracelets, necklaces, collars, rings and earrings to attract the gods. In the process, they were also able to showcase their highness. Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, is always associated with her heavy crown. If you were not of high rank or wealth, that was fine too; you could choose to wear many of the same things in base metals and stones. A similar fascination for jewelry could be found in so many cultures. In India too, the idea is ancient, and for one thing is intricately woven with the idea of our classical dances, which also go back centuries.

Even our gods wear ornaments, as is evident from their images. Why they should be wearing jewelry though, is something to wonder about. Upon such questions arrives informed opinion, telling us that the gods must wear them to attract our attention; humans that we are, we get propelled towards a decked-up person. The shimmer of gold and the sparkle of stones can be huge attractions. What a role reversal then, between what the Egyptians wanted from their gods, and what our gods want from us.

Within India, with its diverse culture, we have so many regional variations and styles of wearing jewelry. Kashmiri women can have several branches radiating out from a central core earring and coming down long, even as long as 12 inches. In Sidipet district of Telengana, women typically get 5 holes pierced in each ear to suspend that many earrings. They believe Ayurveda tells them gold is good for the body’s hygiene, especially on the ear.   Over the decades, their ears can become droopy.

Many other parts of the body get jewelry too, which is most true during weddings. This is apart from the varnishes that go on the nails, liners applied to the eyes and eyebrows, henna that is used on the hands, arms and feet, etc. The idea is to highlight every part of the woman’s body to dazzle everyone around.

Here are many of the other ornaments that are worn by women. Maang tikka is a pendant worn on the top of the forehead at the hair separation. A chain running from the pendant along the hair parting fastens the ornament to the hair behind. Maatha patti is more elaborate; it is a Maang Tikka combined with two chains running left and right from it, running over the forehead or over the hair to end up behind the ears. Earrings can be in many styles and shapes, called baali, jhoomar or jhumka (meaning flower on the ear) which are quite popular. A choker is a close-fitting necklace worn around the neck, while a mangalsutra (sacred thread) is worn by a bride till her husband’s death. Paanchhlada and saatlada is a necklace of 5 and 7 strings respectively. Chandrahaar is a necklace of links that are shaped like the moon. Choodi is a bangle, kangna a bracelet and haath phool is an ornament that embellishes the back of one’s hand. Angoothi or mundri is a finger ring. The small nose studs women wear are called laung, while nath is either just a hoop in many sizes or a hoop with a chain that goes back to be fastened to the hair behind the nearer ear.

Chhalla is a waist clip, usually to hang keys from, while tagdi is its smarter cousin, with its pearls and jhumkas meant only for aesthetics. Baazubands (corrupted to bajubands) are ornaments women wear on their upper arms.  While paayals are ankle bells, toe rings address the lowest point where jewelry can and is worn.

Not all ornaments have found a mention in our songs, but many have. Let’s put out the welcome mat for such songs.

  • Kaan mein baaliyaan, jhoomar waaliyaan (Shamshad Begum, unknown male/Poonji, 1943)
  • Naihar mein nathni gir gayi re (Zohrabai Ambalewali/Gwalan, 1946)
  • Chhalla de ja nishaani teri meherbaani (Shamshad, Rafi, Batra/Bazaar, 1949)
  • Jhanan jhanan jhanan jhanan ghungharwa baaje (Lata/Aah, 1953)
  • Mohe la de naulakha haar (Shamshad, Kishore/Naulakha Haar, 1953)
  • Baazuband khul-khul jaaye (Lata/Baazuband, 1954)
  • Chhalla de diya, humen yaad rakhna (Asha, Rafi/Indra Sabha, 1956)
  • Mori paayal geet sunaaye (Lata/Baap Bête, 1959)
  • Baaje paayal chhun chhun ho ke beqaraar (Lata/Chhalia, 1960)
  • Kaan mein jhumke…haath mein chhalla (Rafi, Suman/Commercial Pilot Officer, 1963)
  • Paayal waali dekhna (Kishore Kumar/Ek Raaz, 1963)
  • Le lo choodiyaan main laaya niraali (Rafi/Ghar Ki Laaj, 1960)
  • Mori chham chham baaje paayaliya (Lata/Ghunghat, 1960)
  • Mila hai kisi ka jhumka (Lata/Parakh, 1960)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwSjgaXgzn8
  • Dhoondo dhoondo re saajna…mere kaan ka baala (Lata/Ganga Jamuna, 1961)
  • Khanke kangna bindiya hase (Lata/Dr Vidya, 1962)
  • Khanak gayo haaye bairi kangna (Lata/Rishte Naate, 1965)
  • Sone ke tere jhumke chaandi ki anguthi hai (Rafi, Usha Khanna/Daku Mangal Singh, 1966)
  • Maine dekha tha sapnon mein ik chandrahaar (Lata/Gaban, 1966)
  • Jhumka gira re Bareilly ke baazaar mein (Asha/Mera Saaya, 1966)
  • Jhanak jhanak tori baaje paayaliya (Manna Dey/Mere Huzoor, 1968)
  • Kaan mein jhumka (Rafi/Sawan Bhadon, 1970)
  • Choodiyaan bazaar se mangwa de pehli saiyaan (Asha, Rafi/Suhana Safar, 1970)
  • Choodi naheen ye mera dil hai (Kishore Kumar/Gambler, 1971)
  • Nathaniya haale to bada maza hoye (Shamshad/Johar Mehmood In Hong Kong, 1971)
  • Nadiya kinaare heraaye aayi kangna (Lata/Abhimaan, 1973)
  • Gori teri paijaniya (Manna Dey/Mehbooba, 1976)
  • Nathaniya ne haaye Ram bada dukh deena (Shobha Gurtu/Sajjo Rani, 1976)
  • Mere haathon mein nau nau choodiyaan hain (Lata/Chaandni, 1989)
  • Choodiyan khanak gayi (Lata, Ila Arun/Lamhe, 1991)
  • Mujhe naulakha manga de re (Asha, Kishore/Sharaabi, 1994)

Times are changing now. Up to a generation ago, men would wear perhaps just a ring. Maybe they would wear a bracelet or a necklace too. Now they too wear earrings. Both men and women wear rings and stones on their eyebrows and tongues, as also on their navels. They must be exploring more such places on their bodies, especially those that are not visible to the public at large. That amounts to changing their privacy settings, which makes it a style statement for a privileged few or just one person.

People get too attached to their valuables, even as some express a wish to be buried with them. The gifted trumpeter Chic Chocolate had his Selma trumpet buried with him. As for Zsa Zsa Gabor, we do not know what happened to her diamonds. Wonder if she requested to be buried with them. There’s no question of her descendants returning them of course. But why individuals, even governments don’t return them. The Kohinoor diamond is showcased in The Tower of London. Buried, in a sense, without its owners.


Originally published in DNA Jaipur on 22 July 2018 page 11, http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2018-07-22

Featured image on top: Aishwarya Rai in Jodha Akbar

10 Replies to “Ornamented for Style”

  1. An article after any woman’s heart! Thoroughly enjoyed reading it Manek as well as the ensuing comments. And what a glorious lineup of songs! Here’s one more – dhani chunari pehen…baj uthengi hare kaanch ki choodiyan ?
    I think Indian jewellery is gorgeous and as you rightly observe, so rich in it’s variety. Very recently I went to the National Museum (near India Gate) and was fascinated with the myriad pieces of ornaments in Alamkara, the jewellery section. On display were also gold plaid covers which I believe are still worn by brides in some states; fascinating!

    1. Yes, the romance between women and jewelry has stood the test of time. But I am amazed at where all they wear it these days. Dr Satwik has just opened my eyes in his comments below 🙂

  2. The extent to which the jewellery is used atrociously on various parts of the body is worth mention. Both women and men are guilty of piercing nose, ears,lower eyelids, lips, tongue, umbillicus, nipples so much so that they get diamond implanted in there frontal canines. Seen many stories and movies where kings and nobles giving away their necklaces and kadas as a gesture thanks with pleasure. Haven’t seen any woman doing that. In contrast have seen many women using mangalsutra as a weapon a la Chutki bhar sindoor style with a classic dialogue “Tere baap ki akhri nishani”. But coming to jewellery songs they simply rock. Bajuband khul khul khul jaye in reality is describing the hormonal effect on female biceps, or Payal’s cham Cham is describing the sensual gait. Lovely songs and as usual a hatke topic Manek bhai. I can think of one non filmy song by Madhukar Rajasthani “Nathli se toota Moti re”. Thanks MP …

    1. Dr saab, what valuable comments from you! “In contrast have seen many women using mangalsutra as a weapon a la Chutki bhar sindoor style with a classic dialogue “Tere baap ki akhri nishani” ” This is sad na?

      But I didn’t know about jewelry on the eyelids…neither on the nipples 🙂

  3. As my own Chacha Ji famously says, sona aurton ka shringar aur bure waqt mein aadmi ka aadhar hota hai.

    Perhaps that is the reason why to this day and age, it continues to be invested in.

    A nice read.

  4. I’ve been married to a communist and a fascist, and neither would take out the garbage.

    ~ Zsa Zsa Gabor…

    As you have invoked – Zsa Zsa Gabor, I start with one of her quotes, which I have shared today, on my Timeline.

    Its my honest opinion , that Indians are the biggest hoarders of Gold [ precious stones and diamonds maybe the prerogative of the Rich and filthy Rich.
    Our National debt can be wiped out, with one stroke , if we all Indians decide to pool our resources and donate it to the government. However no Indian living today , would do so , even if forced. They may lay down their lives for the country, but Gold- definitely Na Na.

    May be their reluctance ,stems from their distrust of the Government.

    You say droopy ears . I know a few women , who had to undergo surgery, to their earlobe -holes ,as they had become too big and then again get re-pierced.

    Your research on the different places to adorn jewelry on the woman anatomy , though leaves me dumbstruck-Manek

    1. Thanks Dilip! And thinking about Zsa Zsa Gabor, she had sparkling diamonds, but sparkling wit as well 🙂

  5. Jewelry – a girl’s best friend! An ‘ornamented’ essay for sure! Loved your song list, Manek, and how you explained each ornament.
    In the St. Louis Museum there are a few pieces of jewelry from ancient times – it’s fascinating to see the gold pieces actually worn in, say 100-something A.D. in Egypt. Such lovely handwork on the pieces too! My favorite part of the museum :).
    Not sure how authentic this is, but this is overheard through the years of growing up – the gold bangles that Indian girls wear after marriage are for fertility because where the bangles touch on the wrist, there is an acupressure point for the uterus. The ‘bindi’ and the maang tikka are supposed to protect young women from the “evil eye” as they protect the Sahasrara chakra on the forehead; and so on and so forth. Meaning that jewelry and the “solah shringaar” were actually preventive medicine for women.
    The men had their “stuff” as well.
    Loved the article – right up a girl’s sleeve! 🙂

    1. The men had their stuff? I have no idea what that would be. As I have no idea about fertility triggered by women’s ornaments. It’s possible, but I think it’s mostly bunkum 🙂

      And that must be a sight, seeing jewelry 2000 years old in a museum!

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