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)
- 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