Rig-Veda, the oldest book in the world, mentions ornaments worn by the gods. Rudra, a Vedic deity, is described as “shining with brilliant gold ornaments” and “wearing” an adorable, uniform necklace”.
Ornaments, as symbol of power, wealth and feminity, and also as an investment by the Punjabi women, are found in many varieties and forms. B.H. Baden-Powell, in his book Handbook of the Manufactures and Arts of the Punjab, published in 1872, lists 97 names of ornaments used in Punjab.
And this list is by no means exhaustive, because an endless variety of ornaments are used in local parlance, often only locally understood, and each little change in the size or pattern of an ornament merits a different name.
The reason for the prolification of names is the multiple variations of the same piece of ornament. For instance, an ornament called sagi is a central head stud that supports the phulkari or dupatta or other headgear. It is a hemispherical boss with raised work, all over with floral patterns carved out in horizontal circles, encased in lines and dots and dashes, and a star in the centre. Now there are half-a-dozen varieties of sagi. When at the top-centre a coloured stone is fixed in it, it becomes sagi uchhi. Where several round beads are hung at the edge with silver chains, it becomes sagi motianwali. When two additional sagis are linked to the upper side they are known as sagi phul.
A slight variation in its complex shape turns it into sagi chandiari. When green or blue enamelling is done on it, it becomes sagi meenawali. This ornament is also known as sisphul, chaunk or choti phul.
In addition to it there are more ornaments used for the head, followed by ornaments used for the ears, the neck, the arms, the fingers, the anklets and the feet. Thus the names of traditional ornaments used in Punjab may well run into hundreds. According to the handbook of Manufactures and Arts of the Punjab, there is a complete range of traditional jewellary worn by the Men and Women of Punjab, not only for the enhancement of physical beauty but also for the retainment of the traditional Punjab culture.
Although ornaments are much influenced by changing fashions, their continuity remains alive by periodical revivals. And this is also true of the ornaments used by Punjabi Women, for many discarded designs have recently been gaining a fresh popularity. Some designs, however, remain always in vogue.
Gold has remained the most valuable as well as the most prominent metal for making ornaments. It was procured from several sources. The English, Australian and European gold was termed locally as passa and it came in the form of a lump or ingot. Panna or patra is the gold in the form of leaves. When old ornaments are melted down and sold in lump they appear in various sizes and shapes with various rates, and is known as desi passa.
Several types of coins used to be melted and then made into ornaments in Punjab, such as Russian mohar, Jaipur mohar and ashrafi, Dutch ducats, Aurangzeb mohar, old mohars of Murshedabad and Farrukhebad etc. Russian gold was imported largely in the shape of five-rouble pieces, known as battis. The purest gold of all is known as kundan and is used for beating out gold leaves. It is also very generally used in setting stones, whence the seller of stones or murassakar is often known as kundansaz.
After gold, the next metal of priority was the silver. The only source of its local availability was Waziri Rupi Mines in Kulu, which have now been worked for many decades. Most of the. silver, therefore, was imported from Europe into Amritsar via Bombay. Chinese silver was also imported. The coin most commonly melted for silver was the Nanakshahi or Sikh rupee, the silver of which was very commonly used for ornaments. More modern Sikh coins were known to the trade as Rajshahi and mainly represented by Patiala coinage. The Nandrami rupee from Kabul was used in the western districts, and was considered the next best silver after the Nanakshahi. Shah Shuja’s and Dost Muhammad’s coins were also held to be the best and were much in use in making ornaments on the frontier. Silver prepared from melted ornaments was also in use.
The gold and silver work, as far as the plain form of the article required, or as far as it can receive the required pattern by merely hammering on to a die or into a cold mould, is done by the sunar or goldsmith. If the ornament has then to be ornamented with bossed patterns, it goes to the chatera, the embosser and chaser. If jewels are to be set, the enameling at the back is done by a minakar, and then the stone is set into the places prepared by the goldsmith by the marassiakar or kundansaz, whose sole work consists in putting some lac into the receptacle or hollow in the gold prepared to receive the stone, putting on a tinsel or foil prepared by the bindligar and then pressing in the stone, putting an a gold rim to keep it in place.
Who can resist the spell that is cast by the sparkle of a precious stone, by the mysterious glow of a pearl, or by the transcendent purity of gold . It has been said the ‘purpose of ornaments is to light a kind of fire in a women’s heart’, it is, therefore, equally important to get ornaments made of pure metal.