Quantities of Indian beads from archaeological sites in the subcontinent, as well as early icons, reliefs on friezes, and literary texts, affirm that beaded jewelry has always been important to all classes of Indian society: rich and poor, sacred and secular.
This strong relationship between beads and religion still exists today in India. Worshippers of certain Hindu gods wear special beads to differentiate themselves from members of other branches of the faith as well as from non-Hindus. Followers of Shiva, for example, have worn Rudraksha, beads made from seeds of the Eleaocarpus ganitrus tree, since time immemorial, while Vishnu worshipers wear little wooden beads made of tulsi, the holy basil Ocimum sanctum.
In India, gems and precious metals were considered holy and believed to have protective powers. Gems were also offered to deities as a means of gaining divine assistance.
Some of the oldest beads in the world have been found in India. Disk beads of ostrich eggshell and an Olivia shell bead from Patne in Maharashtra date 23,000 B.C., and a bone bead and several cattle incisor teeth grooved for stringing found at the Kurnool Cave, date to 17,000 B.C.
India’s great fame as a bead making center stems from the country’s abundant and accessible supplies of a wide range of semiprecious quartz minerals: chalcedony, agate, onyx, jasper, and rock crystal. Gravels in some Indian rivers yield agate nodules, and shallow underground bedrock agate source are easily mined. This abundance of high-quality raw materials gave rise to the ancient Indian agate bead industry. (Some of the best-known Indian stone beads, often grouped together as agate, are more accurately described as carnelian/onyx.)
The size of gems is considered all-important in India, and it is unthinkable for an artisan to cut a gemstone to one-third its original size simply to add brilliance. Many a times in India, beads made of gemstones are cabochon-cut, accentuating color rather than light (making faceted jewelry seem excessively flamboyant by comparison).
Beadmaking in India has always been a full-time, specialized craft. For centuries, it was divided among experts in a specific raw material: gold, silver, semi-precious gems, precious gemstones, glass bedas etc. Here you can find all varities of Indian beads at one place. Other specialized contributors to the making of an Indian bead include the refiner, enameler, precious-tone merchant, cutter, polisher, and even the stringer (patua).
Currently, Jaipur is the primary center for the shaping, cutting, polishing and stringing of beads in India. Generally the manner of making finished beads in India is as follows: The rough bead forms are smoothed by finer chipping, then ground smooth, drilled, and polished. Grinding and polishing are done mechanically. The faceting of beads, a common practice in India since the third century B.C., is used to enhance the brilliance and luster of the stone, while hiding minor defects.