Earrings always held a significant place in the jewellery of the Indians. They are invariably unique works of art, bearing religious or symbolic content.
This book brings a comprehensive documentation of traditional earrings in India, based on scientific fieldwork of more than ten years. The first part of the book gives a general survey of the historical relations to the Mediterranean area and to•» classical earring forms of the ancient sculptures and archaeological finds. The evolution of different earring shapes and the differences between north and south are discussed.
In the catalogue part, 170 specific earring types with numerous subtypes are represented. In over 400 colour illustrations of persons and ornaments, the amazing variability of every type is shown. The origin and history of each piece are described; technical details, as the weight, size and used material are given. The modes of fastening are summarized in a systematic classification according to the applied lock types.
The book records a significant part of the material Indian culture, as it has existed since many centuries. "Earrings" is equally important to s the admirer and collector of old Indian jewellery, as to the student of design and to the jewellery dealer, satisfying the demands of his customers.
Waltraud Ganguly was born in Germany and holds a degree in medicine. She feels attracted to India since she was a student in Heidelberg. In 1971, she was married to an Indian, with whom she lives in Germany. From the very beginning of her contact to the country, Dr. Ganguly was fascinated by the customs and traditions of the Indian village people. Her special interest is the significance of the old customary rural ornaments, I especially ear and head ornaments. In order to gather authentic information and photographs .of traditional earrings and of the people wearing them, she conducted intensive field work throughout India, accompanied by her husband. Since 1995, the couple covered more than 40,000 km on fifteen trips. The author has held lectures and exhibitions on Indian earrings in Chennai, Berlin, Heidelberg and London.
A Personal Note
Ever since I visited India for the first time in 1970, I have remained fascinated by the overpowering sense of personal beauty in this country. It is reflected in the simplest attire. The poorest woman, walking along a dirt road, seemed to me a personification of grace. I have admired the poise and elegance of her flowing sari and the self-confidence, with which she wore a few glass bangles or cheap earrings, as if possessing the most luxurious ornaments.
This was so completely different from my own country!
Recently however, I have observed a painful change to this picture. With growing economic prosperity, the old values of material art and craft are fast declining. As my own contribution to the memory of the old customs and manners, I have written this book. I decided to focus on jewellery, which plays such an important role in the daily life of Indian women. I selected a rather small, but obviously significant part of it: ear ornaments. They easily impressed me as the best visible and most personal part of a woman’s jewels. Only in the course of my further studies did I learn about the far wider consequence of them in terms of protection, identification and medical worth. At a glance, earrings can convey a complete history of the private lifestyle and social background of a woman.
This book primarily aims at documenting facts about the craft, pattern, designs and traditions of Indian ear ornaments. It deals predominantly with tribal and rural people. A few samples from a rich and aristocratic past have been included for better understanding.
At the very beginning of my study, I felt a severe lack of information. Therefore, I decided to explore and investigate myself. This turned out not at all so easy! Traditional earrings, as I wanted to see them, required troublesome expeditions throughout the length and breadth of the country. I started them as two-person research tours in 1995. Together with my Indian—born husband, who acted as unrivalled interpreter, I covered a total of more than 40,000 km in fifteen trips. We used a car with local drivers, who knew the local language, habits and places and often were of substantial help in contact with local people.
We travelled through all major provinces, most of them more than once. I consulted goldsmiths, jewellery shops, tribal institutes and heritage museums for information. In the first place, however, I interviewed women and men in the villages for their habits and customs of wearing earrings. I used a standard list of questions, which made it possible to create an individual description of each type, now included in the catalogue part of this book.
I commenced my fieldwork based on the village survey monographs (VSM) of the Census of India Report 1961. They contain descriptions and drawings of individual ornaments and dresses for all respective provinces. These old reports served as a welcome framework for my fieldwork, although much has changed since, due to political and economical evolutions. Through the friendly help of the Census office, I obtained Xerox copies for the particular provinces and used them as visual aids in my interviews.
Fieldwork was strenuous, but gratifying as well. Often, seeking information in the midst of deafening noise - produced by rotating ventilators, honking scooters, crackling tempos and blaring loudspeakers - hampered concentration and conversation. As soothing remedy though, many cups of sweet and milk-white tea were offered to us in the jewellery shops; the friendliness and helpfulness of Indian goldsmiths and jewellers seemed boundless, when they learned about my V aim. Many of them went out of their way to assist me in finding proper information. One or the other accompanied us to the house of some customer, where a woman with the desired ornament lived, and he made sure that we could see and photograph her and her ornaments.
In the street or market, a friendly curious crowd gathered as soon as I put the first question to someone, whose earring I admired. Onlookers were at first surprised or amused about the peculiar inquisitiveness of a foreigner about such “normal" things as women’s earrings. Then, being informed about my research, they became interested and appreciative and tried to help me in every way. In Himachal Pradesh or Uttaranchal, trying to get a photo sometimes required walking “upper" (pronounced 00pr — up-hill). But when I reached there after half an hour, gasping for breath, I was politely told that the last earring of this type had been worn one or two generations ago, or that the woman wearing it had just left for a visit in a village down-hill!
As a rule, women did not object to photography. Some of them were initially shy, or we had to ask their husbands for permission; some had to be coaxed by the men around us to allow their picture to be taken. Many women readily agreed to be photographed, when I told them my motive. They were proud to hear that their earrings were estimated as special and were consequently admired by their fellow villagers.
The photos in this book are by no means of exceptional quality. Often, I had to take them under most difficult conditions, with a dense crowd surrounding me and the woman, without space to keep the necessary distance, with bad light conditions and with no better background than a running ventilator. Still I think they are worth the effort to graphically depict how an earring is properly worn.
I am happy that after ten years of travelling I could differentiate 140 separate types of earrings. They represent the bulk of what one can define as traditional Indian ear ornaments. Perhaps, some defects and misunderstandings persist, although I tried to verify all statements of interviews through crosschecking. There are also probably still more earring types in very remote areas, or they belong to families to whom I had no access. I would appreciate if readers, who know about any such earrings, would inform the publisher or me so that we could add them to a new edition.
It is with great pleasure that I write this foreword for a book on Indian Earrings
by Waltraud Ganguly. Several years ago, a common interest in Indian jewellery
brought Waltraud and me together. Waltraud and I share a passion for Indian
jewellery - a passion that transcends the mere beauty of form and manufacture.
It is an obsession that draws us into meanings, symbols, etymology and the
origin and evolution of forms in the context of regional cultures, gender, caste
and religious affiliations. Over a period of more than 10 years, Waltraud has,
with a single-minded passion, travelled the length and breadth of India and
assembled an extensive collection of ear jewels; representative examples of
ornament forms that are fast vanishing and whose nomenclature has long been
forgotten. Her patience and perseverance to undertake such detailed and
methodical research will serve as inspiration to aspiring young jewellery historians.
Of all ornament forms in India, the ear jewel encapsulates the essence of the
Indian ethos. The transmission of culture in India has conventionally relied on the
oral tradition. Through the centuries, stories, myths and legends including the
Vedas, popularly known as 'sruti' or that which is heard, have been passed from
generation to generation from ear to ear. It was believed that this oral transmission
preserved the magic and religious potency of cultural beliefs.
It is this importance of oral communication and transmission that renders the ear
as one of the most important parts of the human body in the realm of Indian
culture. Every Indian woman - urban or rural, irrespective of her class, status or
wealth - wears a piece of jewellery in the ear. In the past, it was customary for the
ears of both male and female child to be pierced irrespective of caste or social
position. The act of ear piercing is imbued with a deeper physiological,
psychological and sociological meaning much beyond mere decoration. Elongated
ear lobes and ear jewels appended to every visible part of the ear were considered
signs of beauty, wealth, status, and good health; forms and decorative motifs
indicated the individual's caste and religion. Indian literature and the arts have
amply demonstrated that ear ornaments were an intrinsic aspect of feminine
attire and unparalleled in their range and variety.
This book bears witness to the vast wealth of ear ornaments that are even today
worn by men and women in remote villages and by tribal communities in various
parts of India. Each piece bears testimony to the craftsmanship, skills and aesthetic
sensibility of the Indian goldsmith. Waltraud Ganguly's book is a seminal work in
the documentation of Indian ear ornaments that will serve scholars and students
for many years to come.
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