India could be the ideal destination for an International Museum of Jewellery History
India can become an international tourist destination for jewellery art just as Dubai has become the world's largest trading centre for gold despite the fact that no mines are situated within 5000 miles of this emirate.
India continues to be the largest consumer of gold and its love for this yellow metal goes back several thousand years to Indus Valley Civilization. Thereafter, India produced some of the finest jewellery pieces both enamalled and unenamelled during the Mauryan dynasty during third century AD.
The recent development in the gold market has raised a passion in me to dig deeper into India's love for gold which infact has now become quite universal or perhaps it was.
According to M L Nigam in his book Indian Jewellery (Roli Books Pvt Ltd, 1999, 2001), foreign writers have eloquently written about the India's love for gold and jewellery made of other precious metals, Megasthenes, Nearchus, the Greek travellers are mong them. Kautilya's Arthasastra, a treatise on statecraft also describes in detail the art of jewellery making that was prevalent during the period. "Even the minutest details at every stage, from the examination and procurement of raw materials to the last finishing touches given to ornaments, are clearly mentioned by the author," M L Nigam writes about Arthasastra.
"Jewellery was made of both precious and semi-precious stones. Mines producing preicous stones like diamonds, rubies, emeralds and precious metals like gold, silver, copper and iron were controlled by the Director of Mines and Metals," according to Nigam.
Indian rulers and businessmen were able to amass gold because of the trade that happened with several nations across the globe, chiefly spices.After the Mauryan dynasty, Gupta empire saw some of the finest artworks in jewellery followed by the Mughal rule when no signficant new forms were introduced but craftsmanship was enhanced considerably.I think there are several books on Indian jewellery for any student of jewellery history, design, and aesthetics to ponder over.
Indian goldsmiths had also perfected the art of enamelling ornaments by providing blue, red, green, white colours mostly in the reverse side of ornaments.They usually depicted trees,flowers, animals, mythological characters among others. In their book, Handcrafted Indian Enamel Jewellery (Roli Books), Rita Devi Sharma and M Varadarajan describe some of the best creations in enamalled jewellery in India-- kundan, Navaratnas, Benares, Lucknow, Decann and other styles that were in vogue.
From glancing through some history books, it seems precious metals were considered a symbol of prosperity and wealth by the rulers and upper class while for the poor it provided some security and insurance against unexpected events in life.
"The possession of gems and jewellery in ancient India was also considered a kind of insurance against poverty and other natural mishaps in one's life. The malleable quality of the precious metals, like gold and silver, however proved to be detrimental to the continuity of some of the older forms of Indian jewellery. The frequent melting of old ornaments compounded this problem and led to a great cultural loss," according to M L Nigam quoted earlier.
This in fact set my thoughts on why no one has ever conceptualised a National Musueam on Jewellery Art and History in some prominent city in India on the lines of major museums in USA and UK. Now the best possible ancient works of art in gold or other metals are lying scattered across some musuems in India-- National Museum in Delhi, Government museums in Madras, Andhra Pradesh,and Madhya Pradesh. Outside the country, one prominent place where you can find good speciemens of Indian jewellery is Victoria and Albert Musuem in UK.
There are a few reasons why India is most ideally poised to set up the International Museum of Jewellery History
1)India's has been influenced by several cultures in the creation of its jewellery designs from time to time and Indian's went a step ahead. George Birdwood observes in his book, Industrial Art of India, about enamellings in Indian jewellery: 'Even Paris cannot paint gold with the ruby, coral red, emerald green and turquoise and sapphire blues of the enamels of Jaipur, Lahore, Benares and Lucknow.'Therefore, no other place perhaps has the rich tradition and history to set up an international museum on Jewellery.
2)Much of the artworks of historic times are confined to books or some South Indian temples as in SreePadmanabha Swamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, capital city of Kerala where billions of dollar worth jewellery lies in the cellars inaccesible to common man. Similarly, several rulers ofpricely states owned huge amounts of wealth in precious metals and generations in the royal families have inherited it. A museum can showcase the best of these colletions even when it remains the property of its legal owners.
3)According to historians, several traditional tribes such as Gujjars are facing extinction as new machine designs have invaded the market. There could as well be families involved in enamalled jewellery making who could be brought to the forefront once the museum becomes a cultural and learning centre.
4)There are several other spinoffs from such a venture-- it could become a learning centre for international jewellery designers looking for new ideas.
5) India can become an international tourist destination for jewellery art just as Dubai has become the world's largest trading centre for gold despite the fact that no mines are situated within 5000 miles of this emirate.
6) There is a raging debate on whether Indians should continue to import and consume more gold. Perhaps, we have amassed precious metals and now we can monetise on that with the setting up of this internatioanal jewellery centre.
I will set out our further vision on this proposal in subsequent columns. I have also picked up an interesting historical novel, Beneath a Marble Sky (Rupa Publishers, India, 2013) by John Shors, which pertain to the 17th Century Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, builindg of the Taj in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal and their epic love story to get some idea of the precious gems and jewels used during those ear. Meanwhile readers are free to share their views to.