Date:24/07/2003 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/lf/2003/07/24/stories/2003072401390200.htm
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Tracing history through jewellery



Telling historical tales.

`Kashumala', `Palakka mothiram', `Nagapada thaali', `Karimani maala', `Thalikoottam' and `Oddyanam' ... Thus goes the list of some of the traditional ornaments that Keralites used.

Even while serving the aesthetic needs of people, they also had a ritualistic relevance in society. It was the ethos of the land that influenced everything, from the choice of metals that was used for making them to the occasion when these ornaments were worn.

However, over the past centuries, the ornaments used by Keralites have changed in shape, size, and colour. But more significant is the change they underwent in response to the changing socio-political environment of the State.

Behind the sparkle and lustre of these ornaments lie some cold and unpleasant realities, reflecting the social customs and practices that prevailed in Kerala.

The social revolutions and reformations that took place in Kerala during the past century and the uprising of the downtrodden and marginalised sections of society against caste discrimination also influenced the patterns of use of ornaments.

During the early days, precious stones and gold ornaments were the prerogative of the elites and the socially marginalised sections were not permitted to wear them.

Reference to agitations like the `Kallumala samaram' that took place in Kanjaveli, near Kollam, where the Pulaya community members fought the caste elites by breaking their chains to win the right to wear ornaments can be found.

According to historians, the rights enjoyed by the sections outside the caste system to wear ornaments were won after prolonged social struggles like the struggle by the lower caste women to cover the upper part of their body.

The historical analysis of the traditional ornaments and jewellery of Kerala mostly revolved around the gold and precious stones used by the social elites, ignoring the ornaments of the marginalised communities of the land.

Thus the ornaments that one wear reflects the social campaign for human rights along with the aesthetic history of the people.

The Tripunithura Hill Palace-based Centre for Heritage Studies is all set to probe the cultural traits associated with the ethnic jewellery of Keralites.

According to a project mooted by the Centre, the indigenous perceptions on traditional gold and silver jewellery would be traced in the study from a heritage perspective.

``We are planning to trace the lineage of at least a few pieces of jewellery and those from the Megalithic burials in Kerala and perforated gold coins of the early historic period," said P. K. Gopi, registrar of the Centre.

According to Mr. Gopi, this would be the first time that such a study to document the perceptions on jewellery is being undertaken in Kerala.

Under the project, the `dying traditions' and indigenous technology of jewel-making by traditional artisans of Kerala would also be recorded.

Attempts would also be made to study the distinct traditions of various social groups like aristocrats, royal families, and various caste groups of the land.

By Sudhi K S

Photo: Vipinchandran

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