BRIEF HISTORY OF ASSAMESE TRADITIONAL JEWELLERY

  • Almost all areas of Assam had separate goldsmith’s villages and some like Ranthali in Nagaon and Tarajan Sonarigaon in Jorhat district have continued to exist even today. These goldsmiths were usually from the “Bania” community. In 1611, in the days of Ahom King Pratap Singha, many people were taken as captives by Bir Chilarai, (who was the General of Koch King Nar Narayan), and taken to Cooch-behar. These people were later released by the king and sent back to their homeland. Among those people, there were also goldsmiths, black-smiths and other artisans who had learnt new arts & crafts during their captivity. King Pratap Singha’s grand-son Rudra Singha had also brought from outside his kingdom many gifted craftsmen from various trades including goldsmiths and established them in his territory. These craftsmen and goldsmiths brought from outside had gradually merged with the Assamese society and local people. Each of them were experts in their own fields but did not create jewellery as per the original designs of their birth-places but started making highly attractive jewellery influenced by the culture of their adopted homeland. Assamese jewellery developed tremendously under the patronage of the Ahom Kings.

  • Assamese jewellery designs are very different in all respects from jewellery of other regions. Every item is unique. No two designs are the same. The jewellery of Assam is very simple & distinct and this is a reflection of the simplicity of the Assamese people. The dresses & cosmetics used by the ladies are also not too glamorous but depend on their natural tastes and habits. The simplicity of the Assamese people is influenced by the natural landscape, vast expanses of green fields, continuous blue hills and rapidly changing water colours of the ever- flowing rivers and streams. The natural beauty of Assam has had a significant influence on jewellery produced by its craftsmen. The local flora, fauna, culture & customs have also greatly inspired the designs, colours and raw-materials used in producing Assamese traditional jewellery. “Lac” which is an important part of almost all traditional Assamese jewellery, is extracted from trees. We thus have the “lokaparo” and “khenpatia” designs inspired from the pigeon & the eagle, the“thuria” & “dugdugi” influenced by the local flora and “dhol”, “japi” & “mridong” designs from local Assamese musical instruments and cultural items.

    The uniqueness and beauty of Assamese traditional jewellery is unparalleled in the country. It had established itself on a high pedestal in the days of yore and continue to attract connoisseurs of beauty even today…

  • More About Assamese Traditional Jewellery

    Assamese Ornaments are one of the most important parts of Assamese Culture and generally made of gold, silver or gold-plated. Assamese Ornaments were originally used by Ahom Kings and Queens of Assam and from that period these Ornaments have occupied an honorable position in Assamese Society. Assamese Traditional Ornaments are typically hand-made, and the design mostly depicts the floral and faunal treasures of the region. Thus, the beauty of Assam is found in its culture, tradition, dresses, ornaments, festivals, foods, Japi etc. which reflects the rich heritage of Assam and makes the various products of Assam unique in the country. Ornaments play a very significant role in the day to day life of the Assamese women not only in the ancient times but also at the present day. Assam is not only famous for its greenery, wildlife, bihu festival, one horned rhinoceros, tea gardens, the brahmaputra river, Eri and Muga Silk, and for legendary Bhupen Hazarika, but it is equally famous for Assamese Traditional Ornaments for their unique designs. Assamese Ornaments are inspired by the flora and fauna, and the surroundings objects such as musical instruments etc. Assamese Traditional Jewellery is completely hand-made. In manufacturing, the main-frame is made of silver which is covered by thin gold covering. The designs of the ornaments are simple and gemstones such as ruby, Anganas, meenakari and even diamonds are used. The most popular colours used is black, green and red enameling which is done on Gold Jewellery. Some of the popular Assamese Traditional Ornaments include earings such as : Lokaparo, Keru, Thuriya, Jangphai, Long keru, array of necklaces including Golpata, Satsori, Jonbiri, Bena, Gejra, Dholbiri, Doogdoogi, Birimoni, MukutaMoni, Poalmoni, SilikhaMoni and Magardana and diversified rings including senpata Horinsakua, Jethinejia, Bakharpata and many more. The Manufacture of Gold Ornaments, as well as gold-washing flourished in medieval Assam during the reign of the Ahom dynasty. Gold dust was abundantly found in the sands of different rivers of the state, but mainly from the river Subansiri, one of the major tributaries of the Brahmaputra. During the rule of the Ahom kings, gold-washing on the banks of the Subansiri (meaning “flow of gold”) was a major profession of the sonowal kacharis. Jorhat, Nagaon, & Barpeta Districts of Assam are the main manufacturers of Assamese Traditional Ornaments. Jorhat and Sonari in upper Assam, Nagaon in center Assam and Barpeta in lower Assam have been major the hubs of manufacturing throughout the centuries. The jewellers are called ‘Sonari’ in Assamese language. Their technique of making Ornaments bears resemblances to the traditions of South East Asia, much more than to other nearby parts of India itself.

  • Uses of Assamese Jewellery:

    Both Assamese men and women used to wear Assamese ornaments in different parts of their body. The female put bracelets known as Gam-Kharu made of either gold or silver on their wrists of their hands. Most of the neck ornaments are made of beads. The necklace with bigger beads called matamani and larger beads with drum shaped ornaments are called a madal. Ornaments which are put on arm called Baju or Ujanti. Those used on the nose by women are called Nakphul. An ornament which is used by women on their forehead just below the parting of the hair is called Citipoti. Items which are used as a necklaces include-Jonbiri, Dholbiri, Silikha, Madali, Gejera, Bana, Kathal kuhia madali, Dugdugi, Sonahar, Galpata, Galakantha, Chandrahar, Rupadhar, Gajamatihar etc. Several types of ear ornaments are used which includes Lokapara, Thuria, Dighalkeru, Bakharnakeru, Ukakeru, Titakariakeru, Jangphaikeru, Karnaphul etc. Different kinds of finger-rings includes- Jethineguri Angathi, PatiaAngathi, Babariphulia Angathi etc.

  • Manfacturing Process of Assamese Traditional Jewellery

    The Assamese Traditional Jewellery is typically handmade and the designs are mostly depict floral and faunal treasures of the region. The traditional designs are simple but decorated with vibrant red gem stone, ruby or mina. Black, Red and Green colours on Gold Jewelleries are most favourites among the buyers, these colours also dominate the traditional dresses of tribes and communities of the northeastern states. Some designs are directly derived from the elements of tribal culture and incorporated in these ornaments directly, and sometimes by blending. The Jangphai, Keru and Gamkharu were originally tribal ornaments. Lokaparo, which is an ornaments with two sets of twin pigeons placed back to back in gold, mina or ruby was originally worn by the high profile male dignitaries of the royal Ahom Dynasty. Gamkharu, a part of gold bangle, originally used by males only, have now become an essential part of the Bihu dance costume of girls.

  • Manufacturing Process:

    Assamese ornaments are hand-crafted by expert craftsmen. These prestigious traditional ornaments of Assamese people are mainly made by “Sonari” group of people of Assamese and Bengali community using both gold and silver metals. In case of gold, 99% pure gold (24 carats) is generally used. These ornaments are generally known as “Kacha Sonar Gohana” or “Pat Sonar Gohana”. But in Barpeta the traditional ornaments are made of silver with gold-plating. In this process, gold is passed through a machine to make very fine gold-leaves. These delicate gold leaves are used to cover the silver frames of the ornaments. In case of silver metal, different type of items are mainly prepared by silver, such as “tar”, “vissile” and pat” which are the most important elements for manufacturing the ornaments. From these three elements of silver, two must be used in the making of ornaments in a particular design; ‘Pine’ is a strong quality of paste, is generally used is made by the mixture of silver, copper and bronze. To enhance the quality and beauty of these ornaments, special colours are used which is known as ‘Mina’. Besides these, some different types of colourful stones are also used here. After pasting the stones and ’mina’ through ‘nuoni’ and kanchani, the pure gold leaves are used. Some different types of colourful small size beads which are known as ‘moni’ are also used in the Assamese Traditional Jewellery items. According to size, colour and quality of the balls they are known as ‘bakharuamoni’, ‘balmoni’, ‘desimoni’ etc. Instruments used in the manufacturing process are haturi, bhati, niary, daish, Phali, karsani, kati, nuoni, lap, thina, bhakhor, lamp of candle, flame of fire etc.

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