Jewelry has been used by human beings since ancient ages to decorate themselves. The earliest jewelry used to be of stones, gems, ivory, leather, and other such naturally found materials. Prof. Dilliraj Sharma mentions a small axe shaped artifact that he found in Palpa, which has been identified as Neolithic jewelry. Since then, jewelry has evolved to incorporate many different materials and designs. Hannelore Gabriel writes in her book “Jewelry of Nepal” that wearing jewelry is traditionally thought to enhance a woman’s beauty. In no occasion does a women’s beauty shine as in weddings, and for that reason, bridal jewelry has been very special in many cultures.
The Newa: ornament LoonSwan is one such special article. Loon means gold, and swan means flower, and just as the name suggests, LoonSwan is a big headpiece that covers much of the head. Its specialty is tiny, separate pieces of gold ornaments in the shapes of flowers, insects, and peacocks, which are tethered to the headpiece. These ornaments are often attached with springs, which gives the impression of live insects. This piece is the mark of a bride, and is worn only by the bride. Alternately, brides may also wear Nyapu Shikha, which means five chains. Nyapu Shikha can also be worn in other occasions.
|Helina Bajracharya wearing Nhyapu Shikha:|
Actually, the use of wedding jewelry begins even before weddings in Newa: culture. Kallya is a bangle which is sent to the bride from the groom's family a couple days before the wedding. Wearing the kallya symbolizes the finalizing of the wedding. During the wedding, the groom gives the bride a ring (Angu) and a chain (Shikha). After the wedding, when the bride is ready to depart from her maternal home, her father in law puts a par of anklets on her feet, which is the first and last time that a father-in-law touches the bride's feet. This anklet called tutibaggi is flat, and is usually plain. The bride's family gifts her a set of ritual beautifying objects, which includes a comb (natubhatuca or kakica), porcupine quill, and several other things. After the marriage, these objects are used to ritually comb the bride's hair. These objects symbolize her status as a married woman.
Women in several other cultures wear a particular item to symbolize their married status. For example, women in Brahmin and Chhetri community wear Tilahari, a set of seven golden beads used as a pendant to a pote necklace. Four beads are of one kind, and three of another. This Tilahari is given to the bride by the groom during the wedding ceremony.
Along with the Tilahari come several other pieces like chains, phuli (nose ornament), bangles, bindi (worn in the parting of hair), pauju (anklets), bicchiya (rings worn on the toes), and earrings. It is a matter of curiosity for the bride's relatives to find out what pieces groom has brought for the bride. During the wedding, the bride changes clothes and puts on the clothes and jewels given to her by the groom, and it is in these ornaments that she bids goodbye to her natal home. Among these jewels, Tilahari has transcended the boundaries of caste and is used by many communities as a symbol of marriage. The Tamang community is one of them.
Tamangs also wear Naugedi, which was previously worn by Brahmins and Chhetris, but is now more popular among other communities. As the name suggests, Naugedi is a set of nine gold beads which are spaced equally between thick strands of pote.
|woman wearing tilahari and naugedi together|
Traditionally, Tamangs also wore earrings called cheptisun. The word itself means flat gold, and this earring is a large flat gold disk, up to ten cms in diameter, but the thickness is just 0.15 mm. Because of its thinness, it needs a rim to be stable, which gives the required structural support.
Because the entire rim is inserted into the ear, the hole in the ear becomes quite big. The goldsmith usually does this task, and most women never take it off after putting it on in their wedding. As pure gold is too soft, it is made of alloys. Hannelore Gabriel has documented the decoration on cheptisun as usually having a vertical band of flowers.
|woman wearing chepti sun|
Dhungri, also worn during weddings, is a large golden flower which sits in front of the earlobe. It is often quite heavy, and leans forward after long usage. On their head, Tamangs wore Sirphul, a large golden flower that covers almost all of the back of the head. Because of its weight and cost, Sirphul has almost gone out of fashion.
|This is the ONLY picture of sir phul that I could find online. Yes, the lady in front is wearing it|
Some communities of Tamangs also used to set the bride price by gold. Though the practice of setting bride price is going out of favor, wedding jewelry is still an investment in many ways. Since women could not inherit land, often their wedding jewelry was the only wealth that they owned. Since gold gave the most value among metals, it was the material of choice for jewelry. Even till today, the association of gold with weddings is very strong in Nepal. "It is true that gold has a beauty, but so does every other metal" says Preeti Agarwal, a young jewelry designer. "Gold is so popular because of its value!"
When gold was out of reach, silver the second most desired metal. Among several communities that primarily use silver, the Dhimals of eastern Nepal are one.
|Intricate details ona silver tilahari|
Although only Pote is considered absolutely essential for weddings, the bride is usually decked out in a host of jewellery. For example, their Chandrahar, the necklace most often worn by brides, is a striking piece with interlinked silver flowers and a pendant in the center. These flowers have a flat base, so they rest easy on the chest. Their front is raised, and each flower has three hooks to link with the next flower.
|me wearing chandrahar|
Dhimals also wear Gosmala, a chain of interlinked silver rings. Though these rings are plain, they are quite thick, giving the necklace an elegant look. Their Reji is a necklace of coins, where the joints may have designs, usually of flowers. If the Reji is long, then it might have up to 35 coins, and such a necklace may weigh up to a kilo.
|young dhimal woman in reji|
Dhimals also use gold for some of their smaller jewelry. Kanaila, their traditional ear jewelry, sits on top of the ear helix. Though it used to be just plain gold hoops, now Kanaila of various designs can be found. Kundal also used to be plain gold hoops that hang from the earlobes, sometimes weighing up to a couple tola each. But the modern Kundal is smaller, and also incorporates stones and other materials. Their nose jewelry is a golden phuli called Paanch Dhiki, which is a set of five little spheres. The groom’s side is expected to provide these pieces to the bride during the wedding, but the quantitity depends on the financial status of the groom. Anything jewelry the bride’s family gives her are considered extra gifts for the bride.
The traditional Kalli worn by dhimals is a hollow silver anklet with arrowheads on both ends. (Even in other communities, Pauju is always made of silver, because gold is respected for its auspiciousness, and is not supposed to be worn on feet). But nowadays it is being replaced by pauju, which is more decorative. This is a part of a pattern where increasingly, jewelry of many communities is beginning to look similar, and it is getting harder to identify a person by the jewelry they wear. For example, rings are used in almost every community to symbolize weddings. Pote and sindoor (vermillion) are used by many communities as a symbol of marital status. Most jewelry still contains designs of flowers, which are a symbol of femininity and fertility. Besides its value, gold is also appreciated for its auspicious nature, and most wedding jewelry is still made of gold. But it is interesting to note that just a couple generations ago, each community had its own special jewelry, and that from one end of Nepal to another, one could identify as many unique jewelry designs as the castes that inhabit Nepal.
|sindur, the ultimate symbol of marriage|
Researched for and published in the November issue of Spaces magazine