Photo Gallery – National Museum revives antique jewellery exhibition

November 11, 2014

For a country that associates art mostly with canvases, sculptures and installations, an exhibition showcasing 5,000 years of antique jewellery can be a novel experience.

Walk into the Alamkara gallery at Delhi’s National Museum and you will see more than 200 glittering ornaments placed in 25 dark brown cases. The dim yellow light creates an impression of objects locked in time, some from the Indus Valley Civilization.

The permanent exhibition, curated by India’s only jewellery historian, has been revived at the National Museum after nearly a decade. It is the largest display of antique jewellery in India, according to the museum.

Curator Usha Balakrishnan says she picked the title of the show, Alamkara (which means “adornment”) from an article written by scholar Ananda Coomaraswamy in the early 20th century.

“A body without ‘Alamkara’ is … invisible. The moment the body is adorned, it assumes a perfection of beauty and form that is not otherwise visible to those who look at you,” she said, paraphrasing Coomaraswamy.

The oldest jewels, dating between 2600 and 1900 BCE, belong to Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, the most important cities of the Indus Valley civilization.

From the Indo-Greek ornaments of Taxila city in Pakistan (first century CE), the exhibition takes a leap towards the 19th and 20th centuries, recording the influence of European designs in Indian jewellery. India’s aristocratic men adorned their turbans with tiaras, aigrettes and hatpins, along with Western-style jackets.

Of course, no exhibition on the tradition of jewellery is complete without the display of craftsmanship belonging to the Mughal period, considered by many the peak of India’s cultural heritage.

Mughal splendour makes way for south India, a repository of mineral wealth. While Golconda produced beautiful diamonds, the Kolar and Hutti mines had fine-quality gold.

The marriage pendant is one of the highlights of the gallery. A formidable necklace from the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu is made up of claw-like pendants, featuring images of Hindu deities in the centre.

Here’s an overview of the exhibition (handouts from National Museum):

(Editing by Robert MacMillan; Follow Ankush Arora on Twitter @Ankush_patrakar and Robert @bobbymacReports | This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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