Kanika Pruthi of Saffronart highlights some of the prevalent plant and flower motifs in South Indian jewelry
NEW YORK: In Indic religions and philosophy reference to plants, fruits and flowers abound signifying the relationship man shares with nature. Since antiquity myths and iconography pertaining to flora and fauna has been a central part of Indian belief systems and their actual use and their reference in present day rituals and faith based practices proves their continued significance in Indian society. Plants and flowers are often time associated with deities, presented as offerings in rituals and symbolically represented in daily life through various means.
South Indian jewelry present a ripe example of the continued reference to plants and flowers in Indian faith systems and the development of intricate motifs laden with meaning, still in use in present day India. Our current exhibition “Jewels from South India” display an array of motifs associated with plants and flowers.
The jasmine bud necklace, known as mullai arumby malaii, adapts the tender buds of the fragrant flower in its design. The result is a piece of jewelry that conjures images of delicate and prestine creations of nature, the carnal scent of the auspicious flowers with erotic connotations enhancing the beauty of the wearer. There are many myths that chronicle the mystique of this tender flower.
Another common motif in South Indian design is the Manga Malai– the necklace of mangoes. Similar to the persian booti or paisley design, mango tree has long held mythic associations in Indian society. The mango tree is believed to be a wish-fulfilling tree and a symbol of fertility and long life. Mango leaves which are believed to hold protective powers are still used in actual rituals in India, also commonly found strung across the entrance of an house. Stylized motifs of mango have been adapted in South Indian jewelry, lending not only a meaning but decorative elements to the jewelry pattern.
The rudraksha bead is often times adapted in design of beads or used as it is in South Indian jewelry. It is believed to be sacred to Shiva and is commonly worn by both men and women with Shivite affiliations all over India. They are believed to hold the creative energy of Shiva, bestowing the wearer with similar powers. Symbolically the seed is believed to represent Shiva’s eye (Rudra=Shiva & Aksha=Eyes). Myths abound that reference the rudraksha. One of them tells of how Shiva went into the state of penance for 1000 years in order to destroy evil in the world and when when he finally opened his eyes a drop of his tear on the ground resulted in the germination of the tree bearing the rudraksha fruit. The seeds are considered highly auspicious and are adapted in designs in multiple ways.
A closer look at jewels from our collections show the many ways floral motifs are adapted in design- their presence abounds. From three petaled blossoming flowers, to floral vines adapted in design, the significance of rendering plants and flowers in jewelry can be traced back to centuries and continues to the present day- a melange of traditional beliefs and modern practices.