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Encased in Tradition: The Splendour of Dogra Jewellery

Very little is known about traditional Dogra jewellery. A sliver of collective heritage, these exquisite ornaments merit greater interest and attention.


Dwell a bit on the word “jewellery” and – if you are fanciful enough – images of gem-encrusted necklaces, bejeweled princesses, andrust-layered chests filled with prized treasures might float before your mind’s eye. Think Dogra jewellery and your mind would have raced to picture not just pieces of blindingly beautiful jewellery, but even the trappings of royalty of which such jewellery formed an integral part.

Well, royal or not, traditional Dogra jewellery – a defining yet little-known aspect of Dogra material culture – inspires all the awe and amazement befitting the imperial accoutrements of yore. From the celebrated Rani Haar (Queen’s Necklace) to the Nath (large nose ring), each piece of jewellery signifies a little something, collectively revealing the grandeur of Dogra sartorial culture.

Above: 19th century SurmaDaani in silver. (Photograph by Nandini Sen. Courtesy of Shashwat Art Gallery, Jammu)

A Slice of Heritage

“Whenever a woman’s husband’s fortunes rose, her nath or nose ring was given an extra plating of gold in recognition of her improved station. Sometimes this would lead to women ending up with immensely heavy naths, weighing several grams. Followed by the Dogra people of Bhadarwah and Kishtwar areas, this custom illustrates the importance of jewellery in society in general and a woman’s life in particular” said Dr. Suresh Kumar Abrol, a hereditary antique collector and jeweller based in Jammu. Also serving as Director of the Manuscript Conservation Centre (under the IGNCA), Jammu Branch, Dr. Abrol owns the Shashwat Art Gallery &Manuscript Library in Jammu city. The Shashwat Art Gallery houses one of the largest privately owned collections of Dogra, Kashmiri, and Pahari antiques which include paintings, artefacts, and items of jewellery. A large number of artefacts are family heirlooms, passed down through the generations.

Above:Silver kadhi/anklets with carvings (Photograph by Nandini Sen. Courtesy of Shashwat Art Gallery, Jammu)

According to Dr. Abrol, gold was traditionally preferred by the urban wealthy, silver by the middle-class, and copper by the less affluent or those living in far-flung, rural areas. Since copper jewellery has become increasingly difficult to procure and storing large quantities of gold comes with legal issues, most of the jewellery exhibited at the Shashwat Art Gallery is made of silver.It must be noted that not only is Dogra jewellery marked by regional variations, it stylistically resembles jewellery worn by the Gujjar and Gaddi tribes (a predominantly Hindu tribe of nomadic pastoralists) of Jammu & Kashmir.

Above: BugdiHaar with embossed namas. The central pendant is engraved with images of the ruling deities of nine planets. (Photograph by Nandini Sen. Courtesy of Shashwat Art Gallery, Jammu)

A Stupendous Variety

Though Dogra jewellery consists of an astonishing variety of articles, women were commonly identified by the BugdiHaar (a kind of necklace) and distinctly traditional jhumkas. Interestingly, jewellery inheritance patterns in the Dogra community conform to the ancient custom of Stridhana (women’s property/wealth), with most ornaments inherited by women during or after marriage. Some of the ornaments that formed an essential part of Dogradress culture are as follows:

BugdiHaar: A type of necklace comprising Namas (embossed metal pendants) attached to a silk thread. A bugdihaar traditionally consists of 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, or 11 namas including the pendant that hangs down from the middle. The pendants are typically engraved with images of gods and goddesses, depict scenes from Krishna Raslila and Ramlila, and portray festivities and rituals. Namas of a rectangular and heart shape are more common than round and other shapes.

Hasli/Seeri: The former was a type of traditional choker necklace common to Dogra women and tribal women from Rajasthan and Gujarat. Attachments such as bells and trinkets, if any, were a distinguishable feature of jewellery worn by rural Dogra women. Similar in make and design to the Hasli, the Seeri necklace was a narrower version of Hasli.

Above: Hasli, a type of necklace. The attachments were a distinguishable feature of jewellery worn by rural Dogra women.(Photograph by Nandini Sen. Courtesy of Shashwat Art Gallery, Jammu)

GaniHaar: This kind of necklace is usually made of beads – glass, pearl, or silver. The pendant is normally made of silver.

Rani Haar: Typically inherited by Dogra women at the time of nuptials, the famed Rani Haar consists of3, 5, 7, 9, 11, or 13 chains on each side. Made of gold, silver, or copper, the Rani Haar traditionally contains a single, central triangular or rectangular pendant. This type of necklace was often worn with typical Dogra Jhumkas (bell-shaped dangling earrings) or Lacche (chain-bracelets) that matched the Rani Haar’s design.

Above: Rani Haarin silver. (Photograph by Nandini Sen. Courtesy of Shashwat Art Gallery, Jammu)

Jhumkas and Vaalis: Conical or bell-shaped dangling earrings, Jhumkas are an intrinsic part of jewellery in the Indian sub-continent. Among the Dogras, a Mang Tikka (head ornament) would sometimes be attached to a pair of Jhumkas which dangled down either side of the face. Vaalis were small to medium-sized circular earrings.

Above: Mang Tikkawith attached Jhumkas and Vaalis.(Photograph by Nandini Sen. Courtesy of Shashwat Art Gallery, Jammu)


Pazeb:Different kinds of anklets or ankle bracelets were worn by Dogra women. These include the Pazeb, Panjzeb, Gobhichain, Torey, and Patey. These were commonly made of silver as it was considered inauspicious to wear gold, the symbol of Goddess Lakhshmi, on the feet or ankles.

Tilli/Koka/Nath/Murki:The nose ornament was another important accoutrement for Dogra women. The smallish nose stud is known as the Tilli or Koka and the small nose ring as Murki. The Nath was the large, bejeweled nose ring – decorated with beads or pearls – worn by married women on special occasions and during festivals.

Marida/Choodi: Different types of wrist jewellery were worn by rural and urban Dogra women alike. Usually attached with bells and trinkets, the Marida was a type of heavy and broad bangle that could weigh up to 500 grams. Choodis were lighter wrist ornaments, commonly worn in stacks.

Other types of jewellerythat were commonly part of the Dogra woman’s shringaar (make-up & adornment) were the Kamarband/Tragri (jewelled waist belt), surmadani (collyrium container), kangi(small comb usually used for parting the hair), and suiyya(hair pins).

Above: Suiyya/hairpins and Kanga/comb. The tiny case atop the Kanga commonly contained hair oil. During war, Dogra women sometimes filled the container with poison, lest their husbands should lose the war. (Photograph by Nandini Sen. Courtesy of Shashwat Art Gallery, Jammu)

Then & Now

“Though contemporary Dogra women no longer prefer wearing traditional jewellery on a daily basis, the last few years have witnessed a revival of interest in jewellery as part of a larger fascination with Dogra heritage” said Dr. Abrol. Interestingly, an overwhelming majority of the ornaments described above can only be crafted by Dogra jewellers, seasoned in the art of making traditional jewellery.

Above: Marida/thick bangle and Choodiyan/thin bangles (Photograph by Nandini Sen. Courtesy of Shashwat Art Gallery, Jammu).

“Such was the attachment to the idea of adorning oneself with some sort of traditional jewellery that a kind of necklace evolved that served as an alternative to the BugdiHaar. Containing coins – in place of Namas – attached to a thread, this necklace was called “Chamakli” by the Gujjars. Poorer sections would wear coins of a lower denomination, but at no point was it deemed acceptable to stop wearing jewellery altogether” said Dr. Abrol, recounting a custom prevalent among rural Dogra and Gujjar women.

Above: GaniHaar made of beads. (Photograph by Nandini Sen. Courtesy of Shashwat Art Gallery, Jammu)

The demands of modern life coupled with steep prices of gold and silver have sadly lead only a wisp of that erstwhile fondness for jewellery to remain. Notwithstanding the waning desire to wear, there is a need to know these ornaments at a time when knowledge and information surrounding them is fast diminishing. Else, this legacy of a richly memorable past may unobtrusively slip away like a special guest who was uncared for.

Above: Alternative to the BugdiHaar/Chamakli. (Photograph by Nandini Sen. Courtesy of Shashwat Art Gallery, Jammu)

Written by NandiniSen




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