Along the banks of the river Panchaganga, to the east of Sahyadri mountain ranges, in the southwestern region of Maharashtra, is the grand city of Kolhapur. Anecdotes, concerning the city are many, but one glittering aspect of Kolhapur, apart from its illustrious footwear, are its intricate, almost-ancient, and stylised range of jewellery.
Traditional beauty flourishing in modern times, Kolhapuri jewellery, contains delicate embossing and craftsmanship, and still imbibes, within its designs, patterns left behind by the Marathas and Peshwas, as is the case with most Maharashtrian jewellery.
Jewellery from Kolhapur carries forward glimpses of the history of the region, its cultural essence, traditional ethnic colours, and elements of elegance, from the milieu within which it develops. Generally carved in gold, varied metals, and silver-combined with other metals, embellishments, such as beads, and stones, are also used to support the original designs, to enhance the traditional look of these stunning pieces of jewellery.
Kolhapuri jewellery, a name attributed to the city of its origin, is as spellbinding as any ethnic-modern jewellery from others parts of India. Most jewellers and artisans, keep the traditional designs intact, but also improvise upon some of the older designs, only to make the nouveau ornaments even more gaze-worthy. More than within-the-city itself, this jewellery sells in other cities across the country, and elsewhere.
Incorporating finesse and charm, these artistic pieces, due to their ingenious craftsmanship, are beautiful, adding depth, to the beauty of women, who wear them. Prominent works in this style of jewellery are many; emphasising on some of the crucial ones, we look at what makes these pieces so unique and special.
Worn, almost like a choker, around the neck, created out of tiny gold round beads, in varying sizes, closely knit together, Kolhapuri thushi, is a breathtaking and entrancing neckpiece. Another piece, worn by married women, the Kolhapuri mangalsutra or manchali, is at times, made, using small Kolhapuri pendants, known as saaj ghat.
Sometimes, combined with beads, these pendants are used to engender resplendent pieces of mangalsutras. Deriving names from the peculiarity of their shapes, a range of exquisite haars and malas, like, Pohe haar (strings of necklaces), Putli haar, Mohan mala (bead-chains attached to a central pendant), Bor mala, Chapla haar, Laxmi haar (looks like a necklace of coins), all semi-ethnic, some contemporised, variations of necklaces, are also constructed in Kolhapur.
Expressing mythological beliefs of the city-dwellers, ancient and handmade, the timeless Kolhapuri saaj (or saaz), is associated with affluence, and sacred symbolism. Generally quite popular in Maharashtra, saaj is worn by married women, for the longevity of their husbands, but the Kolhapuri saaj finds immense favour, due to the intricacy of design, and the symbolic pertinence of every small revered constituent. The main pendant, on which, a precious stone sits, is surrounded by numerous small ghagaris (ghagar, meaning water vessel). Traditional form of the Kolhapuri saaj, formerly, included 21 design-elements, in all, though variations, in the number of designs, even or odd, each with some special significance, exist now.
These 21 design-portions mostly, comprise avatars of Vishnu, and symbols of ashtmangal. The Kolhapuri saaj begins with chaphe-kali (frangipani buds), and ends with kirti mukh (a good luck charm). In line are panch panadi (holy leaves), bel leaf (leaf offered to Lord Shiva), bel plant (a plant of three united leaves), ridge gourd (symbolic of all plants), karle or Bitter gourd (life-giving herb), Sun, manik panadi (a gem, symbolising friendship), matsya (fish, or incarnation of Vishnu), Koorma (incarnation of Vishnu), Narasimha (incarnation of Vishnu), rose, beetle, chandra (Moon), emerald, gandbhairi (symbolising unity of husband and wife), morchel (symbolic of kingdom and richness), peacock feather, shankha (Conch), wagh nakhe (tiger nail, symbolising power of weapons), and snake (symbolising union). Other symbols that are used could also be kamal (lotus), kasav (tortoise) and bhunga (bumble bee). The Kolhapuri saaj is woven into green colour silk, and further ornamentation is done. Other atypical, elaborate, and simple creations, deviating slightly from regular themes, have also made their way to hearts of wearers.
Traditional and contemporary Kolhapuri ornaments, graceful, in gold, or in a variety of metals; at times, decorated with coloured embellishments, attenuating their aura, continue to make for splendid objets d’art, in the treasure troves of women.