The land of temple jewellery

The land of temple jewellery

The land of temple   jewellery
Gokak town in Belagavi district is synonymous with two things — the world-famous Gokak Waterfalls and the lip-smacking dry fruit sweet, karadant. But little do people know that Gokak is also the land of gold antique and temple jewellery.

Though temple jewellery is associated with a few places in South India like Nagercoil, antique and temple jewellery made in Gokak, popularly known as Gokak jewellery, is unique in its design and appeal. This handcrafted jewellery is a symphony of designs derived from the artisans of coastal town of Karwar, the acharis of South India, Vishwakarma community and of late, also the Bengali artisans. The jewellery made here reflects the culture of the border districts of North Karnataka and South Maharashtra and is an essential part of the weddings in this region. The wedding jewellery includes nose ring, mangalsutra, vajratik, mohanmal (both neck-pieces), bajuband (armband) etc.  Due to its splendid royal style with traditional-cum-modern designs, Gokak jewellery has also been used in Bollywood movies like Bajirao Mastani.

Says a local jeweller, Vijay Bafna, “In Gokak jewellery, one can see filigree work, which is native to West Bengal. Also, the technique of nakash is used, which is a sort of hand-made embossing (etching). Nakash work has its origins in South India. These designs are then aesthetically combined with the craftsmanship of the Vishwakarma artisans.”

The designs mainly consist of themes based on gods and goddesses(Lakshmi, Narasimha, Krishna, Rama, Ganesh, apsaras etc) and motifs are derived from the elements of nature like birds, animals, fruits, flowers and plants. Peacock, elephant, mango, flowers, vines and leaves are the commonly used motifs. The intricate architecture and ornate sculptures of the local temples are well reflected in the designs. Earlier, goldsmiths used dies of panchaloha — an alloy consisting of gold, silver, copper, lead and iron. These panchaloha dies gave a better finish to the ornaments as compared to the dies of iron and brass that are used now. But now, many other techniques are used to give a flawless and antique finish. 

Presently, around 800 artisans in Gokak town eke out a living by making Gokak jewellery and four to five large families are engaged in the trade. These artisans have inherited the skills from their ancestors and are taking forward the legacy. They spend day and night to meet the demands as the jewellery made here not only caters to the local jewellery-lovers but also to people in other parts of the country and the world through popular  brands.

A tradition
Making temple jewellery in Gokak is a tradition that dates back to several centuries. “The natural surroundings of Gokak coupled with the cultural elements has inspired the meticulous architecture found in its temples. The panch mandal (trustees of temples) used to engage a number of fine artisans in making unique jewellery for the deity. This encouraged local jewellers to come up with graceful ornaments with designs that mirrored the temple architecture and heritage, which later came to be known as temple jewellery,” explains Vinod Pattar, a traditional jeweller and director of Ultra Jewels Pvt Ltd.

In the old days, diseases like cholera and plague were rampant in the Gokak region. People used to pray to the God to protect them from these diseases and offer gold ornaments to the deity. As the stock of ornaments with similar designs increased, the temples began to give them to local goldsmiths to purchase new ornaments or in return for money to be used for various temple activities. The goldsmiths who purchased these ornaments did not melt them owing to the fear of God, and instead, began stocking it. The art remained localised for many years. However, a few decades ago, a businessman from North India began trading these jewellery pieces and introduced it to other parts of the country. He offered to purchase the stock of stored jewellery from the goldsmiths by offering equivalent gold in return, without reducing the wastage. Lured by the offer, the jewellers of Gokak began  trading with this businessman and the trade went on for years with both the businessman and local jewellers making good profits. There was a good demand for the ethnic designs. Encouraged by this, they ventured into making traditional temple designs. To get perfect designs the present-day goldsmiths went to the villages in search of old artisans, who had the traditional dies. Later, there was a great demand for jewellery that matched the ones worn by royal families.

Slowly, the design elements of the jewellery of the Nizams of Delhi and Nawabs of Hyderabad began amalgamating with the traditional temple jewellery. Also, various temples from across South India began asking for temple jewellery. Thus, Gokak gained a new status as  the land of temple jewellery with antique finish.

A peep into the workshops of goldsmiths in Gokak shows skilful artisans sitting in a row, creating master pieces. Their devotion and passion for the art is unmatched and many feel that the reward for their skill can be much better. They also fear for imitations, which look similar but lack the perfect finishing. It takes around 15 to 20 days to make a handmade neck-piece. Artisans work in groups and get involved in the different stages of jewellery-making depending on their specialisation like nakash work, stone fitting, polishing.

Explain goldsmiths
Bhagwanji Rathod and his son Prakash, “The process of making gold temple jewellery with antique finish involves taking the impression of the die on a gold sheet. This is followed by jaali work (carving on gold). Then, the border (chowkattu in Kannada) is added and then comes filigree work. After this, the stone-fitting work (both precious and semi-precious stones) is done. To make it look antique, red or black-coloured dull polish is done.” Women are involved only in the final step, while threading the gold beads and making them into strings. In some families, all men get engaged in the work. The artisan community comprises pattars — local artisans, Bengalis, and artisans from the coastal towns of the State. There are artisans in the age group of 16 to 60 years. Many have taken it up as family profession and do not have formal training in jewellery making.

To give toughness to the jewellery, which is the main essence of temple jewellery, the artisans either use pure gold or lac, as per the demand and budget of the customers. Viscous lac (wax-based) makes the ornaments lightweight and reduces  gold requirement, but some people prefer the ornaments to be made of complete gold. Pearls are added if the design requires it. With the increased purchasing power of people, goldsmiths of Gokak are coming up with fresh temple designs. They are also expanding their reach and are keeping alive the heritage.

Temple jewellery is different due to its intricate nakash work and use of stones, and is inspired by the South Indian culture. The artisans of Gokak gave a new form to it. Motif of peacock is an integral part of the temple jewellery here, apart from elephant motif, which is considered auspicious. However, when the jewellery is exported to Gulf countries, only floral designs are preferred. With the efforts of dedicated artisans and enthusiastic jewellers, a legacy lives on.
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