First comes the silver

Tribal bling: The nomadic Gujjars and Bakarwals are also known for the jewellery their women wear 

Trademark: Gujjar and Bakarwal women wear long silver chains.

In all my growing-up years in Jammu and Kashmir, I was always fascinated by Gujjars and Bakarwals for their nomadic lifestyles — the oscillation between the higher reaches of the mountains to the plains of Jammu in winters — and for the beautiful jewellery that their women wore.

Perhaps, this is the reason that my love for silver jewellery rose to the level of a passion. Though I have a treasure of silver ornaments collected over the years from Jaipur to Sadar Bazar to Dilli Haat, and even as far as Turtuk in Leh, the fascination for silver jewellery of the nomads of Jammu and Kashmir remains at the top.

Adornment

The exotic Gujjar and Bakarwal tribal women wear heavy and artistic jewellery, most of which is made of silver. The twin tribes, with their social, cultural and linguistic identities, also form the third largest community in Jammu and Kashmir.

Gujjars, primarily a nomadic community, have now adopted a sedentary lifestyle in villages on the plains bordering the foothills, and have taken to land cultivation as their primary occupation. However, a marginal population of the Gujjars is semi-settled and combines land cultivation with pastoralism.

Gujjars are the ones who move to the lower and middle-mountain areas of Pir Panjal pastures where they engage in cultivation in the summer with their flock of buffaloes and come back to the plains in the winters. Bakarwals are the ones who travel as far as Dras and Kargil from the Jammu plains as part of their traditional nomadic journeys.

Nutural love

The Gujjar and Bakarwal women are fond of jewellery, especially necklaces. Women wear long chains made of silver known as gani and haseeri. One variety of the tribal necklaces has a triangular pendant studded with a stone in the centre. It symbolises the ‘evil eye’ and is used to avert bad luck. Other types of necklaces are dodmala, made of small pieces of pointed silver; hamel, made of strung coins and a heavy pendant; the jomala and the hansli.

A majority of married women from the nomadic tribes have pierced noses adorned with silver nose pins, which come in different sizes and denote whether the girl is married or not. Among a few Gujjar elderly, nose is pierced on both sides. While unmarried girls wear a small string of silver, those married have their nose decorated with a big silver ring studded with stones or pearls.

The murki is another nose ornament, suspended from central nose and mostly worn by young girls. The smallest nose pin, nali, is worn by girls; a slightly bigger nose pin, teera, is worn by older girls, while married women wear large and intricate nose pins known as loung.

Their ears droop with the weight of a dozen balis or silver rings with bells. The jhumkas also dangle and tinkle. They also wear a fancy silver cap or crown on the head known as chonk phool, a bowl-shaped ornament fastened to the head. The wrists have weighty silver karas.

The Gujjar brides wear chains, dolara, sargast, mahail, gani, earrings, bangles, rings, all made of silver.

All along the traditional nomadic routes of these twin tribes, a number of silversmiths have been working since ages. They cater to the needs of the nomadic people.

Men sometimes wear rings of silver, but they usually don’t put on heavy jewellery. The typical Gujjar kameez or shirt has silver buttons. Silver beads hooked to the buttons produce a sound. Silver studs called mogla are used as cuff-links. Silver anklets called jhanjra are worn along with the anguthra on a silver ring on the big toe.

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First comes the silver

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