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Customery Practices

Earrings in India

Assam Thuria

Dr. Waltraud Ganguly

Earrings have a special status in Indian jewellery; they are highly decorative and beautify the face. Moreover, they are a

sign of identification for their wearers or for a geographic region. These signs of identity and social status are mostly given up in urban areas, where earrings are mostly machine-made fancy items without any particular meaning. Because of discomfort in wearing big silver ear ornaments are also more and more replaced by small and light fashionable gold earrings.

 


Malevolent spirits, the butas, are believed to enter the body through the ear apertures and may cause damage to the neighbouring brain. The openings must therefore be protected by earrings as amulets, causing a constant stimulation of the so-called marma points, which are similar to the modern acupuncture points. 

Earrings can be used as investment, although the material value is often very little. A jeweller often functions as a pawn-broker or banker.

Evolution from natural models
Ideas for Indian ear ornament designs are mostly taken from nature. Adivasi still use natural materials as ear ornaments, like palm leaf scrolls, bamboo sticks, wood or shola pithNagaland Tong Pang. The reason for using metal instead is primarily the wish to stabilise the fragile natural pieces and to gain prestige by using silver or gold.

The most beautiful and elegant natural models were of course flowers. The sanskrit word karnphul for large ear discs means "flower of the eaReang Nabak & Warikr". Favourites are flowers like marigold and lotus, which are also important in religious ceremonies.

Leaves or rather their imitation in metal are as well used as earrings. Up to three small stylised leaflets may be fixed in the rim of the upper ear. Bigger, heart-shaped leaves are suspended by loop from the lobe.

Even snakes were in several areas used as models for earrings. The kings of the snakes are the Nagas, who guard the treasures of the nether world. Nagas are esteemed as the guardians of life energy and thereby a symbol of fertility. 

Earrings of the North-East
The "Seven Sisters" have their verAssam Keruy distinctive unmistakable earrings, which all have a longstanding tradition and are still proudly worn in many regions.

Assamese jewellery tradition dates back to the Ahom kingdom. Jewellers started a revival of old designs in the 1960s, which has produced such interesting earrings as the lokaparo (pigeon), the joonbiri (crescent) or the dhol (drum). Apart from these, thuria are still worn, now often adjusted for narrow ear-holes. The main production centres of jewellery in Assam are Jorhat in upper and Barpeta in lower Assam. Earring types of lower Assam are the old crescent-shaped keru and the filigree or granulated thokasona. All artisans are native Assamese. 

From the Brahmaputra valley different are the hilly areas, which are inhabited by several tribal groups who have their own ornaments, like the Karbi Anglong with their huge silver ear-stud nothengpi.

The Ahom kingdom was extended to Arunachal, where Aka and Mishmi women wear srombin, trumpet like tubes and gichli, wire rings of ten cm diameter. Thuria of Assam are also worn in Arunachal, in addition to bamboo plugs and nadaung, bright pieces of amber in the earlobe. Similar earrings, made of burmite, are worn in Manipur by the hill people.
Karbi Anglong Nothengpi
In Meghalaya, Garo men and women wear brass rings in the lobe, sometimes ten and more of them. In the upper ear are worn nadirong, which are also brass rings. Penta are small pieces of ivory for the upper ear, projecting upwards. 

In Mizoram, men wear small wooden studs or a bead of amber suspended by a string through the lobe. Women wear wooden or ivory plugs in their distended lobes. 

In Nagaland the jinung is worn by Chang, Khiamniungan, and Yimchunger. It is made of shell and suspended from the cartilaginous part of the ear. The typical decoration in V-form is supposed to represent the loins from which fertility spreads.  

The tongpang, which is made of rock crystal or glass, is worn by Ao- and Konyak Naga. The weight is 85 g - 100 g, it is suspended in the distended lobe, the opening showing downward.                                                                                                                          

These earrings are said to possess an enchanting or bewitching effect, with which women charm their lovers at night, because the face of the wearer is illuminated by the earrings.

Bones and beads, decorated with dyed hair, are also worn in the ear by Naga men. 

In Tripura, the Reang (they call themselves Bru) wear warik (long silver studs) in the upper ear. In their distended lobes they put large crescent shaped nabak, secured in the hole by a short tube nakhum.

The Chakma mostly follow Hinayana Buddhism. The filigree convex stud raijyore of the Buddhist Chamkma looks alike from front and back; the two separate identical parts are connected by a thin screwed plug. A jhumki-like pendant jwanka may be attached.                                
December 2009

Dr. Waltraud Ganguly is a retired medical doctor, who is married to a Bengali. She has vastly travelled all over India since 37 years, the last ten years spending only to collect information about traditional Indian ear ornaments. She published the results 2007 in her book "Earrings, ornamental identity and beauty in India", published by B.R.Publishing Corporation, Delhi. Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Read her article about snake earrings http://asianart.com/articles/ganguly/index.html