The Progression of Quintessential Indian Jewellery

The age-old romance between India and jewellery has only gotten stronger over generations. From being a symbol of status to becoming a symbol of self-love and high fashion, we follow the journey of the ottiyanam, jadai and kasumala, as they evolve to something more than just an adornment.

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Jewellery: Kirtilals


Jewellery has been an imperative part of the social and cultural fabric of India and the world since time immemorial. It was not only worn as a piece of adornment, but also worked as a symbol of status, affiliation to a particular sect or even as a charm to protect oneself.

The journey of jewellery in the subcontinent dates back to over 5000 years ago, but remains an inherent part of our lives even now as a pivotal emblem of adornment and beauty. Patronised by royalty or worn as daily accessory, it has been key to a wardrobe for eons. The evolution of jewellery is fascinating from the point of view of design, material, craftsmanship and even usage, reflecting the pulse of the generation that it is being worn in.

Natural diamond jewellery that is anchored in traditional designs and complemented with other precious materials holds a special place on the Indian jewellery canvas. It is a veritable window to the rich and varied heritage of the country.

The ottiyanam, jadai and kasumala are some of the unique pieces that have been integral to the jewellery-scape of India, especially in the south. The modern appeal of these pieces has also grown over the decades, while staying hinged on its classical essence. Even the high-carat treasures are now being conceived and crafted as easy going multi-use pieces so that the wearer can make use of them on many more occasions.

Ottiyanam: Carving a new niche

Walk through any ancient temple in South India, and the Ottiyanam or the ornamental hip-belt cannot be missed on sculptures of women. It was both a practical inclusion to hold the sari in place and a special piece to enhance the waistline, conjectured to have been worn by women even in the Indus Valley civilisation.

So popular is the Ottiyanam, that Coimbatore based Kirtilals Jewellers, created the first ever natural diamond encrusted ottiyanam for acclaimed actress and Bharatnatyam dancer Padmini, in the year 1953.

“It was handcrafted with Goddess Lakshmi as the focal point in the centre. 16 carats of round brilliant diamonds were set on a 350 gms gold belt, to create this exquisite piece. A classic pose struck by the actress has become synonymous with her legendary performance, and immortalised the ottiyanam. Over the years, the same ottiyanam has been recreated several times for individual consumers. It has been worn at weddings and special occasions, keeping the essence of the original one intact, while making the design more contemporary with modern motifs.

What is also interesting is that just as North Indian and Western designs have trickled into the Southern sensibilities, the ottiyanam is one piece of jewellery that has had a reverse migration. It originates in the south, but is now cherished by the north as well,” says Ms. Seema Mehta, Creative Director of Kirtilal Kalidas Jewellers Pvt Ltd. 

Today, the ottiyanam designs reflect a subtle elegance of a modern heirloom. The designs range from thin strands studded with natural diamonds, which can easily be paired with a crisp white shirt for an in-office meeting day to a fun, playful, bolder avatar, paired with shorts and a crop top for a girls’ day out.

Though once a traditional jewellery piece the ottiyanam has added many more years to its purpose by fitting into the modern world.

Romancing the tresses: The Jadai

Hair is an integral part of one’s identity, and has always been celebrated in the Indian tradition. Bejewelled, floral hair braids and long luscious hair have been an emblem of beauty. It is no surprise that the Jadai, (hair accessory worn along the length of a plait), has been an essential part of Indian jewellery, especially for brides.

Earlier, the Jadai was a heavy piece of jewellery replete with intricate designs and made of gold and encrusted with gems and natural diamonds. Today, the jadai has transitioned to staying rooted in the classic use, but made lighter and more versatile.

The modern designs are lighter, encrusted with smaller, more elegant natural diamonds, so as to not weigh the hair down. Some designs are created in a way where the pieces can be detached and worn as individual pieces to give one’s hair a chic, distinctive look.

More than tradition – The Kasumala

The Kasumala too, has found a new avtaar since its origin. It is dominantly used in Kerala and comes from a Malayalam word, where ‘kasu’ means ‘coin’ and ‘mala’ is ‘necklace’.

This coin necklace is a vital part of bridal wear in South India. It was traditionally given to the bride by her family as an auspicious piece of jewellery to set out on her new married life. The classic version was made only in gold with Goddess Lakshmi engraved on it, and was worn with the other necklaces on the day of the wedding. Most brides choose to wear the kasumala that belonged to their grandmothers or mothers, making this piece a perfect heirloom.

The evolution of the Kasumala has been extremely interesting, as many brides now want to use it on many more occasions such as office parties, festivals and family functions, as opposed to the wedding alone. The gold has been complemented with natural diamonds and other precious stones. The classic make and placement of the gold coins in rhythmic repetition still gives it a traditional essence, while natural diamonds allow for contemporary designs and pieces to step in, and take one’s style and fashion up a notch. Each year, the kasumala sees new design upgrades, in line with the versatile need of the hour.

The evolution of the ottiyanam, jadai and kasumala speaks volumes of India’s love for its heritage and adaptability. This trend can be traced to other pieces as well, such as the chandbalis, gulbandh and bracelets.

India, being an epicentre of craft, traditions and cultures, has adapted from classic styles to sensational contemporary pieces, aligning to the modern needs, yet staying true to the original styles.Natural diamonds have especially found a new place in these jewellery pieces with innovative settings, colours, flexible wear and lighter options to make pieces more universally appealing.