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In ancient times people made jewelry out of natural materials like seeds, feathers, leaves, berries, fruits, flowers, animal bones, claws and teeth. A glimpse of this tradition can still be seen in the tribal societies. In India the ornaments are made practically for every part of the body. The early people made jewelry not only for humans but also for the gods and decorating animals like elephants and horses, on special occasions.
The fact that Jewelry tradition in India is thousands years old is proved by the description of Shakuntala's jewelry by the great poet Kalidasa. It is interesting to note that both men and women of ancient times wore jewelry made of gold, silver, copper, ivory and precious and semi-precious stones. We find the description of jewelry in the great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and also in the code of Manu that defines various duties of the goldsmith. As a result of this old tradition India has been a leading exporter of gemstones and manufactured jewelry.
In India the ornaments are made virtually for every part of the body. The craft of jewelry was enjoyed royal patronage since ancient times. The rajas and maharajas rivaled each other to possess the most exquisite and the most magnificent pieces of jewelry. Jewelry in India fulfils many purposes and wearing it has several connotations. At the most obvious level, it is a form of adornment satisfying one's natural desire to beautify oneself. Nevertheless, jewelry also serves as an identity marker, as security, and as symbol of social contracts. For Hindus, jewelry is associated with many of their religious ceremonies.
Different regions of India have their own jewelry making styles that are unique to them. In states like Orissa and Andhra Pradesh fine filigree work is done in silver. Jaipur is famous for the art of enameling or meenakari. Nagercoil is renowned for its temple jewelry whereas kundan is a trade mark of Delhi. A wide variety of silver beads are found all over India, especially in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh.
In filigree work, patterns of leaves, flowers, butterflies, birds and geometrical shapes are made with silver wires of different thickness. Meenakari and kundan styles of jewelry making are greatly influenced by the Mughals and are generally used in combination to make jewelry that can be worn on both sides such as chokers and necklaces. The temple jewelry of Nagercoil consists of conventional gold ornaments studded with red and green semi-precious stones. These were used as offerings to the Gods and hence the name- temple jewelry.