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  • Vaishali Rathore

BLING! Men’s Jewellery in princely India

The ostentatious jewels of India’s erstwhile royal houses could easily outshine the collections of Boucheron & Cartier. The unrivalled extravagance and unabashed flamboyance seldom failed to make a statement. Jewelry has been deeply rooted in Indian heritage and aesthetic. In fact, the very word itself invokes a riot of unmitigated panache and grandiosity. India has been revered in the past as ‘sone ki chidiya (the golden bird)’ as it was truly the bounty of the world’s most astonishing treasure troves- be it spiritual wisdom, its rich spice enclaves, a thriving trade and textiles industry and much more. Amongst these assets, India’s astonishing jewels attracted the fascination of the rest of the world. While some admirers gawped at India’s glittering jewelry in awe, others envied the splendor and opulence. Whether in admiration or in envy, India’s rich collection of jewelry was nearly impossible to ignore.


Sarpech and multilayerd kanthi mala as seen in the image taken during a wedding ritual. Photo courtesy: Thakur Hanuman Singh Rathore (author's grandfather)


As in the case of art, creative expression in the form of jewelry is a varying and highly subjective topic. For one, jewelry stands as the cypher of wealth and opulence for the splendidly rich. For the common man, on the other hand, it is an asset, an investment. At other times, jewels are treated as spiritual symbols that help align the celestial planets and totems for aligning horoscopes and fortunes.


Even though most jewelry related imageries are portrayed around women, ornamentation itself has never been the sole territory of women, not in the Indian subcontinent at least. Take the Maharajas of ancient India as an example, who are remembered for their flamboyant display of regalia. Marilyn Monroe might have stated that ‘diamonds are a girl’s best friend’ but in the magical land of India, the love affair of men with the grandest of jewels is well known in history.


The jewels for the royal Indian man were not only limited to signet rings and pearl strings like their European counterparts, but also included large collections of unique and spectacular jewelry. Over time, Westernisation heralded the steep decline of men’s jewelry, and largely confined it to a bracelet, ring or chains. From being the centerpiece of elite men’s stylization jewelry was relegated to a humble accessory that one wore but seldom flaunted for the sake of manhood.


Albeit a rarity now, several mensfolk across Indian cultures draw out their finest jewelry from their bank vaults and don them on ceremonial occasions. In present-day Rajasthan, however, jewelry is treated with more equality between the genders. Listed below are some of the most dazzling and cherished pieces of men’s jewelry in north Indian history.


The Sarpech

1.) Bejeweled Maharaja Chamarajendra Wadiyar X of Mysore seen wearing traditional Indian ornaments such as sarpech and a multilayered necklace. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The sarpech is a turban ornament. It comprises two words, Sar which means “head” and pech which means “screw ”, literally defined as something which is screwed onto the front of a turban. The exquisite jewel has been significant in the history of men’s jewelry and often decked the turbans of Hindu, Sikh and Muslim royalty. Back in the 17th century, the sarpech used to be a single unit, resembling a plume.


In the 18thcentury, two side pieces were added. Sarpech, which even imitates a bejeweled feather, is worn on the right side of the turban. The basic structure is flat and it is intricately encrusted with the finest uncut diamonds, emeralds and other precious stones. This ornament remains an incomparably priceless heirloom in many families to date and continues to adorn the turbans of men of the Rajput community at their weddings.



Necklace or Kanthi

Be it kundan or jadau dripping in gold and diamonds, ropes of incomparable pearls and necklaces continue to adorn the necks of women across the globe. In ancient India, men too were seen dazzling in eye-grabbing strings of the finest emeralds, rubies and sapphires called malas.


Kanthi is the most impressive necklace worn by men of Rajput descent at weddings and other ceremonial gatherings. The word kanthi is derived from the Sanskrit word kantha, which means throat, where this ornament rests.


Maharaja Bhupinder Singhji of Patiala is remembered for commissioning the Patiala necklace to Cartier. The piece de resistance which would pale all the other royal jewels in comparison, for the iconic necklace was embellished with more than 2000 diamonds and Burmese rubies. At its center lay the De Beers diamond.

An illustration of Koh-I-noor(centre) in it's original setting, studded in a armlet. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Maharaja Yadavindra Singh ji wearing the iconic Patiala necklace designed by Cartier (1930s) Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Albeit largely reserved for women today, many men of royal Indian descent continue to don ornamental necklaces at weddings and other ceremonies.


Baju-band / Armlet

A baju- band or an armlet is an ornament which encloses the upper arm. It is said that Maharaja Ranjit Singhji of Punjab had flaunted the illustrious Koh-i-Noor on his arm studded in a baju-band. The baju- band continues to find relevance in the traditional attire of the women of Rajasthan but a close survey will reveal present-day grooms of royal houses sporting gem-studded kundan armlets on their ivory brocade achkan and sherwanis.


Kadas/Bangles

Kadas are thick bangles commonly worn by men across India. Among royalty, they are made of silver and gold intricately carved with motifs.


Leg Adornments

Dastaband Almas or anklets are gold adornments worn on the right ankle by men. Historically, this ornament was awarded to men of honour in the Rajput Durbars. While most north Indians are wary of wearing gold below the torso, men and women in Rajput cultures have worn exquisite anklets carved of gold throughout history and continue to do so.


Sarpech (turban ornament), Kanthi necklace and Dastaband almas as depicted in the image of a member of the royal court. Image courtesy: Vaishali Rathore


Glittering accessories

Other than statement pieces like the ones mentioned above, bling for men also includes stone-studded gold buttons and cufflinks, diamond brooches, rings and bracelets. This article aims to comprehensively cover some key ornamental heirlooms worn by north Indian men across history unto the present day. However, much of the complexity of this topic outlives the span of this feature. Jewelry aesthetic and history is a complex yet fascinating topic and jewelry continues to be seamlessly interwoven with the heritage of India. It can be read as a person’s relationship with his community, his status, religion and most importantly, themselves.



Disclaimer: Rajputana Collective doesn't claim any copyright on the aforementioned content/ photos, neither does it endorse the views/facts in this article. All facts, views and opinions reflected herein belong solely to the author, and all image copyrights either belong to or have been procured by her.



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vinay pratap
vinay pratap
Feb 10, 2023

This is so well-researched and thorough.I'm impressed.” “You make it seem so effortless, but I know you must have worked hard on this.”

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