The jewellery gallery at the national museum is called Alamkara - The Beauty of Ornament. Alamkara is adornment and a body devoid of adornment is imperfect. But once decorated with beautiful ornaments, the body assumes form, becomes visible, attractive and perfect.
The National Museum has the most extensive collection of jewellery in India. More than 250 items displayed here tell the story of Indian jewellery. From the beautifully tumbled agate bead necklaces of Mohenjodaro and Harappa to the fabulous jewels adorned with images of gods and goddesses to the magnificent items that once reposed in the treasuries of the Mughal emperors and the maharajas, the collection spans important periods in Indian history.
There are simple everyday wear items and magnificent creations made for ceremonial occasions. Strikingly stylized forms of the peasants and tribals vie with the extraordinary items that were made for the wealthy. From items fashioned from shell, ivory, bone and silver to those made from gold and encrusted with gemstones; from pieces made to adorn, enhance, beautify to those worn to protect, heal and energize, the jewels of India are on par with all other art forms in the study of Indian aesthetics.
For more than two thousand years, India was the sole supplier of gemstones to the world. Golconda diamonds were coveted and drew merchants across land and sea to India. Emeralds from Colombia, rubies and spinels from Burma and Sri Lanka, sapphires from Kashmir and pearls from the Gulf of Manar and Bahrain poured into gem bazaars scattered across the length and breadth of the country. India was known as the Golden Bird or Sone ki Chidia.
Spanning a legacy of five thousand years, the jewellery of India is a striking expression of the country’s aesthetic and cultural history. The small number of jewels that have survived from different periods and different parts of the country, beautiful jewels carved on sculpted images in ancient temples, references in literature, texts on gemology, myths, legends and chronicles provide evidence of a tradition without parallel in the world.
The exhibition explores Alamkara - the tradition of adornment. The gods were richly bejewelled at all times, men proudly wore jewels, women adorned themselves with ornaments in myriad ways and unique forms protected children from the powerful gaze of the evil-eye. Painstakingly wrought by anonymous goldsmiths in ateliers and workshops across the country, the National Museum collection celebrates the great variety of forms, the beauty of Indian design and the genius of Indian craftsmanship.