Temple Jewelry - Devadasi Decadence

2013 Aug 31 - by Nadya
Temple jewelry has origins in, you guessed it, Hindu temples.  Originally it was the jewelry that statues of deities were adorned with during poojas and later the jewelry that temple dancers (Bharatnatyam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, and Kathak dancers) wore when they preformed.  Nowadays, the bridal wedding trousseau has borrowed a few pieces from the gods, including armbands, brooches, and belts.

  • Who: Temple jewelry
  • What: Jewelry that is influenced by the jewelry typically worn by temple deities and dancers (devadasis).
  • When: Dates back to the 9th century.
  • Where: Began in South India.
  • Variations: Polki diamonds are sometimes used in North Indian versions of temple jewelry.
  • Process: Stones are inserted into a gold or gold-style base.

Temple jewelry has a trickle-down history.  It started with only being allowed on the statues of deities in South Indian temples.  These jewels were donations from pilgrims and devotees.  When a person died their jewelry would often be given to the temple because it was believed to ease their passage into the afterlife.  Gifts like these have been recorded at temples in Chidambaram, Kanchipuram, Madurai, Srirangam, Thanjavur, and Tiruvanamalai, to name a few.  The actual jewelry that was given did not survive but we know what these pieces must have looked like since jewelry like them were represented on the temple images of that time.

From there the Bharatnatyam dancers who performed in the temples began to wear Temple jewelry.  Slowly Temple jewelry began to appear in other temples around the country, began to be worn by other dancers, and eventually was in vogue for rajas and maharanis.  Temple jewelry became more widespread after that as women all over India began wearing Temple pieces.

Kemp stones, which are uncut polished red and green stones, are the most characteristic bit of Temple jewelry.  They are fitted into a gold base alongside precious and semi-precious stones.  The base itself can be pure gold, gold plated silver, or imitation gold.  The costume pieces tend to be heavier than the high-end stuff because they have a copper or basemetal base.


Temple jewelry can range from the high-end to the costume.  There are a few ancient family clans that continue to produce Temple jewelry pieces today based on the old techniques, but these pieces can be incredibly expensive.  Mostly jewelry-makers will substitute more affordable materials to appeal to the huge demand.

Temple jewelry includes pretty much every jewelry item you can think of.  Necklaces, chokers, pendants, hairpieces, bun ornaments, belts, noserings, brooches, bracelets, and earrings are just some of the pieces it extends to.  Jhumkis, the massive dangling earrings that sometimes hook into hair for support, are especially popular and in South India it is common even for young girls to wear them.

Even after the Temple jewelry pieces are worn at the wedding, brides may continue to wear the pieces throughout the year at various festivals and temple outings.  It is believed that Temple jewelry brings the wearer luck.

Generally Temple jewelry is shaped in waves, dots, and lines and pieces often depict peacocks, lotuses, as they are popular in Hindu iconography, and dancing deities.  As far as trends are concerned with Temple jewelry, which is basically ancient, Ganesha motifs and Om pendants have been popular for a while.  I guess it can't stray too far from its origins.

Sources: Jewels in India, India Mart in USAKerala Tourism, and Ishwaryaa Dhandapani

Photos courtesy of GIA and Gitanjali