“ All that glisters is not gold. Often have you heard that told”
– William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
How true !!! All that glisters for me is usually silver J. However, traditionally in India, ‘gold’ has been the more coveted metal for jewellery. So it comes as no surprise that most heirlooms in Indian families are in gold and not silver.
My family is an exception to this rule. My grandmother was a simple village woman from the hills of Uttarakhand and like most women there, she used to adorn herself with silver. She had some priceless pieces that she passed on to her daughter and her daughter in laws. My mother being the eldest inherited a necklace, which is so heavy that she couldn’t wear it so much. As a child I had always admired it and used to pester mum to give it to me when I grow up. She would laugh it off as most mothers do.
We had actually forgotten about it when one fine day, a couple of years ago, I chanced upon it in one of the boxes in mom’s cupboard. It was lying there untouched for a decade at least. I took it upon myself to wear this ethnic chain as a tribute to my grand mom who used to wear this all day long while she went about her daily chores. And overtime I’ve managed to successfully sport this necklace with both Indian as well as Western outfits. It’s an heirloom that I’ve begun to cherish more than perhaps my mom ever did. It’s like this reminder of my ‘Pahadi’ roots and I simply love wearing it.
Another beautiful ornament she owned were ethnic bracelets called ‘Ponchees’. These are an essential part of Bridal jewellery in the ‘Kumaon’ region but I’ve always seen the gold ones as more popular. My aunt inherited a beautiful silver pair from my grand mom and I always yearned to have one in silver. Though I own a gold ponchee but the silver ones are just too fascinating. I pestered my mom to hunt one original one for me, preferably an old, worn pair with each bead that is handmade (something that we don’t get to see anywhere). She went to jewelers in Rishikesh but to no avail until on one of her trips to my father’s ancestral village, she chanced upon this lovely old worn out pair at the only jewellery shop there. Someone had sold it to the shop for some short change that very day and the jeweler was going to melt it for the silver. Fortunately mom bought it and I own that beauty now. Cant really say how old that ornament could be but I am told that this design has been out of production for a good half century because of the tedious workmanship required to make each bead by hand. It’s easier to get machine made beads and assemble those. No wonder the beads are so beautiful.
My grandmother also used to wear a necklace called the ‘shutra’. Another heavy piece, that used to be a common sight in the hills. My aunt got this as a gift from my grandmother. Imagine wearing this while you slog in the fields, fetch water from the river, milk the cows or grind the flour on a hand-mill. It all sounds so unbelievable and yet it was reality not so long ago for most women in Uttarakhand.
Another similar neckpiece that is popular in Uttarakhand hills is called ‘Hasuli’. Unfortunately, nobody in my family owned one and I had only seen it in pictures depicting Uttarakhand women. Fortunately for me, I chanced upon an antique one at a jewllery store in ‘Paltan Bazaar’, Dehradun J It was part of the display in the shop and I just couldn’t stop admiring it. I asked the salesperson there about it and she kept discouraging me and showing me the “Not for sale, Display only” banner. I was told that some lady had sold it to their ancestral shop (in Tehri, Uttarakhand) almost two decades ago and it had travelled all the way to be part of the display along with other traditional jewellery. While they refused to sell it, most of the sales persons were intrigued by my interest in an old, second hand ‘hasuli’. They showed me new ones available in the store but, having heard the story of the piece I was relentless and I kept pestering them to sell it to me. The workmanship of this piece is excellent and the old world charm intact. There are cheaper and lighter versions now available everywhere but this one sure steals the cake J This necklace would’ve been a priceless heirloom for someone like me and though it hasn’t been technically inherited, it is no less an heirloom for me.
The reason why I shared this is because I’ve realised how silver jewellery from Uttarakhand is just disappearing and most of us don’t even know what all existed. There is definite charm in our heirlooms but most women in my family have either exchanged those with new jewellery L or have long forgotten the existence of such priceless jewels with their mothers or grandmothers. My love for the old has inspired me to dig out what my female ancestors from the hills used to wear and to make it a part of my life as much as I can.
Do share your heirloom pictures and stories with me if you like. It’s always a pleasure hearing about family heirlooms.