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The snake earring of India

Traditions and cultures in different parts of India have always inspired me, specially those from South India. Each and every villages in South India is having different religious meaning and social significance. In some area we can see a woman wears a particular type of earring as a sign of identity of membership in the defined social group into which she was born, by wearing the specific earring of her community, and by that she continues the tradition of her ancestors.
If we take a look in to different regions of India, we can see man more customs like this.. Actually, a lot.. (there are a lot of history lying over there).. Many of them have extincted or neglected, where some others will follow this fate under the pressure of values of tradition and heritage.
Recently when I was talking to my friend, she told me about this special earring and I really got interested by that.
It is one of the most interesting and conspicuous traditional Indian earring type, which can be found in three far-apart areas of India.
– Orissa in the East
– Tamil Nadu in the South
– Gujarat/Rajasthan in the West.

It is the Snake earring/Pambadam.
It is not certain how long the snake earring have actually been worn by the Indian women, because no antique common jewellery remain due to custom of melting all the ornaments when a person dies. However there are medieval temple sculptures showing earring with cobras, so we can summarize that tribal groups has probably used snake ornaments as long as they have worshiped them.

Sculpture with Pambadam
In Orissa and Gujarat snake earring are called nagulu or nagali from the sanskrit naga – snake. In Tamil Nadu the name pambadam is derived from the Tamil word pamba means snake.
Although the earring name refers to the snake, the shape of the ornament does not resembles the original model much.
Actually now these days the purpose of wearing the snake emblem is forgotten. With different believes, the emblem may stands for snake bite, the wish for fertility and longevity and also indicate  devotion to lord Vishnu.

Nagali earrings
Nagali earrings
Bharvad woman wearing nagali earring.
Bharvad woman wearing nagali earring.
Nagalu earring - spirals of thick silver wire end in a flat heart-shaped piece indicating the hood of the cobra
Nagalu earring – spirals of thick silver wire end
in a flat heart-shaped piece indicating the hood of the cobra.
Woman of the Saora tribe wearing a long nagulu in her distended lobe, a habit now almost abandoned due to the change of dressing customs
Woman of the Saora tribe wearing a long nagulu in her distended lobe, a habit
now almost abandoned due to the change of dressing customs

In Tamil Nadu, people carefully avoid speaking disrespectfully of snakes: the cobra is called nalla tambiranthe good lord” or nalla pambu “the good snake”. The snake earrings of South India, pambadam and nagavadura, are the types with the greatest likeness to real cobras. Of the two, nagavadura were mainly worn in the northern parts of the province. They are practically extinct now, while pambadam are still worn and produced in the southern half of Tamil Nadu.

Nagavadura of northern Tamil Nadu
Nagavadura of
northern Tamil Nadu
 Pambadam, the conspicuous earrings of farmers and artisans in southern Tamil Nadu - Gold sheet filled with wax for stability; total weight 20-65 g, gold weight 16 g
Pambadam, the conspicuous earrings of farmers and artisans in southern Tamil
Nadu – Gold sheet filled with wax for stability; total weight 20-65 g, gold weight 16 g

The unique shape of both earring types has caused many attempts at interpretation in the west, from pecking birds to saddles. As goldsmiths in Nagercoil explained to me however, pambadam represent without any doubt a stylised egg-laying cobra, coiled on her nest, her head erect and her hood wide spread.

Cobras are the only snakes known to build a real nest of earth and dead plants for incubating their eggs. The most striking feature of a cobra is the characteristic hood with a distinctive circle pattern which is explained by this story: Kaliya was a poisonous Naga living in the Yamuna River. Once Krishna and the herd-boys were playing together, when their ball fell into the river. Krishna jumped after it while Kaliya rose and attacked him. Krishna at once assumed the weight of the whole universe and, jumping on Kaliya’s head, danced on it defeating the Naga. Kaliya, respecting the greatness of Krishna, surrendered with the promise not to harass anybody in future. So Krishna pardoned him and then let him go free to leave the river.

The circles on the hoods of the cobra are believed to be the footprints left by the divine boy dancing on the heads of the defeated Naga Kaliya. The mark is also supposed to protect the serpent from its archenemy, the bird Garuda. On the “hood” of the pambadam earring, the footprints are always depicted as a large round applique.The cobra wears on its head the mani or precious jewel, which is clearly visible in the earring as a pyramidal knob, while the big balls represent the snake’s eggs.

woman wearing Pambadam.
woman wearing Pambadam.

– Older women in rural ares wear pambadam made of six earrings.
– Ear studs can be kadukkan (single stone)
– Kammal (lotus shaped with rubies or diamonds)
– Jimikki (bell shapped ear drops)
– Lolaakku (eardrops of any design)
– Maattal which is made of gold or pearls and is hooked to the earring and then attach to the hair above the ear.

Nowadays, as part of ‘modernization’ daughters ask their mothers to refain from wearingpambadam, for which distended earlobes are required. Mothers can accordingly sell their earrings and have their distended lobes cut and stitched together for a small hole that can hold a fancy stud only.

Shankarankovil, a small place in South India, pambadam are still regularly made and its possible to watch the process. to have them ready in time, the goldsmith prepares the different elements in advance.

Workshop of a goldsmith making pambadam from thin sheet and pleated gold foil that is molded into ball forms of different size
Workshop of a goldsmith making pambadam from thin sheet and pleated gold foil
that is molded into ball forms of different size

Pleated gold foil is molded in a die of the balls; all flat pieces are cut freehand from the sheet. Even the screws are self-made by twisting wires around a peg. The balls (eggs of the snake) are filled with melting wax through a small opening. Bee’s wax with some chemical additives is used to make long coiled-up threads for filling. Finally, all single parts are assembled and soldered.
Interesting right??
I really wish to watch it..
The demand of pambadam that appear almost like a little cubistic sculpture is reinforced by orders from Europe and America, in a way connecting East and West through the fascination of the mysterious reptiles and their assumed occult power.

See, a simple earring have a lot to tell us.. A lot of history and traditions..
There will be a lot like this which we have never even heard about..
Ya, really a lot.. Let me see, maybe I can help you to know about those…

🙂 🙂 🙂

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Author:

Hi! I'm Anjali. I am just a simple girl little more than ordinary…. I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious. I am ambitious and I follow my heart..

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