Since I love jewellery which has a story to tell, tribal jewellery has always been my favourite and 8 out of 10 pieces I have are tribal jewellery from across the country, especially Rajasthan. Little did I know that my own state has a unique group of people, the Banjaras, who are masters of embroidery, silver jewellery and mirror-work. I came across them while travelling across North Karnataka a few years back.
According to http://www.banjarazone.com, the Banjaras are a nomadic people from Rajasthan, North-West Gujarat, and Western Madhya Pradesh and Eastern Sindh province of pre-independence Pakistan now spread across the entire country but mostly in Telangana, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Karnataka has the second highest population of Banjaras in the country at an estimated 1.1 million, spread all over the state. They claim to belong to the clan of Agnivanshi Rajputs, and are also known as Banjari, Pindari, Bangala, Banjori, Banjuri, Brinjari, Lamani, Lamadi, Lambani, Labhani, Lambara, Lavani, Lemadi, Lumadale, Labhani Muka, Goola, Gurmarti, Gormati, Kora, Sugali, Sukali, Tanda, Vanjari, Vanzara,and Wanji. They are divided in three tribes, Maturia, Labana, and Charan.
Lambanis have one of the richest and most vibrant cultures in Karnataka. Their intricate art work and artisan skills are unmatched. Several NGOs have been working to promote their skills by reinterpreting their traditional arts and crafts in the contemporary scenario. The women attached to the NGOs now do their traditional embroidery on clutches, totes and stoles. Their jewellery which is often heavy (and too big for daily wear) is broken down to smaller elements and redesigned into smaller pieces. Clothing and Home Decor brands like Fabindia take the help of these NGOs to make kurtas, sarees, dupattas, cushion covers and quilts with elements of Banjara embroidery and mirror work.
Karnataka’s famous Sandur Lambani embroidery has a Geographic Indication (GI) tag. The GI tag for the art comes with the join effort of the Sandur Kushala Kala Kendra, a non-governmental organisation, and the Karnataka State Handicrafts Development Corporation, which sells handicraft products under the brand ‘Cauvery’. The Sandur Lambani embroidery is unique with its combination of darning, cross stitch and mirror work mirror work. Read here about Lambani Embroidery
My interest is mainly in their jewellery which is made of gold, silver, other alloys, thread, ivory and beads. The women deck themselves with pieces from head to toe literally. The ornaments are closely associated with their dress and their social status. The typical ornament is a bell shaped one tied over the head and hanging down from behind the ears – a big hollow earring which is stuffed with dyed sheep’s wool and lined with small silver bells called the jhumka. They wear a gold nath (ring) on their nose, many beaded necklaces, chokers (haasli) and coin neck pieces (har) around their neck, bangles made of various materials stud the entire arm, rings on all fingers, several anklets and toe rings. Their blouse and odhani (dupatta) are also studded with silver elements.
Of course their jewellery needs to be reinterpreted to suit modern tastes and compliment contemporary outfits and the NGOs have been successful in doing so. Now you can find their traditional jewellery toned down for the urban customer. Sandur Kushala Kendra (SKK) and Sabala Handicrafts are the pioneers. You can write to SKK for a catalogue and order from it. Their jewellery is a mix of thread work and alloy. The women from SKK also put up stalls in exhibitions across the country. Sabala has exclusive metal jewellery made from some elements of Banjara jewellery and a mix of thread and metal. You will find many Banjara women selling their jewellery and embroidered bags and stoles in the flea markets of Goa. The best thing about the jewellery is that that they look great with any kind of dress be it a simple cotton saree or a skirt and blouse. The reinterpreted jhumka is one of my favourites! Their coin neck-pieces are also very versatile.