Describing South Indian jewellery as ‘ornate’ would be accurate, but a gross oversimplification of what it really is. To South Indians, jewellery is deeply rooted in every aspect of their life tradition, religion, rituals, ceremonies, weddings, festivals and is perceived as a status symbol, the abundance and display of which is proportional to one’s success in society. South Indian jewellery styles and craftsmanship are traditional, grandiose and distinctive, clearly setting it apart from jewellery styles found in other states of India. Gold plays a central role in South Indian jewellery, followed by diamonds, pearls and kemp stones.
Let’s take a look at the most common South Indian ornaments for regular wear, occasions and bridal ensemble, followed by the most popular jewellery styles across the South.
Traditional South Indian Jewellery – Necklaces or Haarams
1. Lakshmi Haar
A long gold necklace encrusted with jewels, the central piece of a Lakshmi Haar is a finely crafted engraving of goddess Lakshmi surrounded by peacocks or elephants, studded with precious stones. The goddess represents wealth and prosperity. It is worn during celebrations, festivals and is a main staple of the bridal jewellery set. Lakshmi Haar, when made with gold coins, is called Lakshmi Kasu Mala. Gold plated Lakshmi Haar starts from around Rs. 1500, while a premium one made with 22k gold and jewels can cost around Rs. 1,50,000 lakh and above.
2. Mango Mala
Unique to the south, a Mango Mala or Manga Malai comes in lightweight or highly embellished heavy versions. They look great on Kanjeevaram sarees as well as on any traditional outfit. Mango-shaped pendants with mostly cabochon rubies and pearls form the chain of the necklace with an intricate pendant at the centre. This is usually worn during weddings and other major celebrations. Mango symbolises love. Because of their exquisite carving, especially if Nakshi, Mango Malas can cost up to Rs 3,00,000. Imitations ones start at Rs 2000.
3. Kasu Mala
An ancient ornament, Kasu Mala means ‘Gold Coin Necklace’ where little gold coins with Lakshmi insignia are chorded together so that they overlap. Mandatory for brides to wear on their wedding day, Kasu Mala comes in different sizes, from short pieces for lighter occasions to ornate long ones for traditional attires. Women of the older generation wear smaller Kasu Mala as everyday jewellery. The necklace symbolises good luck & wealth. Imitation Kasu Malas start at Rs. 600 while the real gold ones start at Rs. 15,000.
South Indian Hand Ornaments
Symbolising strength, the Vanki is an armlet in the inverted V shape, made of gold, diamonds and rubies. Common motifs are images of goddesses, peacocks, elephants or serpents. Its origins lie in snake worship. Precious stones like emeralds are also used in decorating the top half of Vanki. Vankis are worn during weddings, social ceremonies or religious occasions. Gold plated copper Vankis can be bought for as low as Rs 500 while the more expensive gold Vankis are available from Rs. 50,000 onwards.
5. Kadas (Valayal, Gajju, Bale)
Various kadas are worn by women in the south along with green and red bangles, the whole cluster signifying fertility. Unmarried women prefer thinner and lighter kadas. Larger cuff-like bangles or kadas are made with floral, animal motifs exquisitely carved upon chunky layers of gold, studded with kemp, sapphires, rubies, diamonds and other precious stones. Thin kadas are worn on a daily basis while the ornate, antique ones are saved for special occasions and celebrations. Prices for real gold kadas start from Rs. 10,000 and can reach up to Rs. 1,00,000 & above.
South Indian Hair Ornaments
A unique feature of South Indian jewellery assortment, Jadanagam is the ‘hair serpent’ that women wear over their braided hair. The back of the head is styled with sun and moon shaped design, accompanied with fresh flowers worn over the hair, followed by the interlaced mish mash of diamonds, rubies, pearls, and other gemstones covering the length of the hair. Brides wear this on their wedding day. It is a symbol of protection and power. Jadanagam is available from Rs. 2000 onwards.
A highly elaborate maang tikka, the Nethichutti has become quite trendy with modern brides of India. From thick bands that cover the entire forehead with kemp, Kundan crafting and diamond, gemstone embedded designs, to layered & beaded nethichutti are all the rage with brides. They signify the union of man and woman. Simple ones start at Rs. 25,000 while the branded ones can cost up to Rs. 1,50,000 lakh.
8. Suryapirai and Chandrapirai
Sun and moon shaped hair brooches worn over the two sides of hair partition are special to South Indian bridal hair adornment. These represent the divine blessings of the eternal celestial objects. These are made with coloured jewels of green, pink, red and blue. Imitation ones cost around Rs. 1000 while 22k gold can cost up to Rs. 80,000.
South Indian Waistbands
Oddiyanam is a waist belt worn by women to hold up their saree. Designed as a symmetrical belt with heavily embellished carvings underlined by jewels such as rubies, diamonds, blue sapphires, emeralds. The design motifs are peacocks, birds or images of deities. Also called Vaddanam, the Oddiyanam is meant to accentuate the woman’s hips. Gold plated waistbands are available from Rs. 1500 onwards while 22k gold can cost up to Rs. 1,00,000.
South Indian Earrings
All across South India, Jhimkis are favoured as ear adornments. These are bell or chandelier shaped, medium to heavily embellished earrings that drop imposingly, accentuating the woman’s face. They are a symbol of femininity and balance. They are made with kemp (red, green or blue stones), kundankari, or gold and gemstone combinations. Smaller ones are worn on a daily basis, while the larger ones are reserved for special occasions and weddings. Gold plated ones start from Rs 1000 while the more exotic kinds can cost up to Rs. 80,000.
South Indian Kundan/Polki Jewellery
The art of Kundankari is blended with traditional symmetrical jewellery designs in the South, giving rise to magnanimous jewellery that is delicate, royal and can be strikingly commanding at times.
11. Kundan Addigai
Addigai is a loose fitting choker-type necklace that can be made upon a dainty framework of moulded gold grid pattern with gemstones or can be a larger piece with a closed back setting. Traditional Addigai can be slightly longer made with Kundan work as well as Polki (uncut) diamonds. Addigais, depending on their size, can be worn at parties, functions or weddings. Artificial sets can cost around Rs. 1500 while authentic Kundan/Polki Addigai can cost up to Rs. 2,00,000.
12. Hyderabadi Kundan Choker
Made of exquisite designs, decked with gold, precious stones, pearls, truly fit for royalty, Hyderabadi chokers are outstandingly gorgeous. Floral motifs are usually preferred. A favourite of the modern bride, smaller chokers can be worn at any celebration or festival. They come with Kundan earrings that are similarly designed, but you can buy standalone pieces too. Prices start from Rs. 3,00,000 lakh onwards for authentic Kundan chokers, but imitation sets are available from Rs. 1200 onwards.
South Indian Diamond & Pearl Jewellery
13. Chandra Haaram
This is a long necklace with side motif, that is usually a jewel. The long chains can be made of thin gold links or interspersed with a layer of pearls. Small south sea pearls and nakshi balls hold together the side motif. Pearls are a symbol of calmness, combined with the warmth of gold in a Chandraharam. It can be worn as fashion jewellery or at celebrations.
14. Diamond Mangalsutra and Tanmaniya
Unlike mangalsutras you’ve seen in other parts of the country, South Indian mangalsutras come in dual gold coin style, leaf shapes and highly detailed artwork on the central pendant (shaped like squares and bars), which may or may not be held together with black beads (there are thread mangalsutras available also). Diamond Tanmaniyas have become a favourite of the less traditionally inclined brides. They are available from Rs. 30,000 onwards.
15. Diamond & pearl long necklace or haaram
Aside from gold, South Indians love diamonds and pearls. Long necklaces and earrings made from uncut diamond and original pearls are quite popular among the upper elites of South India.
South Indian Temple Jewellery
This historic style of jewellery based on temple architecture of the South originated in the 9th century and was originally the offering jewellery that the kings adorned the idols of gods and goddesses with. Later it became popular with classical dancers and now finds a place in fashion as well as traditional ensembles in the South. The jewellery is usually chunky, with images of gods and goddesses being the chief motif.
16. Linga Padakka Muthu Malai
Modern South Indian Jewellery
While traditional and antique South Indian jewellery has a perennial place in the culture and heritage of South India, modern and contemporary designs have slowly made their way in the styling choices of women. Imitation Kundan sets and gold plated temple jewellery are preferred for daily wear and lighter occasions.
17. Gundla Mala
Traditionally made with layers of gold beads and dual side motifs of jewels, the lighter version of Gundla Mala is becoming popular with women today. Buy them from Rs. 1200 onwards
Vanki and Meenaz rings are becoming a fashion statement among women. They can be worn on a number of occasions or at formal celebrations. You can get them from Rs. 500 onwards.
19. Gold Chains
The South Indians love their gold chains – men, women, and children. You will find them wearing thick Cuban link chains, as well as twisted gold chains, beaded gold chains, plain wheat gold chains as regular jewellery. These can cost from Rs. 5000 to Rs 1,00,000 based on the gold karat and length.
20. Silver Anklets
Kundan or Kemp anklets are preferred during weddings, however, for regular wear, most women prefer silver or imitation anklets along with Metti style toe rings or more opulent statement toe rings. The price ranges from Rs. 300 to Rs. 30,000.
21. Nose Rings or Mukku Pudaka
Similar to the Maharashtrian nasal ring, the nasal ring of southern India is medium in size and circular, but not too large. It is made of gold and pearls or colored stones. Contemporary women in southern India prefer diamond needles. These are available from Rs. 10,000 and up.
Originating from Kutch region in Gujarat, Pachi jewellery is similar to Kundan jewellery except it is made on a more delicate silver framework rather than gold and emphasises more on the vibrancy of the gemstone colours set in myriad patterns. This type of jewellery is popular in South and is widely accepted as modern fashion jewellery. Sets are available from Rs. 1500.
Motifs in South Indian Jewellery
A closer look into the jewellery designs of the south will unravel the five main animal motifs. Peacock, parrot, snake, elephant and fish. These animals are closely symbolised beauty, fertility, Lord Shiva, Lord Ganesha, and creation and destruction respectively. Another motif is floral designs and floral patterns which are ubiquitous. Images of gods and goddesses are commonly found in South Indian jewellery.
The range of designs and the depth & dexterity of craftsmanship found in South Indian jewellery makes every woman swoon. If you haven’t already started a South inspired jewellery collection, we’re certain our guide will help you get motivated and started. What do you like about South Indian jewellery? Let us know in the comments below.