By S. Farah,Womens Feature Service
The main market of Hazratganj in Lucknow – a city regally referred to as seher-e-Awadh by the ‘nawabs’ and ‘begums’ of yesteryear – is bustling with activity.
The last quarter of the year is officially festival time, and the shop fronts are brightly lit, with attractive banners announcing hard-to-resist bargains for everything from clothes to home appliances. But today, nothing can derail homemaker Aamna Zaidi from fulfilling her mission – she is on her way to her trusted family jeweller to pick up some traditional pieces. The price of gold is at an all time high these days but Zaidi has decided to go ahead and buy jewellery as she sees it as a safe investment option for the money she has been painstakingly saving up over the last few months from her household expenses kitty.
Lucknawi women love their traditional jewellery and this love affair has stood the test of centuries – while the ‘begums’ of the erstwhile royal province of Awadh patronised intricate Awadhi designs and mystical ‘navratna’ (nine gems) creations to make a statement, this fascination is today combined with loads of practical sense.
Says Zaidi, “Lots of women like to buy and wear beautiful jewellery. But I also find that jewellery makes for good investment and, of course, are heirlooms that can be passed on to my daughters. So it’s like a win-win situation.”
But if you thought that Zaidi, 37, a mother of two small girls, would go in for the new age minimalist stuff, then you’re mistaken. Like all true blue Lucknawis she loves her Awadhi styles – distinct in their detailed and intricate designing.
As the name suggests, Awadhi jewellery is the one that was the preferred choice of royalty in a bygone age because of its distinct features like embedded stones or light weight gold creations called ‘tappe par ki’ or solid gold with natural pearls. “But travelling through time and history, Awadhi jewellery has not remained just a craft. It has evolved into an art – both in terms of designing and workmanship. With changing times, the styles have evolved, but even then this meticulously-crafted antique looking jewellery fascinates buyers,” reveals Vaishali Jain, a jewellery designer based in the city.
Jain gets many requests for such custom-made pieces that she says can cost anywhere between Rs 50,000 to lakhs of rupees, depending on the workmanship, gramage, and the number of precious stones used.
Another style that was hugely popular with the ‘nawabs’ and ‘begums’ and which continues to be high on the wish list of the women of Lucknow today is the ‘navratna’, or nine gems, jewellery. Explains Jain, “Navratnas are nine gems representing the nine planets that have an astrological influence on our lives, notably our heath and well being. The queen of gems, ruby is aligned with the sun, diamond is aligned with Venus, natural pearl with the moon, red coral with Mars, hessonite with rahu, blue sapphire with Saturn, cat’s eye with ketu, yellow sapphire with Jupiter and emerald with Mercury.”
Lucknow’s royals were known to have vast collections of nose rings, bangles, necklaces crafted from these nine colourful gems. Reveals Muslim Akhtar, an antique jewellery buyer and trader, “In ancient Lucknow, those in power were never without a ‘navratna’ talisman. These pieces were believed to possess magical powers that could protect the wearer against evil and bring prosperity and health.” Besides they helped erstwhile rules to showcase the large gems in their treasury.
Times have changed but the ‘navratna’ is still coveted. It comes in various designs, whether it is the ‘champakali’ – a jasmine flower shaped necklace design which combines with kundan and various other gemstones; the ‘gulubandh’ – gold chokers studded with rubies or emeralds; or the lavishly expensive ‘naulakha haar’, a necklace with nine rows of gold chain studded with gemstones.
Other styles that find favour with today’s women – as with their historical counterparts – are ‘meenakari’ (enamel work) and ‘jadau’ (gemstones studded) jewellery. Explaining the history of ‘meenakari’ work, Akhtar says, “The style was born as a result of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s aesthetic vision that transformed enamelling into a sophisticated art form. The outcome of this blend was exquisite and pleasing jewellery. The motifs used in traditional ‘meenakari’ work are flowers, plants, vines and animal forms.”
Reveals Rajkumar Mohd. Amir Naqi, a royal descendent residing in Lucknow, “Royal women, including my grandmother and mother, had a large collection of ‘jadau’ jewellery with included diamonds, emeralds and rubies, among other gems. And of course, we all know how popular diamond jewellery is even today.”
Adds Shahabbud-din Mohammad, who owns Shahab Jewellers in Chowk, “Diamond jewellery is timeless. The ‘begums’ used to be well aware of all the facets of a diamond – grade, cut, clarity and so on. They had an eye for good stones. But there are many discerning buyers even today. It is an investment for them and they know they can get good returns if they buy diamond jewellery – whatever the style.”
Investing in diamond jewellery, or any kind of traditional jewellery for that matter, certainly seems to have emerged as an enjoyable, and financially prudent pursuit for some. Says Sujata Sen, 31, a teacher from Pioneer Montessori School, who hails from a middle class family, “We often spend money on a lot of things that are of no real value. But I find that jewellery is one of the best and safest investment options we have.”
But it is homemaker Shaina Abbas, 29, who has the last word, “Jewellery stays with you for a lifetime. It is something that makes you look good and feel good, even as it helps you tide over times of financial crisis.”