|One of the pleasures of visiting India lies in observing the multitude of different regional traditions with regards to costumes, textile styles and ornamentation.
Tamil women have a practice of wearing beautiful ear ornaments, starting in childhood. The ornament has many different names, one of which is kammal.
Kammal are available in many designs, and selecting a suitable design to go with a particular outfit can be complicated. These ornaments are made of precious metals like gold, silver and platinum, and are embedded with precious stones. They are also available in simpler metals with lower costs.
PLACE OF ORIGIN
The practice of wearing ear ornamentation can seem Victorian, or reminiscent of pirates, but in fact dates back centuries or even millennia. An excavation of a Metal Age burial field in Adichanallur, located in the southern Tamil Nadu, yielded 122 bronze artifacts that include bowls, bowl lids, cups, jars, sieves, stands, strainers, plaques, necklaces, bangles, diadems and ear ornaments.
Kammal are worn in all parts of India. For example, Karnaphul Jhumka is a 19th century earring which resembles a standard gold earring, but is set with diamonds, rubies and emeralds.
In the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the people try to avoid speaking disrespectfully of snakes. This is because they worship snakes as gods. The cobra is called nalla pambu, meaning “The Good Snake”, or nalla tambiran, meaning, “The Good Lord”.
In Tamil Nadu, the old women wear a kind of earring reminiscent of real cobras, called pambadam. They have been commonly worn since the 19th century. In 1891, this type of earring was described as “representing the cobra with extended hood” by the Journal of Indian Art. It is worn by the women of all the communities in Tamil Nadu, except Brahmin women.
Not only are these earrings worn by Tamil women, even women in some parts of Kerala can be seen with long lobes and large earrings. Pambadam are generally made up of gold, and each one weighs about 16 grams. It is not the custom to pass them down from generation to generation; if the owner dies, the earrings are either sold or melted.
It has been said that the Reddiyar community of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh migrated to Mumbai some 40 years ago. The women of this community used to wear soruhu, a large ear stud, whereas they now wear normal kammal.
In Tamil Nadu, the women maintain the tradition of adorning startling ear ornaments with cubist patterns, made in a distinct local style by the village silversmiths. The pair of earrings is made from of brazed sheet of silver and styles have varied over centuries. Some of the designs seem to represent birds, like a peacock holding worms. The designs are so stylized now so as to be barely noticeable. Creative craftsmanship should be really appreciated in designing these fanciful forms and patterns.
The shapes of pambadam are unique, and have attracted many western admirers who later made attempts to produce similar ornaments, with designs like saddles or pecking birds. But it has been explained by the goldsmiths of Nagercoil that pambadam has a unique style that should represent a stylized cobra laying eggs while coiled on her nest with an erect head and a flared hood.
A few circles can be found on a cobra’s hood. It is believed that these circles are the marks left by Lord Krishna, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, while he was dancing on the heads of the defeated many-headed serpent Naga Kaliya. These circles are always depicted as large round applique. On the head of the cobra, the precious jewel appears like a pyramidal knob in the earring, while the big balls represent the eggs of the snake.
Jhumki are another interesting variety of ear ornament. They are exotic and very striking earrings that are circular, domed, or conical in shape.
There are many varieties of jhumki – using materials such as gold, silver, or pearl. Many jhumkis are prepared in yellow gold with intricate designs. They can be single layered or multi-layered. The Bharatanatyam jhumkis are spotted with red stones and are decorated with dangling tiny pearls. Some other varieties of jhumkis include silver jhumkis, meenakari jhumkis, hoop jhumkis, crystal jhumkis, pearl jhumkis, and Kashmiri jhumkis.
South Indian kammal are mostly adorned with a side ear chain, called maattal. Maattal is generally attached to the earring, worn over the ear and fixed to the hair.
Modern Tamil youth, as well as youth in other areas, have resumed the practice of wearing earrings and nose rings. It has become the fashion to wear two or three earrings, and even men are donning ear studs!