The Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal is located in South Asia bordering the Himalayas, People’s Republic of China and India. Placed in this position, the Nepalese culture, although possessing highly autonomous and distinctive traits, constitutes also an area where the iconographic elements are shared by other neighboring cultures.
It is a densely populated area where about a third of the population is still illiterate nowadays.
The practiced religion is Hinduism which, along with Buddhism, is a cult deeply felt by the entire population.
Nepal indeed is a country intensely immersed in spirituality, magic and superstition, perhaps because it is the cradle of Siddhartha Gautama (563 d. C), whom gave birth to the Buddhist tradition, or perhaps because it is surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the world, including the Himalayas, secure source of spiritual inspiration.
This aspect permeates constantly Nepalese costumes and jewelry, which hide in any particular an ancient symbolism still deeply felt.
For the Nepalese jewelry is an important vehicle of meanings and an essential tool to protect themselves from external evils and to connect to positive energies; therefore, jewels are very popular and often are worn in great quantities, one above the other, in a magnificent and chaotic demonstration of abundance and protection from evil forces.
For the Nepalese gold and silver respectively symbolize Surya, the sun god, and Chandra, the moon goddess; hence these two materials should not be missing in jewelry worn during religious ceremonies, and are especially important in the bridal finery.
Among the various important and ubiquitous symbols in wedding jewelry, we find the peacock (as in Indian culture), which often comes in the form of an embossed plate attached to the hairdo, indicating good luck and fertility; the fish (as in the culture of Chinese ethnic minorities) in the form of silver pendant as a symbol of fertility; and small bells, because the bell is a Buddhist symbol whose sound recalls the purity of the doctrine of perfect wisdom.
A jewel typical of married women is the Kantha, a necklace made alternating gold faceted beads and thin layers of red felt. These necklaces are worn in all major holidays (mela) and show the status and wealth of the family. In the eastern part of Nepal the golden beads of kanthas are grooved, while in the area of Pokhara they have very pronounced tips and edges.
The red color of fabric, also present in jewelry in the form of coral, is not used casually but follows a specific symbology, since, as in Tibetan culture, is a symbol of life and of life force, while the blue color, often made using turquoise, represents water, sky and air.
Coral and turquoise can be used in the form of large rough grains strung, along with golden embossed beads, into necklaces called Bhiru, always worn in pairs.
The color of the stones is a very important factor and often does not coincide with the value attributed to them by Western culture. Many jewels, such as rings, necklaces and bracelets are decorated with nine stones, embedded and chosen following the Ayurvedic principle of the Navaratna, recognized and used in most of the Asian countries, which represents the indian planetary system. The gems used are diamond, pearl, coral, essonite, blue sapphire, cat’s eye, yellow sapphire and emerald.
Two other necklaces, emblem of married women and of the wealth of their family, called Tilhari and Nau gedi, are composed of complex golden threads, richly decorated and alternated with strings of glass beads.
Necklaces often don’t possess only a decorative appearance, but are also made of golden amulets called Jantar, square-shaped and chiseled.
Some necklaces are a true assembly of gems with an apotropaic meaning, photographic images, pendants with formulas and prayers, and of organic elements as claws, teeth and seeds of particular plants and animals. These necklaces are powerful amulets, but their effectiveness will be even higher if blessed by a shaman.
Reserved exclusively to the Kumari, the living goddess designated at 4 years of age by priests and astrologers, Taillo or Tavo is a necklace richly decorated in gold or gold-plated metal with a large pendant in the shape of crescent-shaped seed, very similar to Indian reliquary pendents.
In special cases, such as major holidays, necklaces are worn whose main pendant is a real reliquary, often elongated or half moon-shaped.
To ward off evil, children often wear more ankle bracelets of various shapes and materials, among which iron, believed to be a powerful antidote against evil spirits.
A collar by the strong apotropaic power is the Tengura, composed of one or more rows of pendants with phallic shape of varying size, while the Kantshri necklace has pendants made of white metal, with the same shape but in stylized, elongated forms.
Another type of collar, worn in western Nepal, is the Hansuli, generally made of white metal, rigid, circular or hemispherical, and decorated with a dense engraved pattern, similar to the tradition of Chinese ethnic minorities.
Women wear on their wrists a multitude of jingling colorful bracelets, made of metal and sometimes coated with beads, while a typical men’s bracelet, often used by archers to protect their left wrist, is massive, made of wood and carved in the shape of the saddle.
In Nepal, as in India, earrings are very much loved and appreciated for ears and noses.
Nose pendants are called Bulaki and Phuli and are different depending on where they are placed: on the sides of the nostrils or in the cartilage that separates the nostrils. Sometimes they can be so impressive that the owner has to move them in order to eat.
In the past, women, and older ones still do, used to drill many holes in a row along the auricles, and decorate them with Tuki, small golden button-shaped earrings, the equivalent of an economic investment.
Also earrings are often very big and sometimes very heavy. They have different names, Marwari or Dhungri, depending on the model, be it pendant or button, or Chepti, if the pendant recalls the symbol of the sun, large and circular, usually made of gold with embossed or engraved decorative motifs.
Dr. Bianca Cappello – Historian of Jewelry
France Borel, Ethnos, gioielli da terre lontane, Milano 1996
Hannelore Gabriel, Nepal Jewellery, 2006