An Earring Mystery Solved

Although there is a huge amount of extant art depicting 16th century Hindu North Indian women and their clothing and ornamentation, until very recently the vast majority was only available printed at low resolutions and in black & white in books. In the past decade there has been an explosion of books with full-color, high resolution reproductions of paintings, and even better, some museums are doing high-resolution scans of paintings and putting them on the internet. Many of these paintings are causing me to review my Rajput kit with a very critical eye as I am seeing new details in clothing and jewelry.

For years I have suspected that 16th century Hindu women’s ear ornaments were more complex than the large disc-shaped lobe ornament so easily seen in paintings.

These three paintings are all from the “Freer Gallery Ramayana”, an illustrated copy of the Hindu epic Ramayana commissioned by Abd al-Rahim and completed between 1587 and 1598.

These three paintings, spanning about 40 years, show the relative stability of women’s costume during this period. There were changes- fashion is never frozen- but the overall garments and “look” are pretty stable. All of these six paintings show the range of women’s ear ornamentation. Possibly the most revealing for reconstruction purposes is the detail of the Khamsa of Nizami painting “The princesses of the seven pavilions bow in homage to Bahram Gur”. In that one paintings you can see Hindu women wearing dangling earrings with gems in their lobes, the disc-shaped earrings in lobes, rows of pearls or round studs along the edge of the ear, and almost every woman has a pointed ornament sticking straight up off the top of the helix.

That particular ornament has plagued me for years. I could see something was there but not exactly what it was. Then Margavati Bai shared a new resource- Earrings: Ornamental Identity and Beauty in India by Waltraud Ganguly. That is where I finally found the name of the ornament sitting on top of the helix of these women’s ears- the bugudi.

Called koppu in Tamil Nadu and bugudi in Karnataka, these straight earrings are worn nearly vertically in the helix, with one ornamented end on the top and another on the bottom, inside the ear, like finials. According to the author, they are modeled on clove buds.  I immediately started searching the internet to see if they are available for sale, since traditional jewelry pieces like these are often hard to find. I have found a few examples here and a gold example here. There are also several in the V&A museum.

As soon as I can figure out how to make a pair of these I will be getting my ears pierced so I can wear this style of earring. Now if we could only figure out patkas!

4 thoughts on “An Earring Mystery Solved

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s