Indian Beads – Tiny, Vibrant, and Holistically Artistic


Woman with ornaments made from Indian beads – World Bank Photo Collection/Flickr

Beads may be little, but their usage and utility are large. The tiny round ornaments are strewn together to form umpteen things. Whether as jewelry, talismans, ornamentations, or decorations, beadwork is intricate and precise. The beads can be sewed onto a material or fabric or used to create 3-dimensional objects, such as baskets, jewelry, etc.
The beads, of course, are the hero of the art coming in different sizes, colors, and shine. The process and methodology of producing and creating the beads have changed over time. Yet, beads were created in ancient times and are one of the oldest ornaments to have been around.

Tracing Indian Beads Through History

Harappan (Indus Valley) Beads – Gary Todd/Flickr

The earliest beads were probably used in Mesopotamia and then sent across to Egypt and made from shells and ivory. Also, ‘beads’ then were objects that could be holed, such as stones, animal teeth, shells, and seeds. Yet, it was in Egypt that the bead art form took real shape. Since 3100 BC the faience beads or beads made from a mix of powder clay and lime, silica sand, and soda have been around. This mixture with a bit of water was made into a paste and then molded around a straw or stick to be heated. Once fired the bead hardened and in fact, this method is still used in the production of beads to date too.

The evidence of beads being around for centuries is found in various archeological sites, texts, and also in paintings and drawings from ancient times. For example, King Tut of Egypt had beads in his tomb. But beadwork was not only confined to the Egyptian civilization. Beaded objects have been found in Japan that dates back to the 8th century. Similarly, in India beadwork objects, such as bracelets and armlets were found during the Harappa civilization. The beads of Harappa were extremely diverse and of many types, such as faience, alabaster, lapis, jasper, turquoise, terra cotta, and more.

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The history of beads is fascinating and sometimes hard to keep track of. They have been exported from one place to another until beads have been used all across the world, including in America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. An example of this is in Arikamedu Tamil where Roman beads were excavated dating back from 200 BCE to 700 CE. But of course, with time there was an advancement in technology and infrastructure in the bead-making process.

Spiritual Aspect of Indian Beads

Image – Iretina/Flickr

One of the main reasons for beads being so popular since ancient times is their usage in talismans and spiritual objects. The beads strung together in a thread are perfect for those chanting prayers and also helpful to keep a count. For example, the Buddhists use malas made from seed beads from the Bodhi tree. Similarly, Muslims use tasbihs made from different beads, such as amber, plastic, ivory, or pearls. The Hindus japmala are often made from tulsi beads, sandalwood beads, or the Rudraksha. The kind and types of beads used vary, however, the purpose is often the same.

Indian Beads in Ornamentation 

Indian-Beads-in-Ornamentation -01
Image – Victoria Imeson/Flickr

The next huge usage of beads is their added value and beauty as jewelry. A strung bracelet of beads is a pretty sight and a necklace looks elegant and classy. One can look at the different states of India and one would know how the beadwork is an intricate part of the traditional garments and accessories. For example in Northeast beads, such as shells, Cornelius, seeds, and glass beads are used to make accessories for both men and women. The Bondo tribe of Odisha wear breast pieces made from beads. The Gaddis of Himachal Pradesh has traditional caps decorated with beads and feathers and flowers.

The Hallakki tribe from Karnataka wear long beaded necklaces and the Jarawas of Andaman often wear strings made from cowries and shells.

However, the scope of using beads as an artistic concept has been widely accepted and experimented with. Beads are used in ornamentation, decoration, and also in making various utility and decorative objects, such as handbags, baskets, wall hangings, coasters, and much more.

The usage of beads is also extensive on fabrics. A delicate lining on a dupatta or a heavy embroidered beaded work on a Kurti is equally appreciated and loved.

Bead Weaving in India

Image – PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay

In India, the beading industry’s heart lies in Gujarat. Artisans have been involved in bead weaving for generations, especially in the Saurashtra and Kutch areas. Known as ‘moti bharat’ this art form gives rise to wonderful expressions, such as toran (wall hangings), mangal kalash (puja pots), or indhonis (mat for pots), etc.

Typically a woman artisan in Gujarat would sit with her beads and the dora or thread that it needs to be beaded through. Coiling the thread around her toe she begins the process of putting tiny beads one after the other to form patterns and colorful designs of high-quality artistic fervor. The number of threads used also may vary from ornament to ornament or from design to design. Some of the techniques used to make the various objects from beads include bead braiding, bead stringing, and bead crochet.

Colorful Indian beads
Image – Masrur Ashraf/Flickr

Also, traditionally different colored beads are often used for different occasions. White beads are for marriages, whereas for engagements green beads are worn. The great thing about these artisans is that usually there is no draft design or a pattern that they see and copy. However, the women do speak verbally and decide on a pattern and then just go with the flow.

Besides, Gujarat, Rajasthan is also famous for beadwork. Some traditional tribes, such as Bopas and Kalbelia wear striking beaded jewelry. Even their bright head gears adore splendid designs and patterns of bead weaving. The different beading work and types in India include Jaipuri beads, Kashmiri beads, Meenakari beads, and more. Besides, the seed bead, in India lac beads are also popular which come from the secretion of insects. There are also lampwork beads that are exported from India.

Indian Bead objects

Image-Tracy Hunter/Flickr

In India, zari work is quite popular. Beads are used to attach to the fabric in different ways. They are either stitched directly, bound together, and then stitched or stitched using the crouching stitch. Beads on fabrics for not only garments but other accessories, such as handbags and footwear are also attractive.

Beaded accessories, such as bags, have been famous since the 19th century. With frames made from silver, gold, nickel, or ivory the bags are quite a rage and in different sizes and shapes. Also, footwear, especially mojris are often beaded to make them look regal and royal. One can imagine kings and queens of erstwhile eras adorning their entire garments and accessories with intricate bead designs.

Beading in India Today

Image – Sukhjinder/Pixhive

There are two distinct parts to the beading industry. One is the manufacturing of different kinds of beads. The other is the artistic aspect where the beads are used for various ornamentation and designs.

The manufacturing of the beads is technology-driven with machines producing a large number of these tiny-sized beads. The industry is so diversified that even within glass beads there are many different variations. Some include jade glass beads, glass pearl beads, glass coral, and many more. The many other types of beads include Kolhapuri beads, micron plated beads, hollow metal beads, aluminum beads, wire metal beads, brass beads, etc.

Hence with several different types of beads being produced, the scope of their usage and artistic endeavor is also huge.

The beading industry is hence a wonderful blend of modern and traditional. Where on one hand the beads themselves are evolved through better technology and infrastructure, the utility and creative expression of these is wide too.
Beaded artistic work looks splendid, intricate and gives a 3D effect that adds to the charm of the ornament or decoration. It is wonderful to imagine how a simple tiny object can transform into beauty and color when strewn together.

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