The 'Jadai Nagam'

Jewellery based on the snake or the serpent form - 'Jadai Nagam'.

Throughout the ages there have been countless pieces of jewellery designed using the snake or the serpent form all over the world. Although this form had been in extensive use over time, the significance behind each of these pieces had a similar undertone.

The snake is a highly admired form and is said to represent fertility and life force. In some cultures, snake dances were performed in order to provoke the fertility of nature. Another meaning comes from the fact that snakes shed off their skins. This has further led to represent snakes as symbols of renewal, transformation, rebirth etc. The well known symbol of a snake eating or biting its own tail has been known to impart a message of immortality. They have also been used to denote royalty and power.

In India, a land of great diversity and rich culture, there have been so many pieces of jewellery based on the serpent form. An Indian woman’s well oiled and braided hair have also often been described to resemble a coiled snake.

Jewellery based on this form has been incorporated into a lot of communities in South India. Some of the most distinct forms are the ‘Jadai Nagam’ and the ‘Nagar’.

The Jadai Nagam - This is a braid ornament from Tamil nadu and is known to be one of the bride’s essential jewellery pieces. It is tied to the braid to prevent it from unravelling. The ornament when placed on the head is said to activate the energies of the ‘sirasachakra’, the head chakra; the topmost chakra, as gold was meant to promote health by activating the chakras all over the body.

This ornament was therefore said to promote fertility as well as the intellect. This ornament is intricate and has a lot of elements. Usually made from sheet gold and studded with gems, this ornament is crafted by the unit system of construction. The ornament is also designed with motifs of fragrant flowers known to be favoured by snakes such as jasmine, peacocks etc and is long enough to beautifully decorate and cover the braid.

The Nagar - It is another head ornament which displays a large Cobra head form. Usually made with gold worked in repousse, it is filled with lac and has a picture of a dancing Lord Shri Krishna under the snake head. The Lord is seen with a cow as well as apsaras. This ornament shows the well known historic victory of the Lord over the snake ‘Kaliya’.

Little can be described about the beauty of these ornaments which carry so much of meaning and display the richness and skill of Indian jewellery and artisans.

Picture credits - Dance of the peacock by Usha R. Bala Krishnan and Meera Sushil Kumar; Private collection.

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