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The traditional jewellery of Sri Lanka represents ornate and stylised work, chiefly in gold and silver. The gold and silver artisans are organised in caste-based artisanal ‘guilds’, and represent a family tradition that has thrived on the patronage of royalty and the wealthy. Foreign occupation of Sri Lanka and the decline of royal rule did affect jewellery-making, which was a highly traditional skill, closely related to royal patronage. However, the tradition survived and continues, owing to the combination of adornment, wealth, and investment that gold and silver jewellery represent in Sri Lanka. The beneficial effects that certain metals and gems are supposed to confer on the wearer has also been important in the continuity of the tradition of crafting jewellery.

Although the craft is present in almost all parts of the country, yet Kandyan gold and silver jewellery is especially well-known. There is supposed to have been much engagement between Kandyan jewellery stylisation and that of south India, chiefly due to inter-marriage between Kandyan kings and south Indian women, and a steady stream of Indian goldsmiths to Sri Lanka. Aside from this, some European influence, chiefly in the context of imperial-colonial interaction is visible.

At the Sri Lanka National Design Centre a lot of innovations in designs are being done for jewellery especially with foreign collaboration. Due to the recent awareness about the importance of preservation of ecology, jewellery is being made with natural raw materials like wood, raffia, shells, leather, fibre, stone and even coconut shells.

GOLD JEWELLERY & PRODUCTS

HISTORY & TRADITION

1. LINKS WITH ROYALTY

…and then on the day of the full moon the king adorned himself with all the grace of a god, with a diadem and a chain of gold and bracelets and precious ornaments of such kind thickly set with diverse gems. And many hundred women of the queen’s chamber, whose forms beautifully attired, were like those of goddesses for elegance, accompanied him, and many chieftains also, of great fame, clothed with divers robes and jewels and glittering ornaments. And the earth sunk, as it were, with the weight of this great multitude, and of the troops of horses and elephants in their trappings of shining gold, and of the worshippers who honoured the Cetiya with offerings of lamps which they carried on their bodies. And every quarter thereof was covered, as it were, with parasols and banners and chowries; and the caverns seemed to burst asunder with the sounds of divers instruments of music; and the eyes of all the people were filled with tears of joy by reason of the exceeding great beauty of the sight; and the caskets and flags and vases and fans and pots and other utensils of gold sent forth rays which made all the place to seem yellow.

From the Sinhalese treatise Mahavamsa (Chapter LXXVI.), cited in Ananda K Coomaraswamy, Mediaeval Sinhalese Art (1956, Pantheon Books, New York)

In the time of kingly rule in Sri Lanka, guilds of master craftsmen, the pattal hatara, were appointed by royalty for purposes of making jewellery. Each jewellery workshop usually had a mulachari or chief-craftsman, under whom other craftspersons worked. The feudal system allowed royalty exclusive access to the services of these craftsmen; their craft was essentially classified into four categories: the making of (a) ornaments or abharana (b) crowns or otunus (c) swords or rankadus (d) thrones or simhasanas. Craftsmen in different guilds or workshops competed with each other to create original pieces of work, the avenue to improved socio-economic status and recognition. Traditional ornaments for royalty included the very elaborate siv sata abharana or 64 ornaments. Several villages in the Kandyan district acquired distinction in making crowns, tiaras, head ornaments, frontlets, forehead plates, girdles, armlets, bangles, necklaces, ear-rings, rings, anklets and foot ornaments for the king.

Several links exist between royal patronage and the jewellery craft. King Vikrama Bahu of the Hill Country region (Kandy) is supposed to have ordered master-craftsmen to make the regalia for his coronation; he then gifted the villages of Ayagama and Yatatnava to the makers of the crown, Godagama and Amunugama to the makers of the ran kaduwa or the golden sword, and the villages of Walwasagoda and Krukuttala to the makers of the nalalpeta or frontlet. A gold mounted sandalwood paste cup known as the pacca-kusalana – set with rubies and sapphires – is said to have been dedicated by the King Rajadhi Raja Simha with the charter of verses of the Jaya Saka and Algama Sannasa after a victory over the Dutch at Gurubebile. This was subsequently used at all royal inauguration ceremonies, when the sword of the state was first girded on the new king. The gold writing style or pen, panhinda, bearing the royal ‘SRI’ that was given by King Narendra Simha of Kandy to Dehigama – who held the office of mahagabada nilame (Second Treasurer) and was also the diva nilame or the Chief Custodian of the Temple of the Tooth Relic at Kandy – is another beautiful piece of crafted gold.

The link between royalty and gold and silver work was closely established by the royal sign of ‘SRI’, the insignia on grants and charters. This was usually inlaid in gold within a plain space, with an embossed fluted gold frame raised upon the surface of the plate. One of those recovered (dated AD 1736) is held to be the last charter or sannasa of a Kandyan king. Another fine sannasa is the Getabriya Sannasa of AD 1760. This is on a copper plate, with ornamental silver framing, and the royal insignia inlaid in gold, embellished with the sun and moon, 16 stars, and 14 flower ornaments.

 

2. THE INDIAN INFLUENCE
The influence of Indian goldsmiths who arrived in Sri Lanka with traders and missions on jewellery styles has been recorded. The south Indian influence is particularly distinct, especially during the Kandyan period, owing to the presence of queens of south Indian origin. The traditional attire of the bride from Kandy – a splendid array of hair and head ornaments, necklaces, chains, pendants, girdles, armlets, and bracelets – displays remarkable similarity to the jewellery worn by a south Indian bride.

The code and guidelines of the ancient craft manual Vaijayanta Tantra – a Sanskrit treatise on regalia and jewellery making, which appears to have been widely known and made use of by specialist craftsmen and artisans in mediaeval Sri Lanka – is supposed to have originated in south India and been brought to Sri Lanka by the craftsmen who migrated there in the eleventh century. The Vaijayanta Tantra deals with a wide range of handicrafts, especially the manufacture of thrones and crowns, gold and silver ornaments and jewellery, predominantly meant for the use of the aristocracy.

3. SYMBOLISM
Traditional Sri Lankan jewellery lays considerable emphasis on enhancing the beauty of the female form, along with serving as tokens and talismans that offer protection. The new-born girl child is made to wear a protective pendant called pancayudha, which symbolises the five weapons of Lord Vishnu (spear, sword, discus, bow, and chank); the other talismanic piece of jewellery used for children in general is the divi niya pota, an ornament shaped like a cheetah’s claws. The keccagama is an armlet that contains an amulet holding charmed oil or written mantrams (prayers).

Jewellery is symbolically present through several childhood and adolescent occasions, from the first time the child eats ‘grain’, to the onset of puberty. Marriage is an occasion where the bride receives a lot of jewellery from her parents, as tokens of affection as well as an investment for the future.

 

CONTEMPORARY PERSPECTIVES
A lot of pioneering work in the gold jewellery craft was done by some wealthy entrepreneur families of Galle town, the capital of Sri Lanka’ southern province in the middle of the nineteenth century. They owned flourishing jewellery workshops, with highly talented master-craftsmen, and marketed their products through lavish and grand showrooms and exhibitions. The first of these was started in Colombo, and was patronised dominantly by affluent tourists and the local elite. Generations bearing the family name of ‘de Silva’ have been involved in designing, crafting, and marketing gold jewellery. The Hemchandras are also well-known for their jewellery design.

Contemporary jewellery-making involves blending traditional and modern designs. Much of the latter are less ornate and more minimalist in appearance. A demand for more affordable jewellery has also increased the use of semi-precious stones. Through participation in international trade fairs and exhibitions, jewellery design as well as jewellery production and trade in Sri Lanka have become increasingly integrated with an international market.

Gold has been, and continues to be, an extremely valuable, and hence expensive, metal. Artisans usually access it in the open market, though the National Crafts Council, the apex body for craftspersons and weavers in Sri Lanka, tries to decrease the financial pressure on artisans by selling gold to them at cost price.

 

GEMSTONES & EMBELLISHMENT

1. TRADITIONS
The embellishment of gold pieces with gemstones, common in the jewellery tradition of Sri Lanka, is said to derive partly from the supposed astrological and magical powers of these gemstones, several of which are linked with specific astral and planetary forces, and are supposed to protect the wearer from negative influences. The navratna muduva – a ring set with nine precious stones – is associated with the powers and beneficial qualities of the nine planets. The nalalpeta or forehead plate and the patatahaduva or frontlet usually had pearl pendants set in the design when worn by kings and chiefs. (Those worn by the ordinary folk, however, were without any embellishment.) The combination of gold and gemstones was also representative of wealth and status. The king’s gold armour was ornamented with rubies, emeralds, and diamonds and on state occasions he almost always carried a jewelled cane. The royal throne of the Kandyan kingdom was a large arm-chair covered with repousse gold plate, set with gems, including turquoises, amethysts, and crystals. The arms end with the lion faces and the back has a sun face in the centre with devas or gods on lotus thrones flanking the sun face. The gold-work is detailed into patterns of pineapples, sunflowers, and acanthus foliage (indicating some European influence), while on the top of the back there sit three cut crystal balls.

 

2. THE STONES
Gemstones are fairly abundant in Sri Lanka, the ‘land of gems and precious stones’. In fact, this abundance of a wide range of precious stones is considered to be a distinct advantage for Sri Lanka’s jewellery craft. Among the precious stones that Sri Lanka is famous for are blue sapphires, red rubies, cat’s eyes, alexandrites, tourmalines, zircons, garnets, moonstones, amethysts, and topaz. The mining, cleaning, cutting, and polishing of these, used to embellish gold jewellery, has spawned a flourishing trade of its own. The key gem-mining region is Ratnapura, literally, ‘the city of gems (ratna = gem)’, situated about 200 kilometres from Colombo.

Sri Lanka is famous for its blue sapphires, considered by many, to be the finest in the world. Known as Sri Lanka’s ‘Gem Supreme’, they are either a corn-flower blue, or have a royal blue tint. The moonstone in Sri Lanka, another gemstone for which the country is extremely well-known, has a milky bluish sheen similar to moonbeams. These moonstones are, in fact, found only in a quarter acre block of land in a village by the name of Meetiyagoda in southern Sri Lanka. From this limited source, Sri Lankan moonstones dominate the global market in these gems.

3. SETTINGS & TECHNIQUES
Earlier, the stones were set in clusters with the cabochon cut without faceting. This served to highlight the colour and brilliance of the gemstones: therefore, even rings and pendants set with stones of inferior quality had a bright lustre. The lapidaries of Sri Lanka are very skilful in turning even limited colour in a stone to a good advantage, creating a rich colour when the stone is set in gold. To enhance the effect of colour, stones are sometimes set over coloured paste or foil.

These decorative principles have been understood and manipulated by traditional Sinhalese and Tamil jewellery artisans; contemporary artisans with access to new tools and implements have the potential to create even more involved and delicate designs. The more traditional way of setting gems resembled damascening: the gem was held by the undercut surface of the metal. In the technique of tahadu kola bema, the gems were set in soft gold over wax, and the gold was moulded and pressed into shape around the gem. This kind of setting, though it created a very rich and decorative effect, was and is difficult to repair. Nowadays, bezels with teeth or claws are used to hold gem(s) in place on a gold setting.

4. TOOLS
The traditional repertoire of tools for working with gold (jewellery) included the gini kabala, a low earthen vessel or dish (usually the common nembiliya filled with and covered by a charcoal fire), and a bamboo or metal blow-pipe with a short earthen nozzle. This was set in the fire and the blast directed through it. A small crucible made of the clay of white-ant hills was used, as were tongs and pincers, the hammer and anvil (a square of steel or bronze embedded in a heavy log in front of which the jeweller sits), files, gravers, and chasers, doming blocks, bead punches, and various bronze moulds. Small chisels and hammers are critical instruments for designing on gold and for shaping semi-precious stones. Artisans working with gold used special weights, the chief one being the seed of the madatiya (Adananthera Pavonia, L.), even though the average weight of the seeds vary. Fundamentally, the tools and techniques used remain the same even today, though technological innovations have made some of the processes simpler. The innovations have been less enthusiastically adopted by older artisans, many of who continue to use, with barely any change, the techniques and processes practised by their fore fathers; it is the younger artisans who are taking advantage of schemes and incentives offered by the government and being trained in new methods and techniques, or at least, in new variants of traditional methods.

5. THE GEMSTONE INDUSTRY
The gemstone industry in Sri Lanka is highly developed and uses modern techniques and machinery for gem mining, cutting, and polishing. It supplies calibrated stones of the highest quality to the jewellery artisans. Organisations like the Export Development Board have special programmes for the lapidary workers, to help them hone their traditional skills of gem cutting and faceting along new lines. Support is also extended by organisations like the State Gem Corporation of Sri Lanka.

PRACTITIONERS & LOCATIONS
The province of Kandy is famous for its jewellery; the craft here continues to be based along caste lines. Other areas where the craft is practised are Matale (close to Kandy), Kegalle and Gampaha (which lie on the route between Colombo and Kandy), Kalutara (on the route between Colombo and Galle), and Galle and Matara, in southern Sri Lanka. All along the coastal hinterland of the south, jewellery-making is a traditional vocation that has continued among families for generations.

The tradition of patronage in the jewellery craft continues even today: there are still a few who make jewellery exclusively for an elite clientele. They form the backbone of this traditional craft and perpetuate a long-lasting networks: Sinhala artisans have linkages with Muslim and Tamil jewellery traders in Colombo, Kandy, and Galle; Sinhala artisans from the southern district of Hambantota have trade links with Tamil jewellers of Colombo; and those from Mawanella village (on the route from Colombo to Kandy) have links with the Muslim jewellers of Kandy.

MOTIFS & DESIGNS
Designing the piece of jewellery being made is a critical part of the process, and goldsmiths usually make careful working designs. In the days of royal patronage, the designs had to be approved by the patrons before they could be executed. The fact that there were a range of set designs, with specific names, especially for bracelets and ear-rings, facilitated the placing of orders, citing the name of the design. The designs for finger rings, pendants, and other miscellaneous items like jewelled canes varied more.

Perhaps the most distinctive style of jewellery in Sri Lanka is the Kandyan one, which incorporates a marked south Indian influence in techniques and motifs. Jewellery artisans from the southern areas of Sri Lanka are not influenced by the Kandyan style of jewellery making; they, however, display other influences, especially imperial ones: several of the designs incorporate details from British sources, and were popularised by the entrepreneurs and traders of the time.

1. BIRDS & ANIMALS
Several popular motifs and designs reflect an amalgam of Sinhalese and Tamil (south Indian) styles, especially in the Kandy area and in the Low Country. The heavy gold jewellery here frequently has south Indian motifs set in traditional Sinhalese designs. The traditional kurulu padakkama or bird pendant, said to have been used by King Kirti Sri Rajasingha, uses the Tamil term padakkam to describe the pendant. The bird pendant is a very popular motif in gold jewellery in the rural areas of Kandy district. A particularly spectacular kurulu padakkama is among the jewels dedicated to the Dalada Maligava or Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy.

Real and mythical birds, as well as stylised depictions like the gurulu (eagle), and the bherunda (double-headed eagle) are common motifs. Some of the finest examples of the hansa, a divine bird in Hindu mythology, are in moonstone jewellery and in other gem-studded pendants for necklaces. The makara design – described in the treatise Rupavali as a creature with the trunk of an elephant, the feet of a lion, the ears of a pig, and the body of a fish, with the teeth turned outwards, eyes like Lord Hanuman, and a splendid tail – is found in the intricately carved pendants made for gold chains.

2. FLORAL MOTIFS
Designs derived from leaves, flowers, and seeds are found in chains and necklaces, which are often named after them. These include the peti mala or leaf and petal necklace, the gedi mala or fruit necklace, the ata mala or seed necklaces, the pol mal mala or coconut flower necklace, and the aralu mala or aralu seed necklaces. The kadupul or parasatu motif, sacred to Sakra, and associated with Buddhism in Sinhala literature, is popular in Kandyan jewellery; some state that it is another name for the motif sina mala. The sina mala is an intricate Kandyan flower design found often in gold pendants, or as the design for a gold pendant. It is also found in combination with a liya vela or climbing plant, or even as a flower spray from the mouth of a beast. The motif of the leaf of the sacred bo or pipal tree (Ficus religiosa) as well as the lotus flower, both widely prevalent in Sinhala art, are also common in jewellery designs and patterns, often in extremely stylised forms.

3. MISCELLANEOUS PATTERNS
The binduwa (dots) can be seen in most pieces of jewellery as a collective, linear or as part of a composite design; it is frequently found in filigree designs in gold jewellery.

In the charm pendant used for the child called divi-niya-pota, the sun and moon are cut on the boundary stone as symbols of eternity and are represented as a plain disc and a crescent respectively. The circular design sometimes has human features on it.

CONCLUSION
The upper and upper middle classes in the urban areas of Sri Lanka view European styles and designs as fashionable in jewellery; changes in European designs and trends are reflected in Sri Lanka too. A predominance of geometrical designs is visible. Inexpensive coloured stones, mainly topazes and garnets, are used in combination with gold in striking settings. Germany has become a particularly lucrative market for contemporary Sri Lankan jewellery.

Despite the increasing market for contemporary designs, traditional designs continue to remain established in their particular niche. Special occasions, especially marriages, continue to involve jewellery with traditional designs and settings.

 

SILVER JEWELLERY & PRODUCTS

Silver has been used for jewellery-making, carving, and inlay work, as well as for making ornamental and utilitarian products. The Ridi Vihara, a temple at Kurunegala, about 120 kilometres from Colombo, derives its name from the silver (ridi) carvings which it is famous for: the windows of the temple are adorned with panels of silver. Silver was sometimes preferred over gold for making trays, salvers, sprayers, betel boxes and snuff boxes in ancient times.

Silver has been used for making jewellery, especially in the central Kandy province of Sri Lanka; however, it is not traditionally used for jewellery pieces for the neck and the ears. Among the lower socio-economic groups, gold-plated silver jewellery, with the polish of gold but much less expensive than solid gold, was commonly worn; this practice continues even to this day. The popular belief among the Sinhalese that it is in inauspicious not to wear any jewellery has also meant that not even wealthy people wear some items of jewellery; the relative inexpensiveness of silver as compared to gold creates a demand for silver ornaments.

MYTHS, LEGENDS, & HISTORY

Neelawala, a village in Kandy district, was given as a gift by King Wickramarajasingha to a highly talented silver master-craftsman; the village today has several silver artisans, descendants of the original master-craftsman, who continue to practise the craft. There is an interesting story attached to Neelawala. Apparently, King Wickramarajasingha who ruled that region retired to a craftsman’s house for the night in disguise. There was a highly carved beautifully detailed silver sword in its holder worn by the king even while he slept; the father of the craftsman carved a beautiful design with silver and set it on the king’s toenail and embellished it with precious stones, in the night. In the morning the king was astonished to see the beautiful design on his toe-nail; he recognised the craftsman as being the father of the master-craftsman who had designed his sword. As a gift he gave him and his family the village of Neelawala. Apparently, a drummer climbed up the hill and beat on his drum. All the land up to which the drum’s echo could be heard, about 400-500 acres, became part of the gift, which was thereafter known as the village of Neelawala. The village is considered very special in Sri Lanka; it is presently under the patronage of the Kandyan Chieftain.

THE PRODUCT RANGE

1. TRADITIONAL EXAMPLES
Silversmiths of the ancient Kandyan kingdom were masters of fine engraving and carving; they also mended and polished the sacred vessels that belonged to temples. Silver meant royal honour in the ancient Kandyan kingdom. The Kandyan kings gave their chiefs silver-inlaid swords, and ornate chains and bracelets. Silver vessels were used to serve the king and his family members and silver lamps were lit in the palaces. The Kandyan Chieftain who is also the Chief Custodian of the Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy to this day wears leather shoes with traditional gold-plated silver inlaying in it; the gifts he generally gives are of silver-plated brass. State guests, however, receive gifts of pure silver.

The chieftains of old, mainly in the Kandyan region had gold or silver knives as part of their adornment. These were made with inlay and overlay work, with detailed work on the mounting and the sheaths, and were decorative items, not meant to be used. Most of these were made in the four royal workshops, the knives being supplied to the silverware artisans by blacksmiths. Decorative knives are still made though folding knives are rarely seen.

Fine examples of gold and silver craftsmanship can be found in the temples of Sri Lanka; the royal palaces have been, for the most part, ransacked, and the valuable items removed in 1815. The silver lamp and the betel stand (dalamura tatuva) in Kandy temples are very fine in design and craftsmanship, while the silver ornament or kendiya from the Maha Devale or the main temple is striking in its simplicity. Palanquins in the temples sometimes have fittings of silver and sannasas or royal charters are sometimes engraved in silver: the Maha Devale in Kandy has a gold sannasa that is kept in a silver-mounted ivory box.

 

2. JEWELLERY AND ORNAMENTAL & UTILITARIAN ITEMS
Among items of everyday use, bar locks had and continue to have large and very beautiful keys mounted with brass or silver. Small boxes (heppu) used for storing trinkets sometimes have handles of silver. The dishes and plates used in wealthy households – used to serve rice in or eat from – are also made of silver. These dishes are known as teti and a leaf is laid on the dish over which rice is served. Other traditional items made from silver jewellery included the dat-katuva (toothpick) and a kan-henda (ear-spoon), the former made of silver and ivory and the latter only of silver. These were commonly carried around by people; women carried silver chatelaines, based on European models, which consisted of a large bunch of sham keys.

Some of the products of silver jewellery made now are exquisitely hand-crafted creations in filigree work: chains, armlets, anklets, bangles, rings, pendants, necklaces, tussle earrings, hoop earrings, and bracelets encrusted with precious stones like moonstones and other semi-precious stones are part of the range. Other silverware items which are carved and chased along with filigree work are trays, wall plaques, trinket boxes, tea sets, desk sets, candle-stands, cutlery and ash-trays. A lot of fashionable ‘designer’ jewellery uses silver as a base metal, with settings of semi-precious stones like jade, onyx, coral, turquoise, and cornelian. These are fairly international in terms of design trends, as well as in terms of the gems that are popularly used: a fair amount of zircons, diamonds, and black onyx can be seen.

Gem-studded dressed elephants are very popular: silver-work artisans in the southern provinces and in Kandy produce exquisite silver carvings to embellish the beauty of caparisoned ebony elephants studded with gems. These aesthetically delightful items are extremely popular with foreign tourists as well as with the local social elite. The silverware from Matara, the southernmost tip of the island about 310 kilometres from Colombo, has a predominant Dutch influence in the making of combs, brooches, buttons, and rings; these are set with Matara diamonds or white zircons. In terms of design and style, these exceedingly beautiful items resemble the jewellery of seventeenth century Italy or Portugal.

Sterling silver as well as plated silverware is made. Plated silverware (EPNS) like trinket boxes, trays (shaped like Sri Lanka and moonstones), cut-work trays, sweet dishes, and tea strainers made by Kandyan silver artisans are highly valued.

MOTIFS & DESIGNS
See Gold.

MATERIALS, TOOLS & TECHNIQUES

1. MATERIALS
Like gold, silver is bought in the open market at fairly high prices, though apex bodies like the National Crafts Council of Sri Lanka are attempting to supply silver to the artisans at cost price, to reduce the cost of production. The main sources of silver in the open market are the districts of Colombo and Kandy. In the northern region silver artisans of Jaffna can purchase silver from the open markets locally.

2. TECHNIQUES

The techniques commonly practised by silver artisans in Sri Lanka are filigree work, repousse, and damascene work.

Silver filigree jewellery is made by converting silver biscuits into plates and then into delicate wires. Traditionally, it was done manually by the artisan; now the process is mechanised. However, the strings of silver wire drawn by the machine are too thick for delicate jewellery; for this, the artisan continues to draw the wire by hand. Thin wires are created by pressing silver threads through a plate known as sidurupata, after which the threads are pressed in a press to flatten them. Minute silver pellets are obtained from this process, which are arranged according to a particular design on a plate, cut to the size of the ornament to be made. Welding, the final phase is done using a blow tube. This technique is used to create several of the popular designs: polmalaya (coconut flower design), lunumalaya (onion flower design), and puhugedimalaya (empty nut). The tools required for this craft include an anvil, small hammers, pliers, the plate or sidurupata, and equipment for soldering.

Navaratna Abharana Pahalagedara Karunaratne, a craftsman from the famous silver craft village of Neelawala, states that despite the trend towards modernisation in technique, silver artisans are committed to preserving tradition. Age-old methods continue, whereby bars of silver are kiln-heated, and painstakingly beaten by hand to the required thinness by hand. The wax is heated again and the plate is removed.

The creation of ornamental elephants, recalling the grandeur of the Perahera festival of Kandy which takes place every August in honour of the Temple of the Tooth Relic of Kandy, exemplifies several of the techniques in silver-crafting. The body of the elephant is made of ebony or wood (made by wood-carvers and sold to silver artisans), and this is then embellished with silver and gems.

The dress of the elephant, which is made of silver, can be crafted in several ways. The common method is to beat the silver into thin sheets on which the traditional designs are carved. (This is similar to brass sheet-work). The silver sheet is placed on a tablet of powdered brick mixed with wax; the design is drawn on it and is beaten or carved. The dress is then fitted on to the elephant. In the second method, the silver sheet is cut according to the required dress, and then decorated with filigree work. The third method is to dress the elephant in lunumala filigree work. In all the three methods the ornamentation is fitted in with gemstones to add colour and brilliance to the work. The tools used are small chisels and hammer for cutting out the designs on the silver sheet. Small silver boxes are made using bronze, copper or wooden moulds.

One of the three methods of damascening in Sri Lanka is the Indian method of koftagiri practised in north India. In this the surface of the base metal (iron) is roughened by scratching it finely and then thinly drawn silver wire is pressed into these grooves. This method is an inferior form of damascening; the other two methods – inlay and outlay – are finer methods. In inlay work, a very narrow groove is cut on the base metal and the silver or brass wire is inlaid in this; the surface is then hammered, causing the two sides of the groove to grip the silver wire tightly. When the surface is smoothened and filed, the design shows up brightly in a clear outline. In the case of overlay work, the surface to be covered is first slightly excavated and a groove is undercut in the matrix around the circumference. The silver or brass plate is then fitted into the groove and the overhanging edge of it is beaten down so the overlaid plate is held very firmly. Sometimes the surface of the matrix is carved before the overlay is applied and the design appears in relief through the overlay. The silver or brass overlay is beaten down on the carved matrix so that it is closely moulded to its surface. The overlaid metal is also chased after its application to the matrix. These methods of damascening are known as ridi-ketayan-veda.

PRACTITIONERS & LOCATIONS

The practice of making silver jewellery and products is caste-based, a context initiated during the time of royalty when members of different caste-groups specialised in making different products for the kings. The majority of silversmiths make chains, pendants, bracelets, rings, and brooches in a variety of designs with or without stone-settings. Some of these artisans also make fashionable costume jewellery in silver or other metals of lower value to keep up with newer trends and styles. The lower price of silver has enabled many members of the younger generation to take up the craft after undergoing training at government-sponsored workshops and training classes where they get a knowledge of the latest designs and techniques.

Silver jewellery and products are common in Kandy district; they are also common in the villages of Embekke, Nattaranpota, Danture, Wannipola, Ululandupitiya, and Neelawala. Matale, which is adjoining Kandy also has a strong presence of silver-metal based artisans mainly found in the village of Tambilideniya. Silver artisans can also be found in Jaffna district in the northern part of Sri Lanka, the capital of which is Jaffna, at a distance of about 395 kilometres from Colombo. The areas within the district where the craft is found are Jaffna, Thumpalai, Puloly East, Urumpirai, and Chavakachcheri South. Other places where craftspersons working with silver are found include Vavuniya and Mannar (in the northern part of Sri Lanka, near Jaffna), Kalmunai village in Ampara district (south-eastern part of Sri Lanka), and Batticaloa town (about 300 kilometres from Colombo). In Ratnapura district it is found in the villages of Bathgamgoda and Horepola; in Kurunegala district, in Dehelgamuwa; and in Galle, in Galwadugoda, Udumulla, Meemaduma, and Watugedera. In Kegalle district, on the Colombo-Kandy route, silver-based crafts are found in the villages of Aranayake and Danagama.

CONTEMPORARY PERSPECTIVES

Silver jewellery has gained in popularity in recent times, aided by the rising price of gold, as well as the influence of international fashions and trends. Liberalised export policies and active government support have also helped the cause of silver. The availability of new designs and improved traditional technology have been the basis for a boost in exports. The Export Development Board of Sri Lanka is a very active body and in recent times it has conducted several workshops on silver jewellery – on innovations and new techniques in making silver jewellery, including methods like chasing, engraving, etching, and forging. Combining sterling silver with coloured gemstones is one of the interesting ideas that have come out of such ventures.

A Jewellery Centre has been set up by the government of Sri Lanka in Belideniya (in the south), a centre of traditional jewellery master-craftspersons. The main aim is to rejuvenate the craft by bringing in new methods. Of late, a lot of women are practising the craft. A Jewellery School has also been opened at Maradana (Colombo) for young people to receive training in this craft. This will assure them a firm grounding in the craft and also give them a steady source of income along with a professional status.

Kandyan silver products are rated quite highly in Europe and America, and several pieces are showcased in international museums. The trophies and replicas presented at sporting events showcase the exquisite designing and carving skills of the silver artisans; the accomplished silversmiths of Colombo and Kandy have always maintained high standards in the making of specially commissioned presentation sets, tea services, and the like made out of sterling silver for royalty and persons of high rank.

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