While kundan and minakaari are two separate and celebrated precious jewellery traditions that India boasts of, the magic that has been wrought by the unification of the two streams, in the form of kundan-minakaari, finds much-needed documentation in Shimul Mehta Vyas’s coffee table book When Jewellery Speaks-Celebrating the Tradition of Kundan Minakaari. An engaging narrative initiates the reader into an understanding of the craft from the disciplines of history, sociology, culture, arts and crafts, thanks to academician Vyas’ holistic approach. “If you look at precious jewellery techniques, kundan-minakaari is still very relevant to contemporary times. Every wedding will see at least one kundan-minakaari set being bought,” says Vyas. Armed with a specialisation in Accessory Design from Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, and her 19-year association with the National Institute of Design (NID), Vyas, the institute’s senior design faculty, decided to take a broader look at the discipline. “It was initially daunting to find my position as an author, from a designer’s point of view. Therefore, the book starts with history, Islamic vocabulary of ornamentation, thematic inspirations and establishes tacit cultural connections,” says Vyas.
A labour of love that has been three years in the making, the book traces kundan-minakaari’s evolution through the cultural synthesis and vision of India’s Mughal rulers, the distillation of Indian, Persian and European influences and modern-day practice of the craft in Jaipur, Bikaner and Varanasi.
To her credit, Vyas’ writing is simple, succinct and educative, steering clear of being too verbose or scholastic. With a foreword by erstwhile royalty Padmini Devi of Jaipur, the backing of the Jaipur Jewellery Show and the support of NID, the anthology also seeks to pay tribute to the craftspeople “who have kept the tradition alive for over 450 years, passing it on from generation
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Peppered with beautiful images from the Padshahnama, those sourced from the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, selective gems from private collections, as well as a detailed step-by-step presentation of the jewellery-making process, the book is a visual treat, art directed by Gunjan Ahlawat.
As for her tryst with jewellery, Vyas, who has been taking an active interest in jewellery design for over a decade, says a lifetime is not enough to study and appreciate the culture of jewellery in India, much like its rich textile tradition. “India has a rich oral tradition but not much has been recorded for posterity. It is very important for us as a country, for NID as an institution and for me as an academician, that our age-old techniques and traditions are diligently documented,” says Vyas. (The book, priced at Rs 4,000 was first published by Diamondworld and co-published by NID).