Money and jewellery have been the starting of the economics of a civilization. The way the two are used in trade has evolved much. It is this evolution which you will see in the newly opened permanent jewellery and money gallery at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), or what was previously known as the Prince of Wales Museum. Some pieces of the museum’s substantial jewellery collection is on display for the first time. At present, this is the only museum in India which is devoted to money and jewellery.
In fact, the CSMVS museum has had an Indian jewellery and money collection for a while, but there was never a special subject gallery devoted to the subject. The present collection of pieces of Indian jewellery and money were earlier placed in various galleries across the museum. So co-curators Usha Balakrishnan and Manisha Nene, began to conceptualise subject specific galleries for them.
From concept to the selection of objects, it took the duo a year to put each gallery together. Some galleries were moved around to create the present space. As veteran investment banker Hemendra Kothari had previously supported other projects at the CSMVS Museum, and had expressed his desire to support any interesting projects, a proposal was submitted to him. Supported by the Hemendra Kothari Foundation, both the galleries are designed by Mumbai based architecture and design firm, Somaya & Kallapa Consultants. Sydney based lighting company, LDP Visual Planners did the lighting. “We had two showcases in our metal galleria, and we have been observing that people get attracted to that. The museum being a cultural institute, has to play a positive role in presenting our culture to the people. We are not store houses; we need to share and the generations coming now don’t know the history of jewellery,” says Manisha Nene, co-curator.
As for the money gallery, initially the collection of 37,000 coins were on public view in a gallery titled, `House of Lakshmi’ till 2017. However, this was temporarily dismantled to accommodate the landmark exhibition `India and the World: A history in nine stories.’ “We thought that both galleries together will make a good pair of galleries, complimenting each other,” says Nene.
Generally when people think about the jewellery collection in a museum, a royal collection comes to mind. However, 98 per cent of the jewellery collection exhibited at the CSMVS is common man’s jewellery. Balakrishnan and Nene have tried to show the historical progress of jewellery over time through this gallery. On display is interesting and unique jewellery as far as workmanship and variety is concerned. There is a large variety of the types of ornaments made from different materials and of different types of designs. Ornaments also express multiple narratives of caste, social status, feminity and protection; they mark the rite of passage rituals.
So what is there in the jewellery gallery? Though the jewellery is that of the common man, yet it is of historical importance. There are beads from the Indus Valley civilisation, Maurya (2003 BC) and Kushan (1 AD) periods. Then there are also few jewelry pieces from the Peshwa period. Historical continuance has been shown right from the Harrapan period till present day through designs and patterns. Also on display are gold coins, or niskas, which were converted into pendants, right from the Gupta period (6 AD) till the British period.
The tradition of making coins into jewellery started when people were travelling long distances for trade. Upon crossing territories, the currency of one territory was not useful in the other, hence those coins were converted into jewellery, and worn. Even today, there are the lambadi or nomadic tribes of Rajasthan, or the langana tribes, who use coins to make jewellery.
One can also see that though jewellery is worn for adornment and beautification, many a
time they are the core of adoration, ie; they have some powers. Hence different materials besides gold and silver, such as elephant hairs, tiger claws, rudraksh, etc., were used to make the jewellery.
According to Nene, the CSMVS has a unique collection of 800 hair ornaments from
different parts of India. The collection was acquired in the 2011 from noted hairstylist Veena Shroff. The collection of hair ornaments comprises hair ornaments made from every sort of material, besides gold and silver – ivory, mother of pearl, tortoise shells, natural beads, silk threads and shells. According to Nene, this collection should be the only kind in the world.
In the limited space the curators have tried to show as much as they can about Indian jewellery. Indian jewellery is made with different techniques in different parts of the country. There are short films to highlighting these techniques – filigree, kolhapuri shaas, moulds, lac, theva, kundan. The theva is a unique enameling craft from Rajasthan. Interestingly, there are only two families who know this art today. As these artisans don’t share their techniques, whatever information available is a scholar’s interpretation. The short film depicting kundan jewellery is from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The short film on filigree work was borrowed from a craftsman, while another was shot by requesting the craftsman.
As the Museum was particularly weak in the Maharashtra section, Pune based jeweller, P.N. Gadgil & Sons, one of the oldest jewellers in Maharashtra, gifted the museum a set of traditional Maharashtran ornaments for the section dedicated to the state of Maharashtra.
People are fascinated with diamonds. The Indian branch of the Gemological Institute of America has gifted the museum carefully created replicas of famous Golconda diamonds. This will give a glimpse for visitors to understand how the originals may have looked.
It is definitely worth a visit.