Culture,  Himachal Pradesh

Traditional Jewellers of Kinnaur

Storyteller – Pramiti Negi
Rekong Peo, Kinnaur District, Himachal Pradesh

Read this story in Hindi

I often tease my mother-
Amma, will you give me the Daglo (silver bangles) that your mother gave you when I marry?”
And she quips –
“I will give it away when I grow old. For now, they are mine.”

I come from Kinnaur, a small district of Himachal Pradesh that has a rich artistic heritage. The traditional jewellery here is very beautiful and unique. This jewellery and the craft of jewellery making is deeply linked to the culture, history and economy of Kinnaur.

Photo: Woman wearing the Daglo (silver bangles) and gold bangles

Since childhood, I have seen women in my neighbourhood dressing up in our traditional attire and dancing with all their heart during festivals. As I grew up, I was drawn towards the jewellery and the culture of Kinnaur that they encapsulate. The reason for this attraction was not only their enchanting beauty and my feeling especially beautiful on wearing them, but also the realization of the deep emotional connection with the values associated with the jewellery.

Traditionally, at the time of marriage, a girl is given jewellery by her maternal family, such as the Contai, Bithri and Gur Shanglang. And though she is gifted jewellery from her in-laws, there is something special about what she receives from her mother’s house. Daglo (silver bangles) are given to a newborn baby by her maternal grandmother or maapo (family members of her maternal side). The ancestral jewellery inherited by daughters and daughters-in-law, which has been worn by many generations of that family, tells a unique story of its own. A woman’s jewellery is also considered her last means of financial security.

Photo: Kinnauri Jewellery

The traditional jewellers of Kanam village, Padam Soni and his brother Bhagat Soni, craft this jewellery with their hands with much love, perhaps more than that of the woman who wears it. Both brothers are greatly skilled in their work. Demand for making jewellery comes their way from far and wide. They have also done great work for the local deities and temples. The relationship with their daakpo is also very dear to them and this inspires them to keep doing good work. Daakpo is a practice in Kinnaur under which the family of a jewellery maker remains associated with a particular family for several generations. Such an artisan can have many daakpo in the village. 

Photo: 200-year-old Gau (jewellery) made by Padam Soni’s grandfather

With time both the brothers have adopted some modern technologies and certain manual tasks have now become easier with the help of machines. They have set up their own jewellery shop, but many a times it remains locked as they work from home on orders given by customers and their daakpo.

Padam ji often comments – 

“Not everyone can understand the value of our work”. 

To appreciate this work, one has to be cognisant of all the hard work and time that goes into creating a single piece of artwork. It is said that it takes a jeweller to know the true value of a diamond. It is a matter of great pride and joy that Padam and Bhagat Soni continue to use their skills to craft exquisite jewellery that earns them the appreciation and respect of their people.

The artisans of Kinnaur face both opportunities and challenges. This short video attempts to scratch the surface of some of these aspects.

Meet the storyteller

Pramiti Negi
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Pramiti Negi is an avid enthusiast of Ghibli movies and loves collecting different varieties of green tea. A simple way to please her is to make her a personalized music playlist. She strives to incorporate elements of the storytelling traditions which she inherited from her ancestors, into her work. She aspires to finish writing her first novel before she turns 30. Pramiti lives in Rekong Peo, in the border district of Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh and is currently a Himal Prakriti Fellow.

प्रमिति नेगी घिबली फिल्मों की शौकीन हैं और उन्हें विभिन्न प्रकार की ग्रीन टी इकट्ठा करना पसंद है। उसे खुश करने का एक सरल तरीका यह है कि उसके पसन्द का संगीत प्लेलिस्ट बना कर उसे दे दी जाए। वह अपने काम में कहानी कहने की उन परंपराओं के तत्वों को शामिल करने का प्रयास करती हैं जो उन्हें अपने पूर्वजों से विरासत में मिली हैं। वह 30 साल की होने से पहले अपना पहला उपन्यास लिखना चाहती है। प्रमिति हिमाचल प्रदेश के सीमावर्ती जिले किन्नौर के रिकांग पियो में रहती हैं और वर्तमान में हिमल प्रकृति फेलो हैं।

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