Temple jewelry also sometimes unknowingly referred to as Kemp Jewelry is a very exclusive, labour intensive art form that both mesmerizes and tantalizes at one shot. Originally crafted to adorn the Indian royalty who then donated them to temples, these were later worn by temple dancers and slowly, the designs became a part of the Indian woman’s bridal jewelry trousseau. Earlier I had provided glimpses into the world of temple jewelry in my Types of jewelry post and Bridal series South post.
The metal work that you see in temple jewelry pieces is extraordinary no doubt, but that is not what entices me. What entices me are the stones used – most notably the Kemp Stones.
What is Kemp Jewelry ?
I have asked this question to many people – jewellers, elders in the family, store owners, but never got a satisfactory answer to this question. A precious jeweller who I spoke to, notes that kemp is just another name for Ruby and it denotes the scarlet colour. However, I remember my Grandma who was a jewellery connoisseur tell me that kemp meant imitation or synthetic stone.
Temple jewelry thrived under the patronage of the Cholas, Pandyaas and Rayars rule from the 9th century till the 16th century. Originating from the town of Vadaserry, in Nagercoil district, Temple jewelry, is largely made of silver, and finished with gold leaf work. It was studded with rubies, emeralds, diamonds and pearls . The stones are set in place using a natural wax called Arraku in a gold plated silver bezel. Spinels are increasing used in place of kemp or Ruby stones when it comes to gold plated silver temple jewellery. To learn more about spinels check – gemstones in Red*
Vadassery Jewelry motifs
These frames often have motifs like swan, peacock, parrot and flowers and such designs were used in making padaikams (pendants for long necklaces), Rakodi (hair piece) and pins. Addigai (necklace in the picture) is a choker/collar necklace that has big uncut stones in classic design without any motifs.
This form of temple jewelry also referred to as dance jewelry, indicating its use in Bharatanatyam and kuchipudi dance performances) is said to be based on jewelry offered to Temple Deities. It should not be confused with its metal work (gold work) cousin, where sculptures and carving from temples are replicated in miniature form in repousse and then embellished with a few stones.
Glass Cabochons referred to as Kemp used to be set in gold many years back (see pic) and were treasured heirloom pieces. Kemp means red color in some Indian Languages (Telugu and kannada), but kemp stones (though generally red) can also be green or blue*. These were called Vadassery jewelry. Glass, colored using natural colors was cut into cabochons and set in frames. Traditionally these stones were flatbacks, but I am seeing use of cut (faceted) stones as well. However, these stones are mostly spinels and not glass kemps. Today, sadly however, the kemp jewelry refers to Imitations made in copper or iron, with gold polish and glass stones.
Apart from Jewelry, Kemp Stones were also used in Tanjore paintings. These were originally made from glass using natural colors. This is done by heating, mixing, kneading, and hammer pounding the purified lac and stone colours till a dough like mass is formed. Then the mass is heated and applied to reverse side of the glass. To protect the shine, a strip of gold foil is applied to the back.
* I am not sure if the same process is used for making kemp stones of jewelry grade though.
Details about the photographs
Necklace – NOT FOR SALE * Many thanks to all you readers for asking questions and sharing your thoughts in the comments. The answers to your questions have now been included in this post itself with asterisk marks. Please note I do not sell Kemp Jewelry. The necklace in the above pictures is NOT FOR SALE. However, I do use artificial kemp focals and components in my work from time to time.
I hope you find it interesting