The Story Of India And Gold Through The Ages

The Story Of India And Gold Through The Ages

A mineralised nugget extracted from the bowels of the earth—this unassuming clump has spawned wars, lured invaders and caused many a civilisation to rise and fall. Indeed, through the ages, the lustre of gold has been too hard to resist. From the ancient Egyptians to the Romans to the Aztecs, gold has been exalted and revered. But perhaps, its sheen is the brightest in the Indian sub-continent, where the story of the culture and gold is one and the same.

Text: Shweta Vepa Vyas

Gold in antiquity

Historically, India has been the largest ever consumer of gold, only to be overtaken by China in the last couple of years. The origins of the use of gold in India go as far back as the Indus Valley civilisation. Over the last few decades, excavations at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro unearthed a treasure trove of objects made in gold—sequins, nuggets, beads, buttons, discs and of course an exquisite array of jewellery from head-ornament to necklaces, rings, pendants and amulets proving that our obsession with the metal goes back to our early ancestors. In fact, apart from the jewellery pieces, several other artefacts—believed to be decorative items for the home—have  been excavated showing our deep-rooted connection with the metal.

Depiction of a jeweller, from Company School, Lucknow, circa 1800

Gold standard

Coinage in India has a separate history altogether. Historians believe Indians developed the world's first coins. One line of thought amongst archaeologists attribute Kushan emperor Vima Kadphises to introduce the first standardised gold coins in the subcontinent in approximately 100 AD. The Kushans are believed to be an Indo-European people whose empire stretched all the way from northern India (present-day Uttar Pradesh) to Afghanistan. The coinage system of the Kushan empire with its weight standards was the foundation for coinage during the Gupta empire—credited with 'Indianising' the coins in terms of style and design.  

Image source: Solid gold nuggets, coins and biscuits, photographed by our master goldsmith just before it was melted to make our Holiday Collection in 18kt solid gold

A symbol of divinity

Over the centuries, gold, the only corrosion-resistant metal—a quality that makes it timeless—has  come to be associated with purity. And in India, the land of spirituality and rich religious traditions, the purest has always been reserved for the divine. Historically, temples in India have been the centres of religious and cultural activity. These in turn were propagated by rulers to win favour with the gods—and people alike. Their support took the form of huge donations of gold—that found its way into ornaments for the deities as well as adorned the temples themselves. A simple Google search reveals that gold reserves in Indian temples is estimated at approximately 20,000 tonnes—which far exceeds the annual global supply of approximately 4500 tonnes.

Image source: Watermelon tourmaline baguette necklace with seed pearls handcrafted in 18kt solid gold available in our One-Of-A-Kind section on #LuneFine

Cultural traditions

Culturally, gold is woven into the very fabric of Indian traditions. A symbol of wealth, of marital bliss, of divinity, no function is complete without gold. Starting from birth, a gift of gold is considered an auspicious token for a new born. At each stage in the child's life—from getting piercings to coming of age—a gift of gold is the most valuable, literally and figuratively. Equated with purity it's believed to usher in good fortune and the Goddess Lakshmi, be it a puja or a wedding. Indeed, an Indian wedding without gold would be unthinkable. And thus, as we go through our time-honoured traditions, life in India is intricately-woven with gold—a metal as timeless as time itself.

Photograph of a group of goldsmiths (Sonars) seated around a low work table in Bombay, taken by Shivashanker Narayen in c. 1873, from the Archaeological Survey of India Collections.

About the author: Over the last decade and a half, Shweta has worked with leading Indian publications—she writes on beauty, design, art and lifestyle as and when her children allow it.