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Chandbalis in the spotlight

  • Tracing its roots to Mughal and Rajput royalty, the ‘chandbali’ is a bejewelled interpretation of the crescent moon
  • The earrings are crafted in many variations by jewellers and designers, incorporating enamelling, kundan-jadau and unusual gemstones

Enamelled ‘chandbalis’ by Raniwala 1881
Enamelled ‘chandbalis’ by Raniwala 1881

Alamkara, the jewellery gallery at Delhi’s National Museum, is a house of treasures filled with jewelled artefacts, from a Harappan brooch (circa 2600-1900 BC) to a 19th century tali (marriage pendant) from Chettinad. Among the many historical pieces that populate this gallery is a pair of earrings from 19th century Rajasthan that would certainly be labelled a statement piece in today’s fashion jargon.

Crafted in gold, the earrings comprise two crescent moons moulded within each other, studded with rubies and diamonds and fringed with tiny pearls. A flowerhead studded with more diamonds and pearls—with a ruby at the centre—surmounts the moons while a fish-shaped drop pendant makes up the bottom of the earrings. The back of the earrings is equally ornate, delicately adorned with meenakari (enamelling).

A design by Puja Shah for Aurus Jewels
A design by Puja Shah for Aurus Jewels

Despite the centuries-old origins of these earrings, it doesn’t take a historian to know that these are chandbalis (moon earrings). One of the most recognizable designs in the vast repertoire of Indian jewellery traditions, chandbalis remain immensely popular. You might spot Bollywood stars wearing them on the red carpet or in the movies—Madhuri Dixit’s elaborate earrings in Kalank make for a recent example. But you are equally likely to see a family member, friend or acquaintance donning an ornate pair for a wedding or festive occasion or a lighter, non-precious version for an everyday look.

While early iterations of the chandbali are found in the jewellery archives of Rajasthan’s royal dynasties and Hyderabad’s nizams, its roots may be traced back to the early medieval rulers and Mughal aristocrats. “The Mughals brought a lot of Islamic influence, and the moon, in its crescent shape, is considered very auspicious in Islam," says Puja Shah, founder and designer of Ahmedabad-based Aurus Jewels. “But at that time it was not seen as much in the earrings, but it was seen more in the jhumar (hair pieces)." One can see early examples of the crescent shape in jewellery in Mughal paintings, and it was perhaps the cultural intermingling among ruling dynasties across India that made the half-moon shapes popular in the jewellery traditions of other regions as well.

‘chand jhumkas’ from Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas Jaipur
‘chand jhumkas’ from Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas Jaipur

The popularity of chandbalis hasn’t dimmed, in spite of the emergence of newer designs and jewellery-making techniques. Abhiyant Raniwala, co-owner of the Jaipur-based luxury jewellery label Raniwala 1881, has been making chandbalis since his brother Abhishek and he founded the brand in 2007. He says he has seen the demand for these pieces grow.

“We try and create more of the traditional designs, which are popular among women who tend to wear these earrings with traditional or fusion outfits," he adds. “Most chandbalis (traditionally) have a fish motif and are studded with gemstones. We do a lot of enamelling and also play with the moons—chandbalis tend to have one or two moons and the ulta chand (inverted moon) is also popular."

Yash Agarwal, creative director of Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas Jaipur, also draws from traditional designs to create new variations of the jewel. “Taking inspiration from the existing designs, we curate and design chandbalis in different variations, such as double-layered chandbalis, chand-jhumkas, and chand-sheeshphools that have been always well-received by our clients."

At Aurus, Shah offers a playful, irreverent take on jewellery and her aesthetic extends to chandbalis—the earrings come in asymmetric patterns, studded with geometric navratna stones and fringed with unconventional gemstones like tanzanites, tourmalines and citrines. For silver chandbalis, turn to brands like Tribe By Amrapali, Joolry and Silverline, among others, which offer traditional designs as well as variations like double-chand chandeliers.

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