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Old ties, new chains

A dangling ear ornament worn by married Kashmiri Pandit women, the 'dejhor' sits on the cusp of tradition and modernity

The ‘dejhor’ is worn by Kashmiri Pandit brides a day before the wedding, in a ceremony called ‘divgoan’. Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
The ‘dejhor’ is worn by Kashmiri Pandit brides a day before the wedding, in a ceremony called ‘divgoan’. Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

Kota’s arms jingled with gold bangles; on her ears she wore an extremely traditional dejhoor, the six-pointed star worn on each ear with the help of a long chain made of gold or thread. A famous sculpture of the Buddha’s mother nearby was adorned with the dejhoor and Kota had asked the jeweller to reproduce the antique design..." In this excerpt from Rakesh K. Kaul’s The Last Queen Of Kashmir, set in 14th century Kashmir, the author is describing Kota (the protagonist of the book), who is marrying Rinchina, a Buddhist. The cover illustration shows a golden dejhor peeking out from under Kota’s veil.

The dejhor is worn by Kashmiri Pandit brides a day before the wedding, in a ceremony called divgoan. It is suspended with a red thread from a piercing in the upper-ear cartilage. The thread is replaced with a gold chain/thread (ath) at the groom’s house. A small gold ornament, called athor, is added to the lower end of the dejhor.

Vinayak Razdan, who curates the cultural blog SearchKashmir and is the co-founder of a game studio in Kerala, says, “A dejhor is always hexagram shaped, which traditionally in the tantras is a symbol of the union of Shiv and Shakti. Interestingly, dejhor is not given to the girl by the groom, he does not put it in her ears. That is done by paternal aunts. So, strictly speaking, it cannot be compared to a mangalsutra."

In his book Arts And Crafts: Jammu And Kashmir, D.N. Saraf, writes, “The antiquity of this custom is evident from a 10th century sculpture—Birth of Buddha, at S.P.S. Museum Srinagar—in which the mother Mayadevi and another woman are shown wearing deji-hor as it is worn even today."

It’s not a convenient piece of jewellery, not to mention the piercing, which can be painful. In keeping with the times, women have found a practical solution by reducing the size of the chain and the dejhor, so that it hangs up to the ears/neck—the traditional one reaches up to the chest.

A ‘dejhor’ is always hexagram shaped, which traditionally in the ‘tantras’ is a symbol of the union of Shiv and Shakti.- Vinayak Razdan

Noida-based Shirali Raina, a doctor specializing in clinical research, says that when she was about 10 years old, she had read an article on how multiple piercings signified slavery in some cultures. “This got etched in my mind and I refused to get my upper ears pierced." But she did wear dejhor at her wedding. So did her daughter, Sasha Labru, who got married recently—she hasn’t pierced her ears. Raina got the jeweller to tweak the design so that the chain could be secured at the lower ear-lobe level.

“As one grows older, you start delving deeper into your roots and culture and start getting a better understanding of the significance of the traditions. It (dejhor) imparts a unique identity," says Raina, who likes wearing colourful tassel-like thread athors on auspicious occasions.

Dehradun-based Labru, who is doing her MD, says, “It started out as something I was supposed to wear as part of my bridal jewellery but ended up being something beautiful and gave me a sense of individuality."

Is one dejhor, then, one too many? Bengaluru-based Anuradha Khar has four dejhors: the long, traditional one for close family weddings, a medium one for other weddings and occasions, a small one for festivals, and a micro one that she wears every day. The traditional one is her mother’s nearly 60-year-old wedding dejhor. It was made when her mother was a young girl.

Last Diwali, Khar got her elder daughter’s ears pierced—she is 12. “I have to pass on my dejhors," says Khar, a gynaecologist. She says she marked the spot (on her daughter’s ears) with a marker pen, and guided the lady in the jewellery shop. Khar, who is married to a Kannadiga, adds, “My children have sambhar and dumaloo with the same enthusiasm."

Similarly, Houston-based Seema Hakhu Kachru, who wears dejhor only at Kashmiri weddings and festivals, with Indian outfits, says she has a small collection of traditional dejhors as well as a mini one. She says she will pass them on one day to her two daughters, “who may wear them occasionally depending on the attire, occasion and comfort level, like any other accessory. No push."

“A gold thread around my ears is a great tradition, but not wearing it doesn’t make me less of a Kashmiri," says Kachru, who works as director, procurement and strategic sourcing, for an energy company.

On the other hand, London-based Mishanka Kaul Ganjoo, an HR professional, says she loved seeing her mom wear them while growing up. “Even if I hadn’t married a Kashmiri, I would still wear them," says Ganjoo, who wears a mini dejhor. She doesn’t bother about whether it goes with her outfit. “It goes with my personality and with who I am," she adds. In the last nine years, she has taken it off once, when she was playing a netball match organized at work and the rules stated no jewellery.

She says that once an employee of the beauty salon she visits noticed her dejhor and was fascinated that the piercing was in the cartilage. “When I visited her the next time, she had got the same piercing done and was wearing a golden stud in it!"

Razdan says the dejhor has become like a primary marker—it helps you identify a Kashmiri Pandit, and “feel reassured that there are others around you". Last year, he says, his wife and he were visiting Periyar Lake at Thekkady in Kerala and a stranger walked up to his wife and asked if she was Kashmiri. He had noticed the dejhor.

Of course, not everyone wants to carry such great expectations on their ears. A Delhi-based journalist, who did not want to be named, says her grandmother was particular that she get her ears pierced a few months before the wedding. “I had to bear excruciating pain for a long time. I wore the dejhor for the wedding day and since then it has been lying in the bank locker. Why don’t I wear it? One, I don’t believe in symbolism, and two, it is not safe to walk around with gold chains hanging down your ears."

So while there are women who are obligated to wear the dejhor, there are others who treasure it as something that is a part of their identity; and some who are simply fond of it as jewellery. In fact, the mini versions do not even follow the hexagram design. People are also reimagining the ath by adding pearls and diamonds, so that they can wear it as a chain if they want.

Now imagine a Kashmiri wedding with women in dejhors, tilla (gold-thread embroidery) saris, hand-embroidered pashmina shawls, and sipping on kehwa. Are they celebrating style, their culture, tradition, or asserting their identity? Maybe, it’s a bit of everything.

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