ADORN & PROTECT: Ranchi-based collector Dinesh Saw shows a tribal neckpiece. Picture by Prashant Mitra
Born in a family of jewellers, he knew he was a rebel with a green thumb. And yet, 42-year-old Dinesh Kumar, who now owns one of the biggest nurseries of the capital, has reclaimed the legacy of his forefathers in a unique way.
In the early 2000s, when Kumar inherited a conventional diamond, gold and silver jewellery shop in Ranchi’s Upper Bazar, he knew his heart was not in business. In 2006, Kumar followed his heart and set up Green Garden, a nursery in Ormanjhi with a selling kiosk in Kutchery.
But fate led him to jewellery in an unconventional way. One day, rummaging through his Upper Bazar jewellery shop, he chanced across a box. It happened to be his great-grandfather’s, who was the jeweller-cum-craftsperson for Palkot’s royal family in Gumla.
“My grandfather Baldeo Saw saved the collection of his father and my great-grandfather Halkhori Saw. I was just floored seeing the intricate silver jewellery of the royal tribal family. My great-grandfather was not alive, but luckily for me, my grandfather was and he knew the name of each heirloom piece and the purpose behind each,” Kumar says.
That box changed his life, he says without a trace of exaggeration.
“Tribal jewellery is a woman’s ornament and armour,” he says. “Traditionally, tribal women are strong and well equipped in the art of self defence. Her jewellery reflects this,” Kumar said, showing a tarki or a neckpiece with spikes on it.
“If a woman wearing this hit an attacker, he can be fatally injured. Similarly, a tarpat or earring also has intricately carved spikes that can injure anybody. Hope you understand why women wear such pieces,” Kumar said.
So were women safer wearing the ornaments?
“Definitely,” said Kumar. “Who will dare touch a lady wearing weapons from top to bottom? From the clip in her hair bun to her anklets, everything can be used as a weapon if needed,” Kumar added.
It beats carrying a pepper spray can, any day.
Kumar was so inspired by his great-grandfather’s collection that he started touring places to source out more tribal vintage jewellery.
“I started visiting Kolhan and Santhal Pargana intensively. I visit homes, old families, see the pieces, buy a representative item. I learn all the time. For example, Kolhan’s motifs are floral, while Santhal Pargana’s are more geometric,” he said.
His passion increased after his grandfather Baldeo Saw passed away in 2011 at age 98. “My grandfather wasn’t a typical jeweller running a shop. He had interest in anthropology. Researchers and anthropologists used to come to him. Now that he’s no more, researchers from places like Denmark and Auckland come to me instead,” Kumar said, adding the interest in jewellery skipped one generation — his father Ram Kishore Saw is an advocate.
Kumar isn’t interested in making copies of antique jewellery worn by tribal women.
“Can we make Taj Mahal again?” he asks. “A copy of an antique is just that, a copy. An antique captures the era of the karigar and the customer. Rather than making replicas, I am more interested in writing a book on Jharkhand’s ethnic jewellery,” Kumar said.
Do you know of anyone who is conserving Jharkhand’s tribal legacy? Tell firstname.lastname@example.org