Pair of Nilgiri Earrings

Historical period(s)
late 19th-early 20th century
Gold sheet metal
H x W: 9.2 x 5.9 cm (3 5/8 x 2 5/16 in)
India, Tamil Nadu state
Credit Line
Purchase — funds provided by Rajinder K. Keith and Narinder K. Keith
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Freer Gallery 01: Body Image: Arts of the Indian Subcontinent
Jewelry and Ornament, Metalwork


Provenance research underway.

Since ancient times, gold in India was understood to have a positive and purifying effect on its wearer. Equally potent is the reference to snakes encoded within the geometry of these tribal earrings, known as pambadam (pambu means serpent in Tamil). Each form-sphere, cone, arch, circle, and trefoil-has the name of a part of the serpent's anatomy. In Hindu tradition, snakes are recognized as protectors of deities and guardians of treasures. Such earrings are still worn by village women in the southern part of Tamil Nadu.

Published References
  • Dr. Carol R. Bolon, Amita Sarin. Metaphors in Gold: The Jewelry of India. vol. 6, no. 4 New York, Fall 1993. pp. 25-26, fig. 8.
Collection Area(s)
South Asian and Himalayan Art
Web Resources
Whistler's Neighborhood
Google Cultural Institute
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