Indian Thandatti

Look at this amazing gold earrings. The abstract constructive design could be contemporary, couldn’t it?!
The three-dimension form is so impressive and composed of almost sharp geometry: squares and spheres.

Gold earrings, 1st half 1900. Courtesy of Cose così gioielli

This type of earrings is traditional adornment from South India called Thandatti and means the stem of the sandalwood tree. Probably it’s connected with the tradition of wearing stretched wood earlobes wood pieces. Despite being large and big, the earrings are quite light and were worn in elongated earlobes by wealthy women of Madurai area.

Gold earrings, 19th century. Courtesy of Michael Backman Ltd.

Gold earrings, 19th century. Courtesy of Michael Backman Ltd.

They suppose the design was inspired by gopuram, a monumental ornate temple entrance tower in south Indian architecture.

It’s also believed that thandatti are a stylized version of earrings of Lord Shiva performing as Nataraja the tandava, a cosmic dance of creation. The earrings with precise geometry could symbolize a creation of cosmos out of chaos.

Despite that the first statues of dancing Shiva appreared in the 5th and 6th century C.E, the most famous form of dancing Nataraja evolved under the rule of the Cholas in South India.

A 10th century Chola dynasty bronze sculpture of Shiva, the Lord of the Dance. Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The earrings is different in each ear, symbolizing by the dual  nature.  In the right ear is an earring in the shape of a makara, usually worn by males. In the left ear there is a circular earring, usually worn by women.

Shiva Nataraja, 18th century. Bronze. Brooklyn Museum

Shiva Nataraja, 18th century. Bronze. Brooklyn Museum

The thandatti earrings were worn is a sign of nobility and respectability and were given to daughters before marriage as a symbol of fertility.

It’s still considered a prestige to wear this traditional ornament in Madurai. You can find many rich women wearing it in villages.

A woman wearing thandatti earrings in Kanniyampathi (50km from Madurai). Photo made by Belgian photographer Henk Oochappan





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