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A la ROYAL jewellery

TANYA ABRAHAM meets the goldsmith whose forefathers made jewellery for royals. He continues the tradition.


CLOSE TO the Thripunithura temple and adjacent to the many primordial buildings that once housed the royalty, in an area that looms in ancient aristocracy, are a number of small low roofed shops. To any passer by they seem unattractive, apiece of an ancient past, perhaps even uninhabited. But in one of these rests stories of yesteryears and continue to kindle in the hands of the skilled occupants.

Following tradition

In the same seat as his forefathers is Ponnukash, blowing the same pipe to keep alive the flames of a precious past. One of the few goldsmiths, today, who adhere to the detail of traditional Kerala jewellery, he works on age-old patterns following the skill of fine hand work, seldom evident in present times. Grandson of Kutti Pillai Achari, Ponnukash says that his grandfather came to work for the royal family in 1928. The royal jewellers appreciated his precision, skill and flair for making jewellery. Much of his skill and traditional modes of creating jewellery were then passed onto his son and grandson. Even later when the royal family did not hold the same position and power they once did their jewellery continued to be reproduced in the hands of Ponnukash and his father.


Over the years little has changed. The tiny workshop where he works shows little flamboyance . There is no evidence of any jewellery in sight, nor the glisten of gold. All that is visible is an old table where Ponnukash says, "he rests" or often examines the finer points of a design mould. Inside the drawer, are numerous packets containing bits and pieces of metal, some bearing intricate carvings, others plain and simple. None of them are in gold, instead in brass or silver. Ponnukash, brandishing a piece in one hand, explains the necessity to produce them first in less expensive metals. "Sometimes they need to be made numerous times before the actual

designs, size and pattern are obtained. And based on this, the final piece is produced." Ponnukash adds that in the 44 years that he has worked, a large part of it sitting beside his father and grandfather, the importance of precision and detail were well learnt. In fact, the measurement with which he perceives things, the amount of gold required, the size of a clasp etc. is a skill that have been learnt over the years. Achieved, "simply by watching them, and there is no hard and fast rule." Explains Ponnukash.


The patterns he tries to emulate, from memory or antique pieces, sometimes even from paintings of Ravi Varma, are unique and carry a certain detail unseen elsewhere. In his Nagabadam necklace, for example, each piece takes on a unique curve and bears details that are in perfect unison to the

Other and are threaded together to create a marvellous necklace.

He describes the piece and says that stained glass that was originally used in a `Nagabadam' is hard to obtain today and many tend to settle for plastic or low quality coloured glass. But Ponnukash's intention to create a perfect piece, just like what the royals adorned, has caused him to search for ancient glass.

Ancient glass

"Most of it is obtained from old buildings or homes that once decorated windows and doors that have now been pulled down. In fact, people have now begun approaching me with these, and are often brought from Tamil Nadu," he adds. All his works of jewellery are the result of similar attention and hard work with each piece taking two to three months to complete. "For, he says, "every work of art produced involves tremendous hard work, and anything done `quickly' cannot offer the same effect. It has to be envisaged and pre-conceived, and when an artist is sure of the result, nothing can go wrong. In fact, I am certain what I make cannot break or loose polish for they are done by hand, based on methods of the past."

To Ponnukash, his work appears more than just a means of income. It is a skill he preciously treasures. One that he has learnt from his predecessors and one of a royal calibre.

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