From Big B Amitabh Bachchan singing ‘Ke Pag Ghunghroo Bandh Meera Naache’ in the 80s to Hrithik Roshan dancing to ‘Ghunghroo’ in 2019, the anklet has been a beloved adornment to embellish the artful feminine feet.
However, mention should be made that the Ghunghroo and the Payel are two different ornaments. The Payel or Paijeb is the more minimalist and modern version of the classical Ghungroo, which has more layers and intricacies. Moreover, over time, the Ghungroo has been associated to the dancers as an integral part of their classical dance costumes like in Bharatnatyam, Mohiniyattam and Odissi, and the Payel is an ornament instead.
First evidence of anklets was found in the excavated anklets from Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations. Historians believe that the anklets were a daily adornment for Egyptian royalty and the commoners too, the only difference being the metal it was composed of: gold with studded gemstones for the royals and silver for the commoners. In India, the presence of anklets dates back further into the Neolithic and Chalcolithic excavations at Mehrgarh and in the famous bronze dancing girl statuette excavated in Mohenjodaro. Another interesting motif of the anklet is how it has inspired literature for a thousand years among cultures, dating as far back to the first-century BC when the earliest Tamil epic Silappatikaram (The Story of the Anklet) was written.
Like the ring, the anklet has deep emotional and socio-cultural connotations attached to it. The word ‘payel’ comes from the Hindi word ‘payalak’ and for the female child in different eastern cultures of the world, it is a symbol of her femininity and a prayer for her prosperous and peaceful future. Indeed, the payel is often associated as a symbol of goddess Lakshmi in the Hindu pantheon and considered an icon of the life of a woman. In Rajasthan, women wear silver anklets whose thickness pertains to their tribal and cultural adherences, thus giving them a certain identity. Again, centuries prior, the Kshatriya caste of Orissa were often found to be wearing gold anklets while the rest wore ones in silver.
Not just in the Hindu culture, the payel is also a dominant adornment in several Islamic cultures around Arabia and the Middle East. In the past, a woman’s arrival was often announced by the chhan-chhan sound of her anklets.
Another interesting observation shows how the anklets are adorned by both men and women in different tribal cultures. Of course, the anklets on the feet of men are thicker and melded to be stiff round hoops of one base metal with a few inscriptions carved into it, while that of the women were more elegantly ornamented.
At present, the anklets have come out in diverse appearances thanks to the sheer innovations of our master jewellers. Apart from the traditional silver anklets that are symbolic of the Rajasthani women, anklets are currently found in gold, bronze, and oxidized silver versions with intricate kundan and meenakari designs upon them. Besides such filigree, even encrusted gemstone anklets are also available.
In Orissa, a great variety of traditional jewellery includes various designs for the anklets, namely the Paunji Nupur for women and the Padapadma, which is a thick anklet that covers the entire feet.
Anklets are also an important part of any bride’s trousseau in India, irrespective of the state. From the traditional Kerala gold anklets that are thick and staunchly attached to the feet, to the thinner silver nupur anklets of the eastern states, the variations are impeccable and indispensable for the blushing bride.
Anklets also offer an extensive stage for innovation for the jewellers which is led to a number of experimentations from the traditional pieces over the decades. It is a beloved among customers who enjoy costume jewellery as well. Anklets are often made from leather, plastic or nylon with intricate charms added to them, simple electroplated chains of gold or silver and in oxidized jewellery.
With its easy affordability depending on the materials used and adaptability to different attires, the anklets have charmed both the East and the West. Often Hollywood celebrities are found wearing simplistic silver anklets paired with their magnificent gowns and sky-high heels, and here in India, the anklets have charmed our Bollywood divas as well.