We see jewellery and accessories all around the world that use beautiful beadwork. But have you ever wondered where this beautiful art came from? A more interesting question that might come to your mind is, when did it start? 

The craft of beadwork dates back to the Indus Valley Civilisation or Harappan Civilisation. It is one of the earliest known cultures of the Indian subcontinent that lasted from 3300 BCE to 1300 BCE. Harappa was one of the core regions of this civilisation. The craft of beadwork is almost 5000 years old, and it is still practised in the Khambhat region of Gujarat in India. Khambhat was the southernmost province in Harappan Civilisation, where beadmaking was widely practised. 


People's dressing and accessories reflected their fashion taste and social ranking. The jewellery they adorned provided a distinction between various classes of people. The Indus Valley Aristocrats wore bead jewellery. They used semiprecious stones such as Agate, Carnelian, Bloodstone, and Lapis Lazuli. 


Do you know how ancient it is? The Harappan stone bead industry in Khambhat dates back to circa 2500 BC. It is one of the world's oldest fashion capitals. In fact, in Mesopotamia, the carnelian beads from Harappan towns have been retrieved from archaeological sites and royal tombs. 


Since stone bead making has been a part of Khambhat for a long time, it is an ideal place to examine the organisation of this specialised craft. We can understand aesthetic expressions and trading networks through beadwork. By studying the beads, we also get valuable insight into the culture of the Harappan civilisation. The bead's prevalence in history has only scratched the surface of their significance. Various archaeological records often reflect social, economic, and political aspects of craft organisations.


Anwar Hussain Shaikh

The Award-Winning Artisan

It was my privilege and honour to interview Mr Anwar Hussain Shaikh. He is one of the most talented artisans in this trade and has won several awards. He has also received a National Award in 2003 by Dr APJ Abdul Kalaam (11th President of India) for the ancient art of bead making. In addition to these, Anwar Hussain Sheikh has also received recognition from the Archaeology Department at Dholavira. 


Anwar's most beloved masterpiece is a bowl made from 64 kgs of stone with 12-inch and 14-inch dimensions. Apart from beads jewellery, Anwar enjoys making bowls from these stones.


His father, Inayat Hussain, taught him the intricate art at the tender age of 12. Inayat Hussain has also received the National Award in 1989 for long-bead making. 


Anwar's grandfather, Lalbhai Chandbhai Shaikh, was also a famous bead artist. He had received the Certificate of Excellence from Indira Gandhi in 1971. Anwar's family has been practising beadwork for over 300 years. His son, Aaftab, is also playing his part to carry forward the legacy. 


Publications like BBC and National Geographic have featured Anwar and his works. He has also showcased his work in the Bollywood film 'Mohenjodaro'. The film featured the famous actor and dancer Hritik Roshan and Pooja Hegde


The Process

Gujarat has a large deposit of agate, which, when heated, produces red-orange carnelian. Locals mine these and then transport them to Khambhat through intermediaries. 

There are four steps to bead-making:

  1. Drying
  2. Heating
  3. Chipping
  4. Polishing/Grinding

Step One: Drying

These stones are first dried in the sun to remove any trapped moisture. Artisans place and observe the stones on rooftops or enclosed courtyards.

Step Two: Heating 

Workers bake the nodules in terracotta containers or simple pit kilns once they dry up.

Step Three: Chipping

Artisans chip the nodule by striking it with a hammer made of hardwood or buffalo horn. The Harappan period used copper sticks as the replacement.

Step Four: Polishing/Grinding

The next major stage is polishing or grinding. Artisans use power energy wheels today, but they used hard sandstone in the past.


The Challenges

I asked Anwar Hussain Shaik about the challenges involved in the artistry. 

The most challenging aspects of bead making are: 

  • The process is laborious
  • A keen eye is indispensable, and 
  • The detailed organisation and implementation of the complex process

    Final Thoughts

    It is a known fact that the Indus Valley Civilisation met a tragic and mysterious end. But we can hope that beadmaking never sees a decline. Check out our stunning bead jewellery sets and add a piece of history to your collection!

    About author Varsha Asrani

    Varsha is an adroit writer with more than 10 years of experience in this domain. She has a dual Master's Degree in Finance and Marketing, and she teaches at ATMC College, Melbourne, as a Management Faculty. Varsha is passionate about her career as a writer and dedicates a major part of her time helping companies curate content for their websites and blogs.