20.10.12

Coin jewelry of Nepal

Sherpa woman in coins decorated hat

As late as 50 years ago almost every woman in Nepal owned some form of coin necklace, called rupiya mala, paisa mala or kampani mala, "kampani" being for the British East India Company; today coin jewelry can still be seen. Indian silver one rupee, half-rupee and quarter-rupee coins of the first half of the 20th century are strung into necklaces, made into bracelets, earrings and rings and sometimes sewn onto hats and blouses. Until 1939 these coins were close to sterling in purity (92.5%) and until 1945 the silver content was 50%.

Tamang woman from Nepal wearing coin necklace

Closer to the Tibetan border large silver Yuan Shih-kai coins minted in China in 1911 and 1950s were used in necklaces. As well silver coins from other countries that somehow found their way to Nepal were used, including coins from Japan, Iran and even Austria.
Besides their function as money, an indicator of wealth and a charm to attract wealth, coins are regarded almost sacred. To touch a woman's body with an old coin during delivery is believed to make the delivery easy; the same coin later functions as an amulet for the child. In some regions the large silver coins forming the center of bead necklaces are placed into the mouth of a dead woman to ease her passage to release. In some communities groom presents the bride with a handful of coins as a token of his sincerity.

Nepali lady wearing traditional jewelry, vintage photo
Nepali lady, 1890

Coins in a necklace can be of same type and age, but also a mix of coins, old and new, silver and nickel, strung together. In Humla they are strung with some space between them; in east Nepal they are strung tightly with the coins overlapping.

Sherpa woman wearing coin decorated hat

In the past coin necklaces were sometimes very long, reaching down to the knees. Today they can fall to the waist and many are as short as a choker.

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