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Cornaline de l’Inde

Valentine Roux

1. Historical and ethnographical context

Valentine Roux

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1Abstract. Khambhat, more commonly known as Cambay (name given before India's independence), is a city of the Gujarat region which is located at the northeast end of the Cambay gulf Throughout its history, not only did it provide an outlet onto the sea for neighbouring provinces, it also was a link between the inlands and the Saurashtra region. Its harbour made it a prosperous city whose economic zenith, marked by international trade, was between the 11th and the 16th century. After the 16th century, trade in the Khambhat port began to decline as a consequence of progressive alluviation of the gulf and eventually petered out in the 19th century when Bombay's port took over.

2The manufacture of carnelian and agate beads in the Khambhat region has early origins. Archeological sources date this activity, carried out in the wellknown site of Lothal situated about 80 km from Khambhat, as far back as the Harappan era (2500-2000 bc). Trade in agate and carnelian peaked in the 17th and 18th centuries, when the widest range of objects was being manufactured and exported all around the world. In the 19th century, trade was declining, but in the 1940s to 1960s, a huge demand in Africa opened up and gave it a new lease of life. In 1990, the agate and carnelian industry employed over 2,000 people manufacturing up to twenty million beads a year. The continuity of the carnelian market over centuries stems in particular from both the symbolic and prophylactic value of this red stone. This is attested by texts which are as different as Sumerian or Arab ones.

3The organization of carnelian bead production in Khambhat is a complex one. In most cases, the various steps in the manufacturing chain are carried out in separate locations. Nevertheless, there is a central hub, the stone-knapping workshop which is both a production and trade center as well as a warehouse. Each of the many technical operations involves a different professional group. They were initially organized as guilds, but the latter no longer exist. They have however left a unique heritage in India. Thanks to them, the different crafts that make up the semi-precious stone industry are open to any category of the population, irrespective of cast or religion.

© Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2000

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