Based on a list of Ornaments worn by Moorish Women by A.T.Shamsidin in the 1880's,

The Moorish women of yore were a highly cultured lot and took great pains to adorn their persons with a variety of ornament. A.T.Shamsidin in his paper ‘Ornaments worn by the Moorish women of Ceylon’. In the The Orientalist of 1885-1886 gives a list of over 38 different ornaments worn by the Moor women of his time.



A long convex ornament generally about four inches in length, beautifully embossed either in gold or silver and worn crosswise in the hair tied up in a knot.


A beautifully embossed golden or silver circular ornament with handsome sprigs of gold or silver flowers usually worn in the same part of the head as the kondaikkur.


An elegant and delicate golden chain worn in the hair on the sides of the head.


Any golden ornament worn on the forehead. This frontal ornament has usually a star or radiated centre of about two inches in diameter set with precious stones and richly ornamented with small pearls.


An ornament formed of a thin plate of gold embossed with fancy work. In form it resembles the moon in its phases when two or three days old and is semi-circular and narrow.


A little circular ornament in the shape of the sun made of gold and worn with the nilavu on the crown of the head.



A necklace worn tight round the neck, made of gold and either plain or set with precious stones.


A breast ornament set with gems suspended from the neck.


A string of pearls with the breast ornament called padakkam attached to the middle.


A string of coral beads.


A string of small round gold beads.


A necklace, consisting of several strings of small gold hollow beads with glass beads of different kinds filling up the interstices. It has a gold tube called pusantiram to which all the above described strings are attached.


The marriage badge tied on the neck of the bride by the bridegroom at the time of their wedding. It is made of pure gold and consists of one tube-shaped ornament to which strings made of gold are attached with three small bells of gold hanging in the middle.


A kind of ornament worn round the neck and generally of a style similar to the cavadi, save for its appendages which are carved in the oriental style either throughout its whole length or only on the front, its surface being sometimes set with precious stones.


A necklace consisting of several strings, each holding from fifty to a hundred gold beads. This ornament is usually worn rather loose, so that it may reach half-way down the bosom. Some necklaces are composed of large beads of farent amber.


A round flat ornament of the size and shape of a crown piece, made of pure gold, with inscriptions of passages from the Qur’an. Some form a necklace of this kind with Venetian sequins or Turkish or Egyptian gold coins.


A gold chain of various sorts.



An ear ornament worn on the tip of the ear and generally made of gold richly ornamented with precious stones.


A flower-shaped ear ornament made of gold and affixed to the lobes of the ear.


A semi-circular flat ornament of gold set with small pearls and other precious stones and suspended to the kaduppu.


This comprehends a number of rings of pure gold worn along the border of the ear which is pierced for that purpose. The number worn is from four to eleven, generally the latter, the number on the left ear being less by one than on the right ear.


An ear ornament with a circle to cover part of the cavity of the ear.



A nose ornament made of gold, its end furnished with pendants of pearls and set with precious stones, invariably worn on the right ala of the nose.


A flat nasal trinket appended to the septum of the nose by means of a gold screw passed through an orifice formed for the purpose. The ornament falls flat upon the upper lip, having its broad end furnished with pendants of pearls and its surface set with precious stones.



A chain which encircles the waist and suspended with small tablets two inches broad which are carved and fixed by hinges.


An ornament generally made of silver embossed with fancy work, and having a number of small keys hanging.



A bracelet formed of pure gold in the form and shape of a wheel, and may be opened to put on or off at pleasure. It is curiously filigreed.


A bangle or arm-ring worn along with the kappu, and fitting closely to the wrist. It is made of pure gold and wrought in an oriental style.


An arm-ring of gold worn between the wrist and elbow and formed of a simple twist.



Rings of various sorts and sizes generally of gold worn on the fingers.



A massive ring of solid silver being carved at the ends where they are joined.


An ankle-ring made of silver which makes a tinkling noise.


A string of small silver bells which tinkle at every motion of the limb.


This consists of rings of silver resembling a horse’s curb chain fringed with small spherical bells.


A ring furnished with little bells and worn on the great toe.


A number of rings attached and worn on the toes.


Many of the ornaments mentioned by Shamsidin seem to have been introduced to local Moorish society by the Tamil-speaking Muslims of South India who are known to have carried on an extensive trade with Sri Lanka in the past.

The Moors are known to have engaged in close commercial contacts with their South Indian co-religionists so that such influence is not difficult to explain. The terms themselves appear to be of Tamil origin. Konḍaimalai literally means ‘hair chain’ in Tamil while mukkutti means ‘that which pierces the nose’. Similarly, padakam (anklets) and pili (toe rings) are ancient Tamil terms which even occur in the Tamil epic Cilappatikaram (2nd century AC).

One notable exception is nattu ‘nose-drop’ which has originated from the Hindustani nath ‘nose-ring’ though strictly speaking the nose-drop has been known as bulaq and not nath among the Muslim women of India.

Indeed a Hindustani or North Indian origin for many of these ornaments is quite possible cannot be dismissed. The Muslim women of India, especially of the north, have been extremely fond of jewellery since at least Moghul times and there can be little doubt that it was this influence that gradually permeated to the south.

The Qanoon-e-Islam compiled by Juffur Shurreef (1832) in its List of Jewels or Ornaments worn by Moosulman Women gives a number of ornaments worn by the Muslim women of India. Many of the items listed in the work bear a striking resemblance to those listed by Shamsidin, not only in the case of simpler ornaments such as the boolaq (nose-drop) and bichhway (toe-rings) but also more elaborate ornaments such as the dundeaan which is described as a number of small rings of pure gold (in case of poverty of silver) affixed all along the border of the ear which is  pierced for that purpose, the number worn being from four to eleven, thus showing it to be identical with Shamsidin’s alkuttu.

Similarly, Shamsidin’s nettippattam closely resembles the tika or mang tika, a frontal ornament worn on the forehead which usually has a star or radiated centre of about two inches in diameter, set in gold and richly ornamented with small pearls, of which various chains are attached, aiding  to support it in its position on the centre of the forehead.

This ornament is evidently of Moghul origin, for Manucci speaking of the Moghul princesses says that “upon the middle of the head is a bunch of pearls which hangs down as far as the centre of the forehead, with a valuable ornament of costly stones formed into the shape of the sun, or moon or star”.

Indeed, it may perhaps not be too far-fetched to trace many such ornaments to an Arab, Persian or Turkish origin. This certainly seems to be the case with nose ornaments. Other oriental ornaments too might have a Middle Eastern origin. Take for instance the fillet or diadem, a lovely ornament worn round the forehead, carved in the shape of a headband and studded with precious stones. It is said to have been invented by an Abbasid princess of the 8th century named Ulayya and became very popular even in India where it was adopted with a very ingenious addition of a thin golden chain attached to it fixed just at the parting of hair.


Many of the ornaments listed by Shamsidin have sadly declined in popularity or have altogether gone out of use. This includes ornaments such as the kondaimalai, alkuttu and nattu.

With regard to the alkuttu, we have the interesting observation made by William Goonetilleke in his paper ‘The Disfiguring of the human body’ in The Orientalist. Of 1890 that the Ceylon Moor females practiced the custom obtaining among the Coast Moor women of boring 12 holes in the helix of the left and 13 in that of the right ear and inserting ornaments in them, till about 20 years ago, but that the more civilized have given up the practice and have restricted the number of holes in the helix to two.

Indeed, we were informed that in Kalpitiya in the early 1950's little Moor girls wore several gold rings along the helix of their ears. We also found that the Moor women of the Amparai District formerly wore several little silver studs or rings along the rim of their ears known collectively as allukuttu.

It would appear that the alkuttu was confined to the Muslim women of the Indian subcontinent and Sri Lanka and was unknown among Non-Muslim women. M.Winslow in his Comprehensive Tamil and English Dictionary (1862) gives alukkuttu as ‘an ear-jewel worn by Mohammedans’ while Edgar Thurston in his Ethnographic Notes in Southern India (1906) says that “Muhammadan women have their ears pierced all round the outer edges, and as many as twenty or twenty-five rings, of iron or gold, are inserted in the holes”.

The mukkutti or ‘nose-stud’ also appears to have declined in popularity beginning from about the latter part of the twentieth century and it is only in recent times that it has gained currency among some young women. Today’s mukkutti however differs from the elaborate ornament described by Shamsidin ‘furnished with pendants of pearls and set with precious stones’ in that it simply comprises of a little gold stud or a gem set in a small base of gold.

Such nose-studs are still worn by some Moor women of Colombo, especially in areas such as Dematagoda, Maligawatta and Slave Island. They are also said to have been commonly worn by the Moor women of the Eastern areas such as Amparai District though no longer, having declined in the 1950s and 1960s. In fact in the Eastern Moor folk song Palam Pakka Povom (C.1920's) we find the husband advising his wife to put on a shining nose stud which shows how common it would have been in the olden days in that part of the country.

The nattu or nasal septum ornament mentioned by Shamsidin has completely gone out of use. Another name by which this ornament seems to have been known was bulak or fulak which is the name by which the author of the Fathud Dayyan, a book on religious jurisprudence popular among local Muslims refers to it.

This ornament has been traditionally known as bulaq among the Muslims of India. Shurreef (1832) refers to the ornament worn by women in the centre cartilage of the nose as boolaq.

This ornament may perhaps have an Arab origin. Captain F.M.Hunter In An Account of the British Settlement of Aden in Arabia (1877) refers to the Bulakh which Arabs wear as ‘a flat gold crescent, chased and stamped, studded with pearls, having a fringe of pearls on the outside; it is worn suspended from the central membrane of the nose by a semicircular wire which joins the horns of the crescent’. We also have Jean Baptiste Tavernier (Six Voyages en Turquei, en Perse et aux Indes.1679) referring to Arab women boring “the separation between the two nostrils, where they wear hollow rings”.

Nose ornaments have remained extremely popular among the Muslim women of the subcontinent and it is surprising why it should have declined among local Moor women. In fact they were also very popular among Arab women from time immemorial.

All the evidence shows that it were the Arabs and other Muslim peoples who actually introduced it to India. The earliest records of such ornaments in India testify that they were worn by Muslim women and not Hindu women. The famous Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta (14th century) says in his travelogue Tuhfat Al Nuzzar of the Muslim women of Honavar in the South-Western coast of India “They are beautiful and chaste. Each of them wears a ring of gold in her nose”.

The Alf Laylah Wa Laylah (Thousand and One Nights) mentions the khizam or ‘nose-ring’. The ornament occurs in the tale of Maaruf. Here we are told how the loving husband presents his wife some ornaments brought forth by the Genie Abu Saadat, among them anklets of gold set with jewels, bracelets, ear-rings and a nose ring, after seeing which “her reason fled in consequence of her joy”. She had a pierced nose no doubt as the story goes on to say she put them on then and there.

Such ornaments were widely worn by Arab women in the olden days. The Ladies Monthly Museum 1827 in its ‘Description of the City of Bagdad, its inhabitants, customs & C’ referring to the women of the country around Baghdad tells us that “the nose is either adorned by a large ring, or a solid, flat, circular piece of gold stuck in one nostril, of the size, shape and appearance of the fancy gilt buttons worn by the English peasantry on their Sunday coats”.

Edward Lane in his Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (1836) lists the nose-ring (khizam) in his description of the female ornaments of Egypt. He says that it was worn by both town and village women and was almost always passed through the right ala of the nose.

Lady Anne Blunt in her Pilgrimage to Nejd (1881) records that she saw in the oasis town of Hail in Nejd (Eastern Saudi Arabia) nose-rings worn by the women here, much larger than she had seen at Baghdad and elsewhere, it being a thin circle of gold worn in the left nostril. A few years later we hear of Sir Richard Burton in his Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah (1893) referring to the Bedouin women of Arabia wearing nose-rings of silver and gold.

And Charles Daughty in his Travels in Arabia Deserta (1888) noticed Bedouin damsels wearing large silver nose-rings known as zmeyemon special occasions such as circumcisions, but on ordinary days wearing in their pierced nostril, a head of cloves.


As evident from Shamsidin’s account, the Moor women of old wore a variety of ear ornaments such as kaduppu and kallukkur. There was however a much greater variety than that described by him. Inquiries from several elderly Moor folk revealed that the Moor women of the Eastern districts such as Amparai formerly wore such ornaments as the tongavattan (a hanging ear ornament shaped like a bell), vali (an ornament made of silver with a pointed head in the form of a cone worn at the top of the ear). There were besides these, the kaduppu, a large silver ear stud and an ear-pendant known as simikki.

These ornaments are said to have been commonly worn until about the 1950's or thereabouts when they began to gradually decline. Jaffna Moor women also wore a gold ear-ornament known as tongattan which seems to have resembled the tongavattan of the east. It is said to have been an ear ornament of various shapes suspended from the lobe. A particularly valuable specimen was described as having three bell-like gold discs dangling down one after another. The ornament probably took its name from Tamil tongu‘to hang’ or ‘to be suspended’.

It was however later replaced by thetodu or common ear-stud by the younger generation of women though the elderly women still continued to wear them until fairly recent times. Many of these ornaments appear to be of South Indian origin. The vali for instance appears to be identical with the koppu worn by some Muslim as well as Hindu village women of Tamil Nadu. The full name of this ornament was evidently koppuvali which the Madras Tamil Lexicon (1926) gives as a ‘woman’s ornament for the helix of the ear, having a knob and a pendant’.


Among the neck ornaments worn by Moor women, we find the savadi occupying a prominent place. This beautiful ornament bestowed by the husband on the wedding day is regarded as a symbol of marriage like the tali of the Tamils and worn on all important occasions such as weddings. Nevertheless it greatly differs from the tali of the Tamils. The traditional savaḍi of Moor women is a sort of torque-like neckpiece wide at the front and tapering towards the sides and may have perhaps originated from a crescentic pendant fastened to a cord of metal or thread. It nevertheless somewhat resembles the hansuli or silver torque of Gujarat.

The savadi was somewhat more elaborate in the olden days, for Shamsidin (1886) describes what he terms the ‘cavadi’ as being made of pure gold and consisting of a tube-shaped ornament to which strings made of gold are attached with three small bells of gold hanging in the middle. Some old savaḍis said to go back to over five decades which we came across in Galle though of a crescentic shape were much smaller than the usual type and were hardly two inches in length. They were also studded with little stones of a red and green colour.

The ornament often worn as a savadi by the younger generation of women nowadays is however quite different from the traditional type and could by no means be described as perfectly crescentic, with some fancy design as the centerpiece, though it still retains the two crescentic horns tapering towards the sides. The tali of the Tamils on the other hand is distinctly different and there can be little doubt that the ornament itself has a different origin from the tali.

Another well known neck ornament among the Moor women of yore though not so much now was the karasamani not uncommonly worn by the Moor women in the provinces such as Jaffna, Batticaloa and Puttalam. This ornament is said to have comprised of black beads and interspersed pieces of gold motifs like star and crescent. In the Kandyan areas to this day, the bride may wear what is known as a karasamani necklace consisting of gold and black beads and often with a gold coin as a pendant gifted to her by the bridegroom.

This necklace it is evident is identical to Shamsidin’s karca-mani, though it has undergone some modification, since that writer describes it as ‘A necklace, consisting of several strings of small gold hollow beads with glass beads of different kinds filling up the interstices’. The term seems to have primarily denoted a black necklace as it appears to have derived from Tamil karica ‘dark’ , 'black’ and mani ‘bead’ , ‘necklace’.


Anklets are now rarely if ever worn nowadays although Shamsidin in 1886 makes mention of a variety of anklets such as the tandai (an ankle-ring made of silver which makes a tinkling noise) and kolicu (consisting of rings of silver fringed with small spherical bells).

The Moor women of Amparai District over fifty years ago are said to have worn heavy silver ankle-rings at the lower calves. These were known as tandai. In fact this ornament seems to have been widely known in the eastern districts in the olden days for we find in the Eastern Moor folk song Palam Pakka Povom (C.1920s) the husband advising his wife to put on her anklets (kentayil tandai). The women of this area are also said to have worn silver anklets known as velli kolushu or kolusham.

Padakam (anklets) find mention in the Tamil epic Cilappatikaram and it is possible that they were introduced here from the Tamil country of South India. Nevertheless anklets have also figured prominently among Muslim peoples from very early times. The Prophet’s wife Ayisha and Umm Sulaim, a lady companion, are known to have worn anklets (Sahih Bukhari).

Further, the Qur’an enjoins women not to stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment clearly showing that the Arab women of the time of the Prophet used to wear anklets with which they attracted attention by stamping their feet making the anklets tinkle. This practice of tinkling one’s anklets deliberately to attract attention was condemned, though anklets themselves were allowed.

Anklets frequently find mention in Arabian literature such as the Alf Layla Wa Layla as in the Tale of the Lovers of Bassorah where we come across a reference to ankle-rings worn by a beautiful woman. Indeed, the tradition of wearing anklets by some Arab women, especially of the Southern parts of the Arabian Peninsula continued till recent times. Up to the 1940s they were widely worn by the women of Hadramawt in Southern Arabia.

Toe-rings, once widely worn by Moor women are hardly worn nowadays. They are today worn by only a very few Moor women, usually on the second toe of one or both feet. The Tamil term pili as occurring in works as ancient as the Cilappatikaram denotes ‘woman’s toe-ring’ and we learn from the account of Moor ornament given by Shamsidin (1886) that the Moor women of yore had two types, kaladipili and mailadipili, the former worn on the great toe and the latter worn on the other toes.

The more well-to-do women of the Eastern regions are said to have formerly worn, particularly on special occasions, silver rings (pili) in all toes which were linked to one another with little silver chains with a larger silver chain passing through the length of the upper foot and connecting to an ankle-chain or ankle-ring. Silver rings worn in all five toes by the Moor women of this part of the country are also said to have been known as kal modiram.

Toe-rings, unlike anklets, do not seem to have been known to the Arabs of old and it is likely that the practice of wearing toe-rings has its origins in South India, especially since it is attested in ancient Tamil works such as the Cilappatikaram. North Indian women have however also adorned themselves with toe-rings, though perhaps not as commonly as in the South. Shurreef in his list of ornaments worn by Moosulman women (1832) gives bichhway as rings worn round the toes and attached to the pae-zeb worn on the ankles and consisting of a heavy ring of silver set with a fringe of small spherical bells.
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