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Traditional Palakka Mala - An Ode To Kerala Jewellery | South Indian Jewels

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

What is Palakka mala?

Palakka mala or palakka necklace is one of the most popular traditional jewellery designs of Kerala. The leaf shaped settings in gold have green stone inlays that give the necklace its traditional charm. A traditional palakka mala is set in gold and inlaid with green stones (like emerald or green tinted glass)along with pale rubies . The motifs are made in gold, of which the top frontal part is called ‘mugappu’ and the sides of the pocket where the green stone is inlaid is called ‘arimbu’. The embedded green stones are called ‘palakka’. Small red rubies also embellish the motifs and pendants of a palakka mala.

A palakka mala design can be seen in different styles as in, palakka choker necklaces, palakka pendant and chain, dainty palakka necklaces, long palakka necklaces with a central pendant and palakka princess necklaces.

The palakka necklace, an essence of emerald sparkle with piquant and serene greenery...their fine shapes chiselled and palakka stones inlaid with 'keerippallu' strokes, rejuvenate the spirit of elegance in every woman. The absence of pendant does not in any way mute the necklace of its class.

Traditionally palakka jewellery was embellished with green emeralds and tiny rubies. Now they come in a wide range of colours like red, green, yellow, orange, blue, violet, and pink. A palakka jewellery work is also done on palakka earrings, palakka rings, and palakka bangles.

Significance of Palakka Mala

  • Palakka mala symbolises serenity, prosperity and fertility for the traditional Kerala bride when she wears it at her wedding.

  • Palakka mala is considered as the ornate symbol of the state with gold and green emerald or glass stones with a Kerala kasavu saree as backdrop.

  • The palakka jewellery made in gold is cherished by women of Kerala and often passed down through generations as heirlooms.

  • A palakka necklace represents the rich and abundant culture of Keralites and their deep rooted traditional values.

Origin Of Palakka

Folktales of Kerala unravel the origin of palakka jewellery craft in ‘Dwapara yuga’, when Lord Krishna was alive. The palakka jewellery craft is believed to be associated with a tree ‘Pala’, its seeds and leaves, predominantly found in Kerala. The Pala tree is otherwise known as Indian Devil tree or Yakshi Pala where the 'Yakshi' or beautiful female ghost lives. As per legends, men who wander alone near to this tree during night were lured by beautiful 'Yakshi' in white and they were found dead under the tree in the morning. The tree is also a favourite spot for snakes like cobra to hang out.

The tree is believed to possess the power to arrest evil spirits. Seeds of the 'Pala tree' were used inside the jewellery to eradicate any evil spirits trying to haunt women. Thus the initial Palakka which means 'Pala' (the tree) and 'Ka' (fruit or seed) was made.

Palakka jewellery is one of the most popular traditional Nair jewellery designs of Kerala that enchants people of every generation through which the heirlooms have been passed down.

People often get confused between the nagapadam mala and palakka mala. They are not the same. The serpent hooded design of a nagapadam makes it distinctly different from a palakka mala. The nagapadam represents the hood of a snake. The Nair people of Kerala worship the Naga or snake as deity. It is believed that the nagapadam wards off evil and bless the female with fertility and abundance. Traditional nagapadam mala is made of red cabochon rubies where palakka mala traditionally is green and motifs often shaped like leaves.

Palakka mala designs and nagapadam are the most serene jewellery designs that can be found among traditional jewellery designs of Kerala. They still remain relevant and popular amidst the cascade of modern fashion jewellery evolution.

Design and Make

The palakka necklace is distinct with its emerald green inlays set on a heavy gold base. The motifs are usually made in gold, of which the frontal part is called ‘mugappu’ and the outer edges of the inlaid green stone is called ‘arimbu’. The embedded green stones are called ‘palakka’. Small red rubies also embellish the mugappu part of the motifs. Mugappu comes in many designs like flowers, deities and many more as much as one can imagine.

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The necklaces were handmade by master craft artisans during ancient times. Handmade gold palakka mala designs are still available with many jewellers in Kerala. Today palakka necklaces and palakka jewellery designs are die-cast and made using a variety of metals, and stones both precious and non precious. Though the traditional palakka necklace was green, one can get almost any colour in a palakka necklace today.

The Setting And Styles

The palakka mala designs are seen to be set in many patterns and styles.

  • The leaf shaped motifs are set in a uniform pattern forming a simple palakka choker necklace.

  • A single large palakka pendant is strung on a gold chain or ‘noolu’ forming ‘Ottakkal pathakkam

  • Small round pendant with green stone in the centre and surrounded by ruby stones followed by single leaf palakka motifs on either side and embellished with gold bead danglers on a gold chain is the simplest palakka mala design that is worn by Malayali girls. The number of palakka motifs on either side of the pendant increases as per the wearer.

  • A traditional long palakka mala comprises 27 motifs or units on either side of the pendant. Which is also known as palakka mothiram. Although mothiram means ring in Malayalam, here it is referred to as a necklace that drapes around the neck like a ring. The number of motifs vary as per designs . A long palakka haram is always cherished by Kerala brides.

  • The size of the motifs and pendant varies in a palakka mala according to designs.

  • Modern day palakka mala comes in many colours like red palakka mala, blue palakka mala, the traditional green palakka mala, yellow palakka mala, pink palakka mala, orange palakka mala, black palakka mala, white palakka mala and more.

  • Palakka mala motifs come in many shapes like mangoes, tiger claws, banyan leaves, pala leaves, tear drops, round and oval motifs forming different styles of palakka mala designs or palakka necklaces. Sometimes the palakka motifs are blended with other Kerala traditional jewellery designs like mullamottu mala, pichimottu mala and kuzhalmothiram to form new designs.

Types of Palakka Jewellery

With time the traditional palakka mala evolved and branched into many variants. Now palakka work can be seen on bangles, rings, anklets, bracelets, hip chains, mang tikas and earrings other than necklaces.

Palakka Necklaces

Palakka Bangles

Palakka Earrings

Palakka Anklets