- Indian Beads: A Cultural and Technological Study, and: Distinctive Beads in Ancient India, and: Amulets and Pendants in Ancient Maharashtra
India is one of the world's largest countries with one of its most ancient civilizations. Blessed with immense natural and human resources. It is no surprise that it is a leading source of beads in both ancient and modern times. Only China is larger and as ancient, but the Chinese have never been as interested in beads as have the Indians. The Indian subcontinent has been unparalleled in terms of bead making, bead trading, and the use of beads since early in the third millennium B.C.
Thus, it is something of an event that in the same year three books were published on Indian beads. The first was released posthumously. S. B. Deo, professor and director of Deccan College, Pune, had written many "bead chapters" in the excavation reports of the Deccan College archaeological teams. He was introduced to the subject by M. G. Dikshit (1949, 1952a, 1952b, 1969), then regarded as India's leading bead authority, and was to collaborate with him on a book. That project never happened, as Dikshit passed away in 1969, just before his own History of Indian Glass was published.
Deo received a fellowship from the Indian Council of Historical Research to study and prepare a manuscript on Indian beads during the years 1985 to 1988. He worked on the project for many years, long after the period of the fellowship. Deo passed away in 1999, and as a tribute to his many years devoted to the subject, a team of Deccan College affiliates, led by V. N. Misra, edited and published the volume.
M. Jyotsna, the author of the other two books reviewed here, was privileged that Deo came out of retirement to act as her guide for her M. Phil. at Deccan College. Deo might be said to represent the "old school" of Indian bead research. Jyotsna is in the generation producing a "new school," involving several young archaeologists and doctoral candidates, notably [End Page 368] Sunil Gupta (1995–1996, 1999, 2000), Kishor Basa (1992a, 1992b; Basa et al. 1991), and Alok Kumar Kunungo (1996–1997).
In the interest of full disclosure, the reader should know that I have been involved in the study of Indian beads for a quarter of a century (e.g., Francis 1981, 1982a, 1982b, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1990, 1991, 2001). A significant amount of my work was done at Deccan College, the institute with which both Deo and Jyotsna were associated. I know both of the authors personally, and despite a few disagreements with each of them, I think kindly of both of them. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for these three books under review. This conflict makes this the most difficult book review I have ever been asked to write.
Deo's book, Indian Beads: A Cultural and Technological Study, purports to be a cultural and technological study of beads. On the whole, it is neither. Some useful features illuminate the use of beads from perspectives that had not hitherto been adequately studied. One is an appendix to the first chapter on Vedic amulets (pp. 39–42). It discusses amulets prescribed in the Arthva Veda and a gloss to that ancient book of magic, the Kauśika Sūra. The list is instructive, although only about half of the 55 magical objects listed were amulets (the others were made into ointments or used internally). The final paragraph informs us that...