In South Asia, women, men and children may be adorned from the top of their heads to the crooks of their toes. Hair and turban pins are popular, as are forehead ornaments, earrings, ear covers, nose rings, multiple layers of necklaces, armlets, bracelets, hand-covers, rings, sashes, belts, anklets and toe rings-completely covering the body. Jewelry is so culturally important in South Asia that all members of society-rich, poor, male, female, adults and children wear it-even if it is only a simple cotton thread tied to one's wrist. Small children wear jewelry soon after birth to ward off evil spirits or bell-anklets to alert a parent of a wandering child. Some jewelry is distinct to religious practice (Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Sikh). Other ornaments reveal regional or ethnic group affiliations. Historical texts list sixteen types of women's ornaments while men's ornaments are organized according to four types: pierced (avedhya); tied (nibandhaniya); covered (prakshepya) or placed (aropya).
So many materials have been valued for South Asian jewelry that the materials have been classified in thousands of years of tradition. Gold holds a place above all others. The five maharatnani or "great jewels" include diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds and pearls. The navaratna or "nine jewels" include topaz, chrysoberyl (cat's eye, emerald, sapphire, ruby, diamond, zircon, coral, and pearl. These nine are affiliated with the nine planetary deities and (when worn together in a circular mandala format) are credited with protective properties. Jade, amethyst, agate/chalcedony, ammonite fossils, shells, silver, copper, iron, glass and enamelwork are also heavily used and prized.