TIBETAN PURE DZI BEAD
The unique dZi bead, a black and white (or dark brown) bead of etched or treated agate, is revered in Tibet. To Tibetans and other Himalayan people, the dZi is a "precious jewel of supernatural orign" with great power to protect its wearer from disaster.There is little precise information available on dZi beads. They are found primarily in Tibet and nepal, but also in neighbouring Bhutan, Ladakh and Sikkim. Shepherds and farmers pick them up in the grasslands or while cultivating fields. Because dZi are found in the earth, Tibetans cannot conceive of them as man-made. Since knowledge of the bead is derived from oral traditions, few beads have provoked more controversy concerning their source, method of manufacture and even precise definition.dZi beads have always been one of the most mysterious of beads. Sacred Tibetan dZi beads are usually plump, tubular, agate beads. They are decorated with bands and in the case of pure dZi (the best kind), eye circles as well. Most Tibetans also consider similarly decorated tabular-eye beads (flat,round beads with an eye design) to be a form of dZi. They refer to them as luk me, which means "sheep's eye". Most of what is know about dZi beads is theory and conjecture.But we do know that decorated agates of many types have been prized throughout Central Asia from roughly 2000 B.C. to 100 A.D. dZi are usually dated 500 to 800 A.D. We also know that decorated beads were originally made to imitate older, naturally banded and eyed agate beads that were becoming harder to produce due to failing source of high-quality material. Eventually (two to three thousand years ago) the decorated examples overtook their natural predecessors in value and desirability.In Taiwan's religious artifacts market, dZi beads are the subject of the most legends and also the most debate. They became hot sellers seven or eight years ago and have yet to cool down. After the Nagoya crash, frequent-flying businessmen competed with each other to buy dZi beads, among which nine-eyed dZi beads are particularly valued as "guardians against evil of all stripes." A single one of these beads can now cost upwards of $50000. When the Dalai Lama went to Taiwan on a spiritual visit, Tibetan Buddhism received many converts. His trip also renewed the rage for dZi beads."A pure dZi bead is not a thing of the human world," asserts Namgyal. "We Tibetans believe that dZi beads were originally a kind of insect. They were living things. From time to time, they would appear lying next to each another in the grass. If you tried to grab them with your hands, they would escape by boring down into the earth. Hence you would have to use something unclean, say a woman's dress [in the typical recounting of this legend they use sand] and cover them. Then they wouldn't move and you could grab them." What's more, because authentic dZi beads are so hard to come by, Tibetans sincerely believe that they are "jewelry dropped from Heaven by the gods." It is believed that the legends of stones dropping from Heaven. "New dZi beads are worked from 100 percent agate, but old dZi beads are different. Their composition is only 80% agate, 15% other minerals and 5% substances "that are not of this world." Stories of stones dropping from Heaven can be traced back to a Buddhist sutra that records a Himalayan legend about an evil spirit who would from time to time descend to the world of men to cause plagues and disasters. Fortunately, a benevolent god took pity on the humans and cultivated its powers in Heaven, causing the beads to fall from Heaven. Those whose good fate it was to obtain one would thus be protected from misfortunes and all kinds of evil. Different variations on this same basic legend are found all over Tibet."Pure" dZi beads (in the traditional Tibetan system for evaluating dZi) are regarded as the most valuable and desirable variety. To qualify as pure, a bead must be genuine etched agate and lie within a certain range of styles. It should also have a sharply delineated pattern, symmetrical shape, strong color, glossy surface and no flaws. The nine-eyed dZi is a pure dZi with the most highly desired pattern. Etched agate beads not considered pure are called chung dZi, or "less important dZi."Jewels were used in meditation, in offering, in curing, all activities aimed at bringing about a change in our mental or physical condition. As in other societies, jewellery was also widely used in Tibet for purely worldly purposes; indicating economic and social status, ranks in government and as an object of exchange in trade. Each region has its own particular way of using jewelry to embellish their costumes and while most of it has now disappeared, it was as varied as it was elaborate.In pre-1959 Tibet, it was not unusual for women to keep a substantial portion of the family wealth in their jewelry box. Jewelry represented financial security, the gems neither depreciating in value, nor losing their lustre. This kind of investment could be pushed to such an extreme that in her book 'House of the Turquoise Roof' Mrs. Yuthok describes how very upset some of Lhasa women were when the Thirteenth Dalai Lama passed a decree stating that they were not to keep or wear so many kinds of precious and expensive ornaments, as he realised that families were investing great sums of money in jewelry. Jewelry was generally passed down from generation to generation, rarely being sold on the open market, unless the family encountered financial problems.
Identification of dZi Beads
Identification of dZi beads presents certain difficulties. Many Tibetans will regard almost any etched agate and some natural agate beads as some kind of dZi, or at least in the dZi family. But not all etched agate beads are regarded as real, or as Tibetans would say, "pure" dZi. Certain patterns found on etched agate beads are universally recognised by Tibetans as belonging to "pure" dZi. These include besides the familiar "eye" patterns (two-eyed, three-eyed,five-eyed,six-eyed,nine-eyed,etc), circle and a square ("dZi", earth door-sky door"), a double wave form ("dZi", round with tiger stripes"), a configuration similar to a British crown ("dZi", round, nectar of immortality bowl), and others dZi with other patterns such as strips, waveforms, and their combinations are generally regarded as real dZi and of Tibetan origin but valued much less highly than the more desirable patterns listed above. The nine-eyed dZi seems to be the most highly preferred.
What Do You Know About Tibetan dZi Beads ?
What is in a dZi bead?The dZi beads have always been one of the most mysterious of beads. Sacred Tibetan dZi beads are usually plump, tubular, agate beads. They are decorated with bands and in the case of pure dZi beads (the best of its kind), eye circles as well. Most Tibetans also consider similarly decorated tabular-eye beads (flat round beads with an eye design) to be a form of dZi. They refer to them as luk me, which means 'sheep's eye.' Most of what is known about dZi beads is theory and conjecture. But we do know that decorated agates of many types have been prized throughout Central Asia from roughly 2000 B.C. to 1000 A.D. dZi are usually dated 500 to 800 A.D. We also know that decorated beads were originally made to imitate older, naturally banded and eyed agate beads that were becoming harder to produce due to failing sources of high-quality material. Eventually (two to three thousand years ago) the decorated examples overtook their natural predecessors in value and desirability.
Making dZi Beads
Many variations of techniques were used to pattern the beads. Chung dZi (lesser quality dZi) and decorated carnelians that exhibit a white surface residue differ from pure dZi and better quality chung dZi examples where the color has gone into, rather than onto the bead.It is generally accepted that mixtures of metal salts and alkalines were painted on the beads to change their color; then heat was used to further change the bead. But the technique was lost, and no one seems able to figure out how beads were first darkened, then selectively lightened (or vice versa), without undoing previous treatments.
Mystical properties of dZi beads
There are also beliefs about dZi beads possessing magical powers associated with health and prosperity. One belief is that dZi beads were dropped to the earth by gods or other supernatural powers and that they remained animate in the form of insects until captured by humans. While there are different stories about tabular-eye beads, almost all groups associate them with protection against the evil eye .These beads stir something very primitive and archetypal in all of us, and even people who have never seen them before and have no idea of their value are attracted to them. Humans have always been fascinated with their own image and especially with beads that look back at them.The type of tabular-eye bead which translates as 'sun, moon, and stars, the three.' This powerful symbol represents all the important celestial bodies: sun, moon, and stars, and nothing catastrophic is supposed to be able to happen to a person wearing it. The Tibetan from whom we purchased this bead was told, 'Put this on and I will shoot you. Nothing will happen. It can't hurt you.' We laughed with our friend because since tabular eyes are much older than guns, they may not have been designed to protect against gunshots. Besided, if the shooter had been wrong, he would have been able to keep our friend's money and beads. Prices of dZi beads over the past three or four years have steadily risen, especially on the more specialized pieces. Four years ago I heard a story of a car accident in Taipei, Taiwan. All were killed except the one dZi wearer. The story has escalated since I read about it a year later as a bus accident and heard it recently in India as a plane crash! Seriously, demand increased as revered Tibetan Buddhist Lamas visited Taiwan and spoke of the many benefits of dZi beads to health and business. Owners of dZi beads have often said to me, 'Bring much luck,' and 'do good business every day.' To them, dZi beads represent both status symbols and hope for the future.On one visit overseas, we were buying malas (Buddhist rosaries), turquoise, and a few dZi, and my friend saw a bead he really wanted. We didn't buy it and many times he talked about it wishfully - much to my chagrin since I'd kept him from having it. Anyway, over a year later and three hundred miles away, the same bead was offered to us again for a slightly higher price. We were obviously intended to have it, and it was after daily wearing of this bead that we noticed an upturn in business. So who can really say?