© 2019 Svetlana RYZHAKOVA

2019 — №1 (17)

Keywords: India, astrology, precious and semi-precious stones, ratna, Navagraha

Abstract: The essay describes the usage of precious and semi-precious stones in Indian culture and everyday life as specific healing tools, in the broad sense, and, above all, as mediators or methods of “healing”, “fixing” or “correcting” human destiny. The concept of the “stone” is analyzed, which in the Sanskrit cultural dictionary is represented by the concepts of patthar (“a wild stone”) and ratna (a precious stone). The latter includes mani – specific gemstones associated with the worlds of gods and demonic creatures. Based on the materials of astrological treatises, the joint work of astrologers and jewelers, and opinions and skills, widespread in the Indian society and related to carrying of precious stones, the author draws conclusion about a close connection between beliefs about human, other sentient beings, the objective world, the Earth landscape and the celestial map. Thus, in this world model, the very phenomenon of destiny and/or life path is as a certain “travel route”, largely determined by the combination of external, already established circumstances, but still subject to corrections, in which the “medicine” of precious stones plays a significant role.

Author info:

Svetlana Igorevna Ryzhakova is a Doctor of Historical Sciences; Leading Research Fellow at the Center of Asian and Pacific Studies of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow); member of Indian Anthropological Society (Calcutta).


Manipulations with stones are known in both practical and magical spheres of almost all world nations. However, the conceptualization of the “stone” varies from culture to culture. What is called a stone, how is the “stone dictionary” of a particular culture formed? Are fossils of mollusks or plants considered stones? As for gems and jewels – what other designations do they carry? Are amber, corals and pearls classified as stones (e. g., in Chinese they are not considered “stones” and are not marked by the hieroglyph that normally means “stone”, shi)? Is magnet a stone? Each culture responds differently to these questions.

Stone is, perhaps, the most archaic tool and material used in human activities. From the point of view of their functional application, stone products can be divided into dwellings (stone houses), ritual structures (starting with the oldest megalithic stelae, dolmens, cromlechs), memorial monuments, aesthetic and philosophical objects (e. g., stone gardens), stones as transformation or exchange tools (stone altars and desks), stone industry (stone tools), utensils, furniture, the basis for writing the text, and the like. Even within one people’s culture in various religious and artistic contexts, they can be thought of as objects of different categories.

In Indian culture, stones are used and revered in many ways. In the classical Vedic model, the idea of ​​the “wildness” of a stone, especially an untreated one, is stable; therefore the stone was not used, e. g., in setting up of a Vedic altar, which was laid out of bricks. At the same time, a stone millstone, a grain grater, is often used in the life cycle rituals: while the bride and groom walk seven times around a fire altar, the bride each time steps on the stone millstone; people wish her to be strong and overcome all difficulties.

In the Hindu religious practice, stone is used to make sculptures, images of gods, and here it is understood as raw matter undergoing multiple procedures: moving, washing, measuring, cutting, etc. The technical and symbolic aspects of all actions are deeply intertwined. The rules for the transformation of stone into sculpture are described in the treatises on the creation of sacred images, or shilpa-shastras.

Raw stones are worshipped in the form of lingam, Shiva’s images, as well as primordial (mula), non-iconic images of many other deities, especially female ones. E. g., Bengal Kali, Sati in the area of its worship, Sati-peetha; Mangala-devi in ​​Mangalore and many others. Mula-murti are often transformed: covered with clothes and flower garlands, complemented with eyes (Kali also with a tongue), as well as other “body parts”. Shaligrams ‒‒ fossils and shells – are worshiped as a manifestation of Vishnu.

In all these cases we are talking about the dialectical interrelation of two aspects ‒‒ a natural, wild one (prakriti) and a refined one (sanskriti). The first one is a source of strength, energy and growth, while the second one is a mandatory form directing and organizing this force.

The categories of patthar (पत्थर, “stone”) and ratna (रत्न, “jewel, precious stone”) are distinctly distinguished in Indian culture, which will be discussed below. The presented material is not a result of a special study, but of my ethnographic observations during my casual stays in India and my field research among different peoples in many areas. Like many Indians, I, too, have “my personal” astrologers and jewelers (mainly in Bangalore / Bengaluru and Calcutta / Kolkata), with whom I discussed the topic of gemstones ‒‒ not only in relation to the “healing” of my destiny, but, more generally, as a cultural category.

While the category of patthar turns out to be quite abstract and fuzzy, the ratnas are highly systematized, and the specific gems and products related to them are embedded in the complex description of the world combining the most diverse elements of life: the planetary system and the constellations, calendar and week days, human body and emotional states, areas of social and professional activities, interpersonal relationships (work, study, family, sexual intercourse, communication, friendship).

Gems do not exist by themselves but are covered with a network of meanings, and believed to have a specific “personality”.

The following three aspects are the most important ones when talking about jewelry: their signs, ideas about their origin and the way they are used by humans. All of them are found in Sanskrit texts, the most important of which for the subject of jewelry are the Encyclopedia “Brihat Samhita” of Varahamihira with its section Ratnapariksha (LXXX) (6th century AD, see: Varahamihira, 1946) and a number of mythological texts, puranas, in particular, “Agni Purana” with its section “Ratnadkhya”.

Among the characteristics of precious stones, the main ones are hardness, specific bright color or color shade, and radiation. There is a widespread idea that even in the dark they “work”. They may not be exposed but, most importantly, have a kind of psychophysical and cosmic “valence”, “tuned” to certain “planets”, areas of the psyche, and body parts. Therefore, the very fact of presence of a jewel is important, even when it is hidden.

The “Brihat Samhita” describes the qualities of jewels found in a particular area, primarily their color shades (Varahamihira, 1946: LXXX, 6-7), the interconnection of the stone with a particular deity (this depends, among other things, on the stone’s shape ‒‒ a rounded, triangular, elongated one, etc.), as well as associated social aspects: people of what classes should carry this or that stone. There are detailed descriptions of how to weigh the stones.

However, the most important is, apparently, to define the given gem’s positive features ‒‒ its purity, clarity, transparency, distinct color and good shape, since ‒‒ as the text says ‒‒ “jewels with good features bring happiness, those with bad ones ‒‒ a disaster” (Varahamihira, 1946: LXXX, 1). The same is proclaimed in chapter 246, shlokas 7-8 of Agni Purana. It is prescribed that only “highborne” (sujatam) and “flawless” (amalam) jewels should be chosen.

The characteristics of gemstones can be divided into two kinds: external, or explicit ones – those that can be seen; and hidden, or internal ones, which manifest only over time, after carrying the gemstone for some time. The jewel is expected to change the circumstances of life, or the owner’s specific unfavorable situation.

The origin of the jewels is briefly described in the “Brihat Samhita”: “some believe that they originated from the bones of the demon Bal, others say from the body of Saint Dadichi, and still others believe that the magnificent variety of precious stones is related to the physical features of the earth” (Varahamihira, 1946: LXXX: 3).

A well-known myth speaks of the threefold origin of jewels, which can be divided into mani ‒‒ special, heavenly and underground, belonging to gods and mythological snake-like nagas, and ratna jewels that are in circulation in the human world.

There are only four heavenly jewels, or mani, and they belong to the gods. Kaustubha mani ‒‒ a deep blue stone that possesses sun-like radiation; it gives its master powers and settles the future. Chintamani is a white jewel, sparkling like a diamond, relieving its owner from all anxieties, carrying him well-being and pleasure. Shyamantakmani has a brilliant blue color and is known for its ability to blind. It originally belonged to the sun god Surya, and later became one of Krishna’s attributes. Rudramani is a yellow stone with three stripes, it has the property of transforming things and people.

The jewels of the underworlds have a common name, nagamani, and are associated with nine great mythological serpents, naga. These stones vary in color and are black, blue, yellow, gray, red, white, green. They are hidden in the body of Nagas, and some people, according to legends, manage to get them.

The earthen jewels are numerous; sometimes as many as 84 types are distinguished, with nine of them being the most popular, celebrated and frequently used. These are ruby, pearl, red coral, emerald, yellow sapphire, brilliant (or diamond), blue sapphire, hessonite or garnet, cat’s eye or chrysoberyl.

They correspond to the nine planets of the Indian zodiacal system jyotish navagraha. Rings and necklaces, which are also called navagraha and which contain all nine stones, are not as magically strong, since they perform a general cultural and decorative task. “Nine Treasures” is also a poetic trail, describing, for example, outstanding people, at the court of the legendary king Yashodharman Vikramaditya from Malva; one of them was the astrologer Varahamihira.

In the “Brihat Samkhita” Encyclopedia, he lists a somewhat longer list of gems, including diamond, sapphire, emerald, agate, ruby, blood stone, beryl, amethyst, Vimalaka, “royal jewel” (possibly quartz), crystal, moonstone, Saugandhika, opal, shell (mother of pearl), azur, topaz, Brahma stone, jyotiras, sasaka, pearls and coral (Varahamihira, 1946: LXXX: 4-5).

Why do we need jewelry

In order to understand the place and role of precious stones in the Indian culture, it is necessary to understand how human life itself is conceptualized in it. It is a journey of the soul that has taken this form of birth with a certain purpose. The clearer a person realizes this goal, the more consciously and correctly he performs his duty, or dharma, the easier it is for him to live, the more clear are his priorities.

However, almost always there are difficult circumstances, plus the burden of previous experience, which in its complexity is usually called karma. The personality of a person in the traditional Hindu worldview is always fixed by certain contours, circumstances, favorable or not, to perform a specific task. Thus, fate is a result of a person passing through these circumstances; life, like the flow of a river, can be represented as a drawing, a map or a diagram. One of the essential roles, as astrology represents, is played here by the configuration of the planets at the time of birth.

According to Indian astrology, all life circumstances are not eternal: they change, both on their own (and even just after the expiration of the statute of limitations), and as a result of the will of a person. The course of life can be felt by a person as containing mistakes, misfortunes, he wants to get rid of something, and to get something instead.

There are tools to achieve a desired effect. Above others, it is meditation, yogic practice, spiritual discipline, diet, mantras, rituals, as well as amulets, sound and color therapy.

Gems are some of the most widely used tools for the correction of individual fate, which even received a peculiar designation of “planetary hemology” and “hemopathy.”

The peculiar “magic”, “religion” and “psychology” of stones are widely and extensively presented and systematized in the Indian astrological system jyotish
and in the cult of the nine planets of the Navagraha.

“Healing the Fate”: Prescriptions and Reality

As a rule, Indian astrologers “prescribe” their clients certain gems of clearly defined sizes, which are usually worn, on the rings, on the fingers of both hands. Pearls and emeralds are worn on the little finger, coral and ruby ​​on the ring finger, blue sapphire, diamonds and hrysoberyl, hessonite on the middle finger, yellow sapphire on the index finger. The frame of these “astrological stones”, gold or silver, is almost always very simple in design. Its main condition is that the stone should be open from the bottom, it should touch the finger.

Jewelers selling stones or making rings, according to the tradition, should be known experts in their craft. Many Indian families have “their own” astrologers and jewelers, as well as their own family doctors, all of whom sometimes have family secrets.

There are several points important for a “healing of fate” with precious stones. First, it is the story of the appearance of this stone. In some cases, it is a gift that establishes or strengthens social ties (it matters who gives a jewel to someone: for example, parents to children, wife to husband, etc.); in others, it is a payment for the work done (and here the question of adequacy may arise: does the real value of the stone correspond to the price paid for it). Both in this and in the other case the correspondence, adequacy and reciprocity in the relations of the people participating in the transfer of the jewel are essential.

Secondly, it is a test, a stone test. Despite the well-known scheme, each particular stone is not considered neutral, and, regardless of the astrologer’s experience, it is impossible to know exactly how this stone will “behave” in this or that case. The impact of the stone is “verified” through events that begin to happen to a person, and any changes that he notices. A gem, in the general opinion, is an unsafe thing: like any medicine, it can cure and can also poison. Its action are checked within 72 hours; it is enough just to put a certain gem on a certain finger (corresponding to the place of “influence”), wrap it up with a plaster and wear it, watching for possible events and transformations. This is especially significant with regard to such a stone as blue sapphire associated with Saturn. This stone is undoubtedly considered the “record holder” for possible troubles for its bearer. There are cases when a certain stone is completely “not suitable” for the owner. The practice of returning purchased jewelry is widespread.

Thirdly, it is the practice of adjusting the jewels. A number of stones should be wornin a certain combination with other stones and metals, then their “dangerous properties” are neutralized and even transformed into favorable ones. So, blue sapphire (a ring with it is put on the middle finger, which is considered the “finger of Saturn”) requires wearing a diamond nearby; In addition, it is considered useful to wear a simple iron ring on the same finger: iron is a metal also associated with Saturn. Nightmares of my friend stopped when she began to wear such a combination of precious stones ‒‒ sapphire, diamond and an iron ring.

The middle finger is Saturn’s finger.

Fourth, it is a result. Astrological rings, according to the generally accepted opinion, contribute to the fulfillment of human desires and help to cope with complex, seemingly unsolvable problems. As a rule, these are very specific tasks connected with professional, personal and family spheres, or with health. A special problem is the waiting period, and, accordingly, the period when the rings with jewels should be worn continuously without removing them. In principle, this is prescribed by an astrologer, one of the main tasks of which is to indicate the time of the negative impact of certain combinations and positions of planets and constellations, and a period in which changes are possible for the better.

Obviously, however, that not always a person achieves the desired, even with all the prescriptions. The “treatment” with precious stones, like medical treatment, cannot always be successful and bring the desired results. However, for many Indians this does not prevent them from turning to astrologers and jewelers.

Finally, point five, this is the further fate of the jewels. In some cases, they continue to be worn, sometimes for years, in others rings are removed and stored at home, in still others they are handed over and presented. Sometimes astrological stones become heirlooms. E. g., the famous Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan famously wears two rings with blue sapphires: he received one of them from his father. The donated stones are believed to have additional force of impact, and give their owner special protection.

In addition, there are interesting cases of replacing real gems with their symbolic analogs, which astrologers believe can in some cases successfully “play” the role of ratna. As a rule, poorer clients resort to this, although it happens that quite well-off people also prefer not to wear rings on their fingers, but tied to the wrist, forearm or lower back, to a certain place on their body, both stones and their substitutes branches, as well as leaves or seeds, fruits of certain trees and shrubs.

Astrological roots and twigs are sold at vegetable bazaars, the recipe, as in the case of precious stones, а is written by the astrologer, and the seller strung on a thread of different colors, which is also associated with the color of this planet (green, blue, white, yellow, red), all the necessary elements.

Gems in Indian culture are tools of influence and adaptation, due to the belief in their inherent special potencies, and also due to the systemic interconnection of various spheres of cosmic arrangement and being, which influence human destiny. At the same time, the relationship between a person and precious stones turns out to be a certain “partnership”: it is believed that the stone has its own personality, and although, as a rule, its “behavior” is due to its type and is well studied (blue sapphire is the most “dangerous” type), individual configuration of relations with the owner. At the same time, all the gems share some common features: they “sound”, they have a certain range of possible and expected actions, and they can be likened to notes of a musical scale – “tuned” to certain grahas(“planets”), parts of the body and contribute to the generation of other psychophysical conditions.


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