Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Apatani beads-7 : khiinii miru


Khiinii miru are unetched, spherical black and white banded agates. This type of stone is commonly known as "Sulemani agate", or "Solomon agate", named after King Solomon and originally supposed to be from his legendary mines. They appear to be part of a long established production whose historical center was Western Asia and may date back as far as 2500 BC. Of course, many beads found today on traditional necklaces are not anyway near that old. The pair displayed on the above picture is set up at the bottom of a santer tasan, and contrasts with the overall blue hue of the necklace. From a strictly commercial point of view, these are too worn and damaged to have any value. But their social, cultural and aesthetic value is, of course, a different matter.

In the course of history round banded agates seem to have found their way to the Himalayan cultures, especially the Tibetan one where there have become known as Bhaisajyaguru, "the Medicine Buddha" (Sman-bla in Tibetan) beads. Many of them are probably just a few hundred years old. Both Suleimani and Bhaisajyaguru refer to the same kind of stone, basically black agate with lighter banding. The cult of Bhaisajyaguru being very popular in Tibet (as well as in Mongolia, Tibet, Korea and even Japan), it is likely that the stone was attributed some talismanic or medicinal properties by the popular religion, as for Dzi-beads (see previous post).

Banded agate bead from Himachal Pradesh (for comparison)


Bhaisajyaguru beads from Nepal (left) and Tibet (right). Tibetan stones are often found to have narrower bands. (Source: garudatrading.com)

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

".....They appear to be part of a long established production whose historical center was Western Asia and may date back as far as 2500 BC. Of course, many beads found today on traditional necklaces are not anyway near that old....." Has there been any scientific test to determine the age...

PB said...

@ to anonymous,
I'm not an expert in beads. But what I know is that beads made of stone, unless they contain some organic material, are not carbon datable. Dating is made mostly by comparison with other datable remains when they are found altogether in archaelogical sites. Out of those sites, stone beads which are kept as heirlooms by various Himalayan people usually have been sold or exchanged so many times that it is hard to connect them with a particular production center or a particular manufacturing period.