Sunday, October 5, 2008

Tanii beads-6 : Bukhe Ripo

Bukhe ripo bead set up on a carnelian bead necklace, lebu tasan.

Bukhe Ripo are very distinctive beads worn by women, either interspersed with glass or carnelian beads or, if the owner is fortunate to have a collection of bukhe ripo, as a whole necklace made from the stones. Mainly oblong or cylindrical in shape, they are pierced lengthwise. The beads are engraved with geometrical patterns : circles, ovals, squares, zig zags or stripes. Colours range from browns to blacks.

The ultimate origin of those stones appears to be the Indus Valley and Iran, where they have been manufactured for the most part between 2700 BC to 1000 AD. The first ones were made in the context of the Mesopotamian and Indus Valley Civilizations, whereas in the Late Period they were mostly the work of Persians. They are either natural agates- black and browns with white banding, or fossil agate from petrified wood, exhibiting various shades of brown, some with different color inclusions. The stones are etched by hand for creating the very distinctive motifs which usually appear in ivory white (the process of making contemporary etched agate beads can be seen here).

Interestingly, nowadays etched agate beads are found primarily in the Tibetan cultural sphere (viz. Tibet, Ladakh, Tibetan areas of Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan, etc.), and for that reason they are popularly known as "Tibetan agate beads" (or "Pumtek beads" in Burma). Mostly through bartering exchanges with Tibet (and then through heritage) they have also been acquired by many inhabitants of Arunachal Pradesh. In Tibetan language, they are known as Dzi, which means 'brigthness', 'clearless', 'splendour', and are much valued. For some very fine pictures of those stones, you can visit this very informative blog. A very rich symbolism is also attached to these stones, mainly based on the number of circular motifs or "eyes" (from 1 to 21) which are represented on them (see this link), as well as a number of additional parameters (see this link).

Though the beads have never been manufactured in Tibet, they are considered as precious jewels. They are also believed to provide people with protection, so that someone who owns one one such stone will not let it go easily, nor will usually sell it. The Tibetans (as well as the Monpas of Arunachal Pradesh) find them occasionally in the earth when tilling their fields or taking their animals for grazing. The popular belief attributes a divine origine to the stones, which as such are endowed with talismanic properties and medicinal value. For that reason, Tibetans farmers or herders are often seen wearing one or two Dzi-beads around their neck. The Tibetan/Chinese numerology interferes with the popular belief by attributing a distinctive talismanic value to the stones according to the number of eye motifs. The most sought after (and hence the most expensive stones) are the ones having an odd number of 'eyes' (the best ideally having 9 or 13). Next most popular are those having unusual patterns, inclusions or colors, followed by the beads having an even number of eyes.

Some of them, which are old and authentique artifacts, command high prices, as much as several thousands dollars a piece. But nowadays many glass imitations have also been made, which are not easily distinguishable from genuine stones. And thousands of "fake made-in-China Dzi beads" are offered for sale daily on Ebay. It is likely that many Dzi beads found in modern Tibet and Arunachal are copies, including the one displayed on the above picture. So beware !

modern so-called "Dzi beads"



Buru said...


Since I have no expertise or interest in beads I can only comment on your work---AMAZING!

PB said...

Thanks Buru, and first of all thanks for being a regular visitor and commentator.