Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tanii beads-8 : small coloured glass beads

Coloured glass beads bought from the plains are very popular among Taniis, as some of their necklaces are composed of several rows of small or medium-sized beads of all sort.

1. Many of them belong to the "bimpu family". Bimpu is a generic term for medium-sized glass beads, especially those that make up bimpu tasan, a necklace composed of as many as 20 types of beads displayed on a dozen or so strands. The shapes vary from cylindrical to roundish. They are differentiated mainly on the basis of their hues:
  • lanchan bimpu : red slightly translucent glass bead
  • ji bimpu : dark blue slightly translucent glass bead.
  • jiji bimpu : green slightly translucent glass bead
  • horpu bimpu : translucent glass bead

jiji bimpu

ji bimpu

lanchan bimpu
horpu bimpu

  • bimpu ami is a special type of glass beads originating from Venice circa 19th century. Black or burgundy in colour with white dots, they are commonly known as "Skunk beads". The Taniis simply call them bimpu ami or "eyed bimpus".

bimpu ami

2. Tado are small, cylindrical opaque yellow beads used to make necklaces known as tado tasan. Two shades are distinguished, each used to make up a specific necklace simply consisting of several strands of these beads.
  • akho tado : bright yellow
  • aper tado : terracotta

akho tado (left) and aper tado (right)

pike tasan is a translucent glass bead of amber hue.

pike tasan
bimpu ami has been inserted in the middle of the row)

4. nyime perun (or peron), literally "Tibetan soja bean" is a small, cylindrical dark blue bead. As the name indicates, they seem originate from Tibet, or more probably, as F├╝rer-Haimendorf suggests, they were probably obtained from Tibet on a regular basis till the Chinese takeover. As he writes in 1962 :

"Most women possess strings of crudely cut cylindrical glass beads of dark blue clour and it could seem that these have also come from Tibet. They are quite different from any beads manufactured or known in India today (...) Today they are no longer popular, and have indeed very little market value. Their place has been taken by smaller and smoother glass beads of similar dark blue colour which have for some years been available in the bazaars of North Lakhimpur." (1962, 68).

Nyime perun

Nyime perun are used to make necklaces known as nyime tasan or ji tasan, consisting of several strands of those dark blue beads ornamented with yellow and red beads.

5. Lebu ralin, despite its name, is not a carnelian bead but simply a glass bright red bead which is set up at intervals to decorate nyime tasan necklaces.

lebu ralin

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:

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"


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Tanii beads-5 : pilya papu or Peking glass beads

Pilya papu, more generally known as "Peking glass" beads, are large round beads of greenish colour. Many of them originate from Poshan in Northeastern China. Most were made to imitate Chinese precious stones, especially jade, and so are found in various shades of green, from dark green to very light, whitish almond green.

A Chinese necklace made of Peking glass beads (for comparison)

Though all are made of glass, the Taniis do not confuse "Peking glass" beads with other beads of similar shape and size such as the so-called "Padre" beads (for eg. santer, see previous post). They also do not normally mix the two types of beads on necklaces. Typically, two pairs of pilya papu displayed in a symmetrical way ornament the middle section of sampu tasan or chank shell necklace.