Early mineral discoveries on the Indian subcontinent raised questions about the nature of gemstones and their origins. Ancient sources describe the sacred gems of heaven and of the netherworld, as well as earthly gems.
There are four kinds of heavenly gems. Chief among them is the Kaustubh Mani (mani = “divine jewel”), which is regarded as the first gem. The story of the origin of this jewel is part of the “Samudra Manthan”—or the “Churning of the Ocean of Milk”—which is one of the most famous tales of the Puranas. According to Hindu mythology, the gods (Devas and Asuras) churned the ocean in order to create Amrita, the nectar of immortality.
The churning of the ocean of milk was big production. Mount Meru was used as the churning rod, and Vasuki, the king of snakes, served as the churning rope. The Devas and Asuras pulled back and forth on Vasuki, causing the mountain to rotate, which in turn churned the ocean. As a result of the churning, 14 treasures emerged from the ocean, including the Kaustubh Mani.
When the Kaustubh Mani emerged from the ocean, the gods were overcome by its magnificence, as it embodied pure consciousness in all its brilliance. It was decided that the only being that could wear it without being corrupted was Lord Vishnu. The jewel was given to him, and he wears it on his chest.
The other three divine or heavenly gemstones are as follows:
Chinta Mani: A wish-fulfilling gem similar to the Philosopher’s Stone.
Syamantaka Mani: A dazzling gem with magical powers and a checkered past.
Rudra Mani: A golden jewel with stripes worn by Lord Shiva.
The gems of the netherworld are also considered sacred. It should be pointed out that the netherworld, or Patala, does not resemble the Western version of hell. It is, instead, a beautiful Eden full of health, wealth, and all kinds of pleasure. Although there is no sunlight in the netherworld, the darkness is relieved by the presence of sparkling jewels. The Nagas (snakes) and their king, Vaskui, inhabit one level of this heavenly underworld. Some of these snakes have mysterious light-emitting jewels, called Naga Mani, in their heads. It is apparently time-consuming and extremely dangerous to obtain Naga Mani.
The earthly gems are important to mere mortals like us. These are the gems that we covet and trade. According to the Garuda Puranam (Ed. Dutt, 1908), their origin was due to the death of a demon king:
“There lived in ancient time a demon, named Vala. Vala conquered the god Indra and his celestials, and reigned supreme and invincible in the universe. The gods, on the occasion of a religious sacrifice, jocularly asked him to play the part of the animal of the sacrifice. This Vala consented to do and pledged his word for the performance of the part and suffered himself to be bound at the sacrificial stake. Whereupon the gods turned the jest into earnest and killed the invincible Vala in that mockery of a religious sacrifice. Thus Vala yielded up his ghost for the good of the universe and the welfare of the gods, and, behold, the severed limbs and members of his sanctified body, were converted into the seeds of gems.
“Then the gods and the Yakshas and the Siddhas and the Nagas eagerly rushed to collect those seeds of gems and there were mighty flutterings of celestial pinions and rustlings of celestial garments in heaven. The gods came riding in their aerial cars, and carried away the seeds of gems for their own use, some of which dropped down on earthy through the violent concussion of the air. Wherever they dropped, whether in oceans, rivers, mountains or wildernesses there origined mines of those gems through the celestial potency of their respective seeds.”
As the text continues, we learn that Vala’s bones became diamonds; his teeth became pearls; his blood, rubies; his bile, emeralds; his eyes, blue sapphires; his skin, topaz; his semen, crystal; his fingernails, hessonite garnet; his complexion, bloodstone; his fat, jade; his intestines, coral; and his cry of death became cat’s eye (chrysoberyl).
- Alchemy and the Transmutation of Gold
- Gemstone Origins: Part II