Saturday, April 29, 2006

Amongst the many dZi stories known by Tibetans, one common belief is that cattle can give birth to dZi. It is believed that dZi are wormlike creatures that the cattle eat whilst grazing. Once eaten these creatures become petrified, creating a perfect dZi bead. Tibetans also believe that the perforation found on dZi is a completely natural occurance and has not been drilled by man. However, there are some rare dZi that do not have perforations. Maybe these beads were not created to be worn but instead were used to adorn statues and other artifacts.

Tibetan women with beaded hair braids.

Nomadic Tibetan women often wear their hair in two styles of braids. They may choose to wear it in large braids (slas chen) or small braids (slas zhib). Girls who are unmarried often comb their hair into three large braids and rarely wear ornamnents in their hair, apart from the occasional piece of amber, coral or turquoise. Once a girl is married this will then change as she can now start to wear it in the fashion shown above. This style is called 'Pakma Trale'. These braids are considered a very important part of the wedding ceremony. There are usually 108 braids which is a sacred an auspicious Buddhist number. As a married woman she will start to wear an increasing number of hair ornaments that usually consist of large pieces of amber, coral, turquoise and dZi.

Ancient Single Stripe Chung dZi 

A selection of old amber beads from Tibet. 

Here we have antique silver counters from east Tibet. They have been inlaid with coral and turquoise. Counters are used to keep track of large numbers of mantra recitations or prayers. They are traditionally strung on 108 bead malas. I have also noticed that some Tibetan traders also use them as a calculator. For this purpose they are simply worn around the neck on a piece of cord for easy access.

This is a beautiful translucent ancient agate bead. This picture allows us to see how the perforation was made. We can see that the bead was drilled at both ends and that these lines eventually meet to form a complete perforation.

The link below will take you to an interesting article that gives further information on ancient drilling methods.

Ancient Four Striped Chung dZi 

A gorgeous ancient Bhaisajyaguru mala with coral and turquoise spacers. 

The central bead is known as a Tasso dZi and 
it is flanked with two eyed beads.

This is a fat Chung dZi that displays a large single black stripe. 

Authentic antique red coral sourced in Nepal. 

This is a rare decorated bead with lotus design. Beads of 
this type are usualy found with the longevity decoration. 

Rare decorated carnelian bead, displaying three eyes. 

Stunning ancient agate bead. Western Asiatic

This is a more recent Pumtek bead possibly from 1920s.

Ancient decorated two stripe agate bead.

Photo: The giant Pema Raka bead measures 88.36 mm x 75 mm

These distinct antique or ancient carnelian beads are known as 'Pema Raka' in Tibet. It has been speculated that the vast majority of Pema Raka have been traded from China into Tibet and the Himalayas. Many believe there are ancient and antique beads. The earliest may have been traded from Afghanistan. The carnelian material is of a particular quality and can often be opaque. The perforations are normally very large and the shape of these beads can vary. The oldest beads have considerable wear at their perforations and can often be seen on Tibetan heirloom necklaces. They can be long or short freeform beads, round, disc shaped or even melon shaped. It is the distinct colour and quality of material that distinguishes Pema Raka from other carnelian beads made in antiquity.

 Carnelian (Pema Raka) bead from Tibet.

This is an early imitation coral bead made from glass. They are known as 'Sherpa' Coral because they are a popular adornment with the Sherpa women of Nepal. The earliest beads may have been made towards the end of the 19th century and traded as an affordable alternative to genuine red coral. Many are much later creations. In the Tibetan language shar means East; pa is a suffix meaning 'people': hence the word sharpa or Sherpa. In recent years, many of the Sherpa people have migrated to India. Sherpas originally came from East Tibet and migrated to Nepal within the last 500 years.

Friday, April 21, 2006

A man with silver and coral hair ornaments attached to the traditional red sash of East Tibet. The Khampa men are renowned as fearless warriors and excellent horseback riders. Also visible is a single ivory ring that is worn in this fashion by Khampa men.

Tibetan dZi and coral dealer.

Tibetan trader.

Setting damaged dZi and coral into a gold 
saddle ring is one way to extend their life.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Bodhiseed Mala that includes turquoise, coral and a Tasso dZi.

Bead treasure

Giant Chenrezig statue inlaid with turquoise, coral and dZi.

Ancient Chung dZi

Round Pumtek beads displaying the more commonly seen 6 stripe design. Genuine beads are originally from Burma (Myanmar) and are made from silicified woods. Pumtek are once again being made by bead makers in Burma using similar materials and methods as their ancestors. This can often make it difficult to distinguish the 20th century beads from much earlier creations. These beads were purchased from Tibetan traders in Nepal and are believed to be old but not ancient.

An interesting collection of ancient dZi from a private collection in Nepal.

This is a beautiful and rare carnelian Chung dZi.

Ancient Agate Bhaisajyaguru Beads.

Ancient two tone agate dZi.

Old Bodhiseed Mala with Conch (Chank) spacers.

Plastic imitation dZi beads can be seen in various qualities and will display both common and more unusual decorations. The bead in front is a very convincing looking stone bead until you see it close up. Jamey D. Allen shows similar beads in his wonderful Arts of Asia article and tells us that they have been in production for more than 30 years. They can be found in Tibet and throughout the Himlayan regions.

Allen explains that they are made "from a three-step process". The first step is made by "moulding a white base with a raised design". The base is then covered with a darker outer layer and lastly the surface needs "grinding" to make the bead smooth. Most of these plastic beads include a metal core which gives the bead some weight and the illusion that it is made from stone. Under magnification tiny bubbles can be seen which indicates that they are not crafted from agate. If you tap them on your teeth it will feel like plastic and not hard stone.

Old glass imitation dZi bead

Old glass imitation dZi bead

This is a Tibetan thangka of the second Gyalwa Karmapa. Notice the coral inlay on the throne backrest. Beads were not just worn on the body. They were also used as lavish offerings and adornment. Precious beads could be set into thrones, statues, stupas, temples and all manner of ritual tools.

Old Tibetan Gau inlaid with juicy red coral.

Ancient carnelian beads.

Ancient decorated single stripe 'black and white' agate bead.

Ancient decorated carnelian bead.