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The most desirable of all beads in Tibet and the Himalayan regions is the dZi stone (which has also been spelled gzi, ghzi, zi, tzi). The word dZi is pronounced like zee or in some regions züh and can be translated as bright, luminous or shine. The Tibetan word 'Ziji' is often translated as splendour or radiance, and it is with this connection that we can perhaps understand 'Zi' beads more fully. Ancient beads are revered as sacred amulets that carry and bestow blessings to the wearer, and due to their rarity they have become incredibly sought after and subsequently very valuable. They play a significant role in Tibetan culture and continue to be used in Tibetan medicine. They are also firmly rooted in all spiritual traditions of the Himalayan regions -- a role that has undoubtedly existed since ancient times. The deeper meaning of the word dZi (Wylie: gZi) is much more likely to point towards the amuletic power or qualities associated with these beads. It is these qualities that Tibetans believe can both protect and dispel all manner of negativity for the wearer. This is one of the reasons a bead may have been heirloomed within a family for many generations.
The actual practice of decorating stone beads has been known since at least 2500 BCE in Mesopotamia, however, it is still unclear as to the 'exact' place of origin and time of manufacture of dZi beads. The earliest mention of dZi beads is thought to date back to the time of King Gesar of Ling, although actual written records of the Gesar legend probably do not exist before the 16th century. It is widely believed that King Gesar ruled in East Tibet around 1000 years ago. He is thought to have plundered countless dZi beads from Tajikstan or Persia, which were later dispersed throughout Tibet and the Himalayan regions. A recent discovery (2014) by a team of archaeologists in Ngari, Western Tibet, date a dZi bead to the 2nd century CE. The bead, along with other funerary items, was recovered from a grave and is thought to be the first bead of its type found within controlled archaeological conditions in Tibet.
It is also believed that dZi beads were used as currency in the
ancient Shang Shung Kingdom of Tibet (Chögyal Namkai Norbu 2009). The capital city of this kingdom, located to the south west of Mount Kailash, was called Khyunglung or the Silver Palace of the Garuda. This was long before Buddhism was established in Tibet and Bön was the official religion. Ancient decorated agates have been discovered in many other locations that include: Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, India, Ladakh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, China, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.
Above: The Jowo Rinpoche statue is decorated with dZi and other precious stones.
We can see that the trade of dZi and other decorated agate beads was not limited to Tibet, however, it does seem that the Himalayan regions are the most important areas for the discovery of these beads today. The fact that they are still shrouded in so much mystery only continues to fuel people's fascination and desire to own them.
Are they a gift from the Gods?
Tibetans generally believe that dZi beads are of divine origin and therefore not created by human hands. Some say they are dropped by the Gods to benefit those who have the good fortune to find them. Since they are believed to be divinely created, they are considered to be a very precious and powerful amulet. Beads can often be seen in Tibetan temples adorning the most revered statues and stupas. They are thought to bring good fortune, ward off evil, and protect the wearer from physical harm and illness. It has even been claimed by Tibetan refugees, that they protect the wearer from knife and bullet attacks! One story doing the rounds on the
internet, is that a Taiwanese businessman escaped from a plane crash
where there were only two survivors. He claimed that this was thanks to
the dZi bead he was wearing.
Another belief is that they are the precious dung of the Garuda or Khyung bird. These droppings in the form of dZi, fall to the ground when he flies through the sky. The Garuda has special importance in the tantric teachings of Tibetan Buddhism where he is sometimes seen as a manifestation of Guru Rinpoche. In the Hindu legends, the Garuda is revered as the steed of Vishnu and is recognised throughout the Himalayas and South Asia.
In the practice of Tibetan Medicine, powdered dZi is mixed with ground gold, silver and pearl to produce medicinal pills (Tib: ril bu) with potent healing properties. There are also clear records of dZi being used in Tibetan medicine from at least the 12th century CE. Genuine dZi are also used by Tibetan Thangka painters to apply gold leaf to important paintings. It is also said that those who own a pure dZi will receive blessings directly from divine beings. A pure dZi is also believed to bring longevity, healing, good fortune, wealth and power. Tibetan people do not readily part with their dZi. In fact it is not considered favourable to sell a dZi that has been in a family for generations. This is another reason that authentic heirloom dZi are seldom seen in the marketplace.
Physical evidence shows that beads were decorated with chemical treatments. This practice was known since at least 2500 BCE in Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley. It is believed that agate was artificially darkened by applying a sugar rich solutuion to the surface. By heating the bead the sugar would caramelise and turn the bead brown. Acid treatments would burn the sugar and turn the bead black. Even the most natural looking beads may have been put through a process to enhance the crystalline banding in the stone or darken the colour.
Beads with eyes and unique designs are usually valued much higher. A flawless and unique bead can command the highest prices and they are not easy to come by. Common decorations can include zig zags, diamonds, circles, squares, waves, and stripes. Beads with an opaque dark brown to black base colour are the most sought after, along with a clearly defined and well contrasted decoration. Having said this, even very weathered dZi beads remain collectible because they are still so scarce.
It is generally recognised that dZi that have 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 eyes (odd numbers) are the most sought after. A bead with nine eyes is likely to be the most valuable of all dZi, however, there are always exceptions to the rule. Beads that have unique decorations or beads that are rare in size, can also be more collectible and valuable. Next we have beads that display an even number of eyes. Two eyed beads are more readily available, so they are usually more affordable. Then we have dZi that are decorated with stripes, these are called Chung or Chong dZi (although any ancient agate bead can also be known by this name). There are also tabular dZi which are known as Luk Mik (Sheep's Eye) or Ta Mik (Horse Eye), Tasso dZi (Horse tooth), Tiger dZi (oval decorated dZi with double stripes) and Phum dZi (fat grey/black decorated agates with the net or longevity design). Lastly we have the undecorated ancient agates that were traded primarily from India and Western Asia.
According to Himalayan folklore, a good place to find a dZi is near to a rock pool or hot spring. Beads are also said to be found in freshly ploughed fields. Other stories tell us that dZi were once creatures that crawled like worms. The moment they are touched by human hands they are turned to stone (complete with perforation). Tibetans even claim that cattle would mistakenly eat these creatures whilst grazing in the fields, and later give birth to them in the form of a dZi bead.
There is also a common story that tells of a man who once saw one of these worm-like creatures. He quickly threw his hat over it in an attempt to catch it. When he removed the hat, the worm had miraculously turned into a beautiful dZi. Another legend tells us that the dZi originated from a sacred mountain in Tibet. In ancient times, a stream was said to flow down its slopes. One day an evil sorcerer cast a spell upon the mountain and the flow immediately stopped. This is said to account for why many ancient dZi display decorations, like a stream frozen in time. Many of the decorations are said to predate Buddhism and they reflect a time when people were deeply connected to the land and nature. The symbols that appear on dZi are often compared to natural elements like water, earth and sky. Some beads are said to display characteristics of animals both mythical and real -- like a dragon, garuda, turtle or tiger for example.
Although ancient beads are the most sought after, newly made dZi (see twelve eyed bead above) can still be highly collectible. Some of the rarer quality new beads also command very high prices in and outside of Asia. For a bead to be recognised as a genuine dZi, it must be made of agate. Beads made from glass, bone, plastic, wood or any other material are merely imitations.
During the past 20 years and with the greater spread of Tibetan Buddhism, ancient dZi have now become desirable all over the world. We manage to source a small amount of these beads every year, but this is certainly not going to last forever. On our website you will find a selection of both ancient and recently created dZi. If for any reason you are not entirely satisfied with your purchase, you may return it for a full refund. We offer you a complete guarantee that our beads are of the highest quality and are authentic.
Please note that the bead you see on our website is the bead that you will receive. All of our dZi are made from genuine agate and all are suitable to be worn. We are also able to source ancient dZi from a reliable network of dZi dealers in Asia. So if you are looking for a special bead please contact us.
The majority of our beads have been sourced in the Himalayan regions and others come from private collections. The modern dZi we offer (see our new dZi bead category) are mainly purchased in Nepal and are no more than 20 years old. They are an affordable alternative to our ancient beads. It is also important to recognise that our bead prices are based on the individual 'merits' of each bead and not based on a 'one price fits all' system. This means we pay a premium for individual beads we source because they are the best of their kind.
We are always striving to increase our understanding of these wonderful beads and readily accept comments and suggestions to improve the acurracy of our information. For thousands of years a wealth of stone beads have been traded and heirloomed within the Himalayas. These beads have become deeply rooted in Tibetan & Himalayan customs and their spiritual traditions. We feel very privileged to be able to offer these beads to you.