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What are Tibetan Beads?

What are Tibetan Beads?
Item# Tibetan-beads
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Tibetan Beads jewelry

Tibetan Beads

From Wikipedia

The meaning of the Tibetan word "dzi" [གཟི།] translates to "shine, brightness, clearness, splendor". In Chinese, the bead is called "heaven's bead" or "heaven's pearl"

Dzi stones are made from agate, and may have decorated symbols composed of circles, ovals, square, waves (zig zags), stripes, lines, diamonds, dots, squares, waves, and stripes and various other natural archetypal symbolic patterns. Colors will mainly range from browns to blacks with the pattern usually being in ivory white. Dzi beads can appear in different colours, shapes and sizes.

The number of "eyes" on the stone is considered significant. "Eyes" are the circular dot or eye-like designs, and depending on their number and arrangement, they represent different things.

Sometimes the natural patterns (usually "layered" swirls) of the agate can be seen underneath or behind the decorated symbols and designs, and sometimes not. Cinnabar dots as seen on an ancient dzi.

Some dzi beads sport what are referred to as "blood spots" which can be seen as tiny red dots in the white areas, and these are indicative of cinnabar content. This is highly desirable, but more rare. Another desirable effect is something called "Nāga skin" which refers to tiny circular weathering marks on the surface of the bead, that simulates scales.

The word "waxy" is often used to describe dzi bead surface, which is the smoothing which occurs over a long period of time (presumably from wear), giving the bead a waxy appearance. Some dzi beads are simply polished agate and sport only the agate's natural patterning as decoration.

The highest number of eyes on ancient dzi is twelve. One thirteen-eye bead has been reported from a Taiwan collector but its genuineness has been unconfirmed; therefore anything having more than twelve eyes can be considered non-traditional. Any accompanying story or benefit tale can be assumed to be fake as well, and a mere marketing strategy on the lucrative Feng Shui item market.


Dzi stones may have made their first appearance between 2000 BC to 1000 BC, in ancient Tibet: a few hundred thousand were supposedly brought back by Tibetan soldiers from Persia or ancient Tajikistan during a raid. Fear of the “evil eye” was taken very seriously by these people, so whoever made the dzi created talismans with “eyes” on them as a “fight fire with fire” form of protection. Dzi were crafted by an unknown people using agate as the base stone and then fabricated with lines and circles using unique ancient methods like darkening with plant sugars and heat as well as bleaching and white line etching with ancient natron while certain parts must have been left out by using either grease, clay, wax or similar - the actual ancient alchemic process can only be assumed. In this way the ancients created the patterns by first bleaching the agate and then darkening the patterns onto the bead raws. Subsequently the lighter pattern would be etched onto the bead. After this the hole would be drilled, which was arduous work with a bow drill during ancient times.

There are certain facts that speak for the heating/bleaching process having taken place at a high altitude or in some sort of ancient vacuum chamber; otherwise the smoothness and the absence of cracks in the agate cannot be explained. Modern bead makers can now manufacture very good agate dzi stones with modern methods such as lasering and modern sugars and chemicals as well as vacuum chambers, but the techniques and methods used by ancient craftsmen still are not completely understood.[1]

While the origin surrounding dzi beads is quite uncertain, it is socially accepted today that they are called "Tibetan beads" just like "Tibetan coral" which also came to Tibet from elsewhere. Tibetans cherish these beads and made them hereditary gems. In this way they survived many thousands of years, being worn by hundreds of individual people. Dzi are found primarily in Tibet, but also in neighbouring Bhutan, Nepal, Ladakh and Sikkim.

Sometimes shepherds and farmers pick them up in the grasslands or while cultivating fields, and because some dzi are found in the earth, some Tibetans don't conceive of them as man-made. One reason the beads may be found near the surface in places such as freshly tilled fields, for example, may be because ancient monks were burned in funeral pyres (wearing the beads), and long after the remains were gone the beads remained, and were found at later dates. This however is unlikely, because only high monks were cremated and people collected the ashes, bone fragments and "dzi" and the spiritual tradition would have led them to look especially for any naturally formed jelly-like gems believed to be sometimes found within the ashes of an enlightened being. The ashes are then mixed with clay and formed into clay statuettes (Tsa-tsas).

Another more plausible reason to find the beads in soil might be that the beads were lost in times when the stringing cords weren't as durable as they are today. Most dzi don't have a large enough hole for a thick leather string to pass through. Before silk was widely available, the stringing material would have been plant fibers that easily broke.

Since knowledge of the bead is derived from several differing oral traditions, the beads have provoked controversy concerning their source, their method of manufacture and even their precise definition. In Tibetan culture these beads are believed to attract local protectors, dharmapalas or deities or maybe beneficial ghosts, ancestors or even bodhisattvas. Because of this, dzi beads are always treated with respect.

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