There is ample evidence that the cultures of the Indian subcontinent studied gems for millennia. The Manasara, a classic architectural manual, has shown us that as long as 5,000 years ago, Indian architects used gemstones to decorate and protect the palaces of kings. Furthermore, many rulers developed special uses and meanings for many of their coveted gemstones, including many emeralds.
The Vedas, which are the oldest Indian scriptures, contain several references for the use of gems in ceremonial rituals and everyday life. They describe the powers of precious stones to influence subtle energies and connect the Earth to the rest of the universe. Because precious stones were intimately associated with the gods, they had the power to heal and influence destiny.
A gift of a precious stone to the gods was bound to produce good fortune. According to the Rig Veda, “by giving gold the giver receives a life of light and glory.” In similar vein, another text, called the Haiti Smriti, reveals that:
“Coral in worship will subdue all the three worlds. He who worships Krishna with rubies will be reborn as a powerful emperor; if with a small ruby, he will be born a king. Offering emeralds will produce Gyana or Knowledge of the Soul and of the Eternal. If he worships with a diamond, even the impossible, or Nirvana, that is Eternal Life in the highest Heaven, will be secured.”
The ancient name for emerald comes from the Sanskrit word for “green.” Most experts believe that the first emeralds were imported into India from Egypt. Since emeralds were highly prized, they were readily incorporated into sacred Indian texts and traditions. According to one tale from the Puranas (Tagore, 1881), all gems, including emerald, originated when a demon named Vala destroyed himself. This tale brings to mind the location of the famous Egyptian mines (Sinkankas, 1981):
The bile of Vala had been acquired by the snake Sesha, the monarch of all snakes, but, frightened by an attack from Garura, the king of all birds, Sesha dropped the bile on the shores of an ocean and, ever since, that place has been a mine of emeralds.
The Manusmriti is an ancient work of Hindu law which dates to about the 1st century A.D. In George Bühler’s translation (Laws of Manu, Sacred Books of the East, Volume 25), there are several items pertaining to the care and use of gems:
Cleaning of gems: Chapter 5: 111.
“The wise ordain that all (objects) made of metal, gems, and anything made of stone are to be cleansed with ashes, earth, and water.”
Punishment for stealing gems: Chapter 8: 323.
“For stealing men of noble family and especially women and the most precious gems, (the offender) deserves corporal (or capital) punishment.”
Fines for improperly cutting gems: Chapter 9: 286.
“For adulterating unadulterated commodities, and for breaking gems or for improperly boring (them), the fine is the first (or lowest) amercement.”
One of the most famous Indian works on gemology is S.M. Tagore’s “Mani-Mala” or “Treatise on Gems.” Although it was written at the end of the 19th century, it drew heavily on the Puranas, which were written and compiled from 400 to 1000 A.D. According to Tagore, the various colors of the emerald were similar to those of certain plants and animals. Tagore also indicates that emeralds have five principal qualities: purity, weight, coolness, freedom from dust, and beauty. Among other benefits, they have the power to purify the soul, increase wealth, and bring success in wars.
Tagore warns of seven emerald defects that must be avoided at all costs:
“An emerald which is not cool, is called a Rukshma; it leads to disease.”
“That which has a yellow spot is called Bishfota. Death from wounds inflicted by a weapon may be apprehended from wearing it.”
“An emerald to which a stone fragment is inseparably attached is baleful in its influence.”
“An emerald that is dirty is called Bic’ c’ háya; it may bring on a variety of diseases.”
“An emerald containing gritty fragments is called Karakara; it causes the death of the owner’s son.”
“An emerald which is ugly is called Jathara; it renders one liable to bites.”
“An emerald, the color of which is like that of Mashakalai is fatal to the wearer.”
Today, emeralds and other gemstones are used in Vedic Astrology or Jyotisha, a practice that also requires complicated calculations to ascertain the positions of the stars and planets with reference to an individual’s horoscope, the days of the week, and hours of the day.
With so much information about emeralds, we next reveal our most helpful knowledge about emerald jewelry, starting first with Emeralds as Heirlooms.