Far away in the mountains of Ladakh, the prayer flags fluttered from a distance, while I indulged in many a Gur Gur cha’s listening to this 90 year old grandmother spin mystical tales for me, as her prayer wheel chanted ‘Om mani padme hum’ in circles.
The Ladakhis, Tibetans and inhabitants of ancient villages of Jammu and Kashmir consider it to be sacred and metaphysical. The mysterious ‘Chung Dzi’ beads are also found in Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim. In Tibetan, Dzi means Shine, dignity, good retribution, perfection splendor, brightness and clarity is believed to bring these qualities into one’s life. It’s quite a rare one, considering it is formed when an insect creates a transparent cocoon around it to protect itself in freezing temperatures. This cocoon or nest is known as Dzi Tshang. Imagine the beauty of nature’s creation. Sometimes, after unearthing the Dzi beads, they even move for a little while as the insect is alive. From the ancient times, the communities in Ladakh and Tibet have regarded it as a protective stone. The eye of the insect is visible through surface of the stone, protecting the wearer from evil eyes.
An old woman told me how it was always worn with care, often worn close to your heart, never to be shown to anyone. “Because it’s so rare, it could be easily stolen”. So most keep them hidden or at home. It was also a symbol of wealth as these stones could found only by ones who knew the mountains well. In hushes, she said “The Dzi takes on it, any negative energy or danger from surroundings before it affects the wearer. It absorbs and neutralizes negativity. So if it cracks, when worn, it means you have been protected from a foreseen danger. The Dzi comes to you out of good karma, like it did for a man high up the mountains found this insect and threw his hat on it. Upon being touched, the insect was petrified. It is believed that Dzi’s fossilize when touched by a human hand, ones with good karma or by a woman’s shirt. While a legend from Western Tibet says that the Dzi is found in animal horns or cattle dung, bringing good luck and fortune to the Shepherd. And the three-eyed, nine-eyed, eight-eyed and twelve-eyed Dzi’s are the rarest to find. They come with different numbers of eyes and each have their significance. The creation of Dzi certainly isn’t man-made and is of supernatural origin and continues to be a mystery for us.”
Another legend has it that Guru Padmasamhava was blessed with Dzi beads after he built the Samye Monstery in Tibet. It is believed that Guru Padmasambhava buried Dzi beads all over Tibet with prayers, blessings and spiritual insight. Over a hundred years later, King Gesar of Ling Kingdom defeated the Tagzig Kingdom and found access to maps that led him to unearth the Dzi’s and reward them to his soldiers.
As per another oral tradition, Dzi bead originated in one of the mountains near Rudok where Dzi flowed abundantly down its slopes. All this was clouded by the wicked veil of a woman who cast a spell on the mountain to block its flow. Even today, legend has it that those who have an eye for divinity, can see the black and white stripes of Dzi beads on the mountain. The Dzi beads are also known to be the ornaments of semi-gods and deities who toss them away from the skies to the earth as they blemished even a bit. This is one reason why the Dzi is often found with some imperfections on its surface.
There’s a lot to learn from nature, for it guards and protects you in ways beyond imagination. And these folklore started to depict themselves in their traditional jewelry; telling their tales and spreading its charm.
I brought home a pair of earrings as a token of love from this grandmother that resembled the Dzi bead, for the real ones are so rare to find. Just as these stories hidden deep inside a grandmother’s heart, somewhere high up a village in the mountains of Ladakh.