Gemmology in Brhat Samhita


Research paper written by London swaminathan

Research paper No 1634; dated 8th February 2015

Varahamihira’s Sanskrit book Brhat Samhita is encyclopaedic. He covered very interesting topics in 106 chapters. He deals with Examination of Gem Stones in chapter 80 and then with Pearls in 81, Rubies in 82 and Emeralds in Chapter 83.

Yesterday I wrote an article, “Amazing Encyclopaedia Brhat Samhita”, in which I have given all the topics under 106 chapters.

I will give some interesting information about gems in his own words:-

He mentioned 22 gems and described the qualities and varieties of diamonds.

He enumerates the units of weights of gems and their values.

8 white mustard seeds= one rice grain

Price of 20 tandula (rice grain) diamond = 200,000 karshapanas!

This is the price of diamond 1500 years ago!

In chapter 81 he described the qualities of pearls. He says the best pearls are available from eight places. Kautilya who wrote his Arthasastra 2300 years ago praised the Pandya Kavatam, a pearl recovered from the Gulf of Mannar in Tamil Nadu. Varahamihira gives the gods who preside over the gems. He speaks of 18 types of pearl necklaces. Those who look at the Bharhut and Amaravati sculptures would have noticed the beautiful necklaces on them. Indian sculptures are with lot of jewellery. Around the same time we see Greek statues without jewellery. Indian women were fond of jewellery from Vedic times.


Picture of diamonds

In English, we use the phrases “He is a Gem” or “He is a gem of a person”. This is India’s contribution to the world. Emperor Vikramaditya of First century BCE had Nine Gems (nine great scholars) in his court. One of them was the greatest of the Indian poets Kalidasa.  Amarakosa is very clear about this expression. Every excellent representative of a class is designated as a gem of……………

First, Varahamihira discuss the origin of gems. He says it is the bones of demon Bala or bones of Dadichi according to some. The third reason he gives is that the gems are caused by the wonderful qualities of earth. Last one is scientific.

He gives a list of 22 gems:Diamond, sapphire, emerald, agate, ruby, blood stone, beryl, amethyst, vimalaka, royal gem/quartz, crystal, moon gem, saugandika, opal, conch, azure stone, topaz, brahma gem, jyotirasa, sayaka, pearl and coral.

The Sanskrit verses run like this:

Vajreindranila marakatha ka karkethara padmaraka rudirakyaa:

Vaidurya pulaka visalaka  rajamanis fatika sasikantha:

Saugandika gomedaka shanka maha nila pushparagaakyaa:

Brhmanis jyotirasa sasyaka muktapravalani

In chapter 82 he gives the price of rubies. He quotes the Purvacharyas for the prices. This shows that there were books by his predecessors on this subject.

Since Varahamihira himself knows that only four gems are important in the list of 22, he deals with them separately.


He gives the list of places were diamonds are mined in his days: Vena River, Kosala, Surashtra, Saurpara, Matanga, Himalaya, Valla, Kalinga and Paundra

Diamonds and their Adidevatas (deities) are as follows:–

Hexagonal diamond = Indra

Dark with shape of a snake’s mouth = Yama

Bluish yellow = Vishnu

Karnikara flower colour = Varuna

Bluish red/triangular = Agni, Fire God

Asoka flower colour = Vayu

He adds that red and yellow diamonds are good for the rulers and warriors; white diamonds for Brahmins; Sirisa flower coloured (whitish yellow) for Vaisyas and colour of swords for Shudras.

He talks about the beliefs about diamonds. If it is with black marks or scratches it would bring bad luck or disaster for those who wear it.


Diamonds are not a Girl’s Best friend!

“Some authorities are of opinion that women wishing to beget sons should never wear diamonds; but (in our opinion) diamonds that are triangular, trigonal and like a coriander seed, or the buttocks, are productive of good results to damsels desiring male offspring.

His last verse in the chapter on diamonds is

“ A diamond with inauspicious characteristics causes the ruin of the wearer’s kith and kin, wealth and life; whereas a good one destroys the enemies and danger from thunderbolt and poison. It especially confers a lot of enjoyments on kings”.

I will give more information about rubies, pearls and emeralds in another article.


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