Pearls in the Vedas and Tamil Literature

pearl large

Written by London Swaminathan
Post No. 1048 ; dated 17th May 2014.

Ratna Pariksha and Testing Gems: Pearls

Gemmology is the combined art and science of studying, cutting, valuing, buying and selling of gems. India was far advanced in this branch of science in the olden days. Kautilya, who is also known as Chanakya lived 2400 years ago. He was the first one to write a book on Economics and allied subjects. He has devoted a whole chapter to ‘Ratnapariksha’ (gemmology). This deals also with testing the quality of gems. Vikramaditya, one of the exemplary kings of India who lived in the first century BC, had nine great scholars in his court who were called ‘Nine Gems’. This shows how much the people valued the gem stones.
Kavatapuram was the second capital of early Pandyas whose first capital South Madurai was devoured by sea. ‘Kavatapuram’ means the doorway (of South India). Valmiki Ramayana has a few references to South India. One of them goes like this:–

‘’tato hemamayam divyam muktamani vibhushitam
Yuktam Kavatanam Pandyanam gata drakshyata vanarah

“Behold on the shore of the ocean the Pandya’s golden gates decked with gold and pearl”.
Pearls were introduced into Rome (Italy) during Jugurthine war (106-112 BCE). In the time of Cicero when pearls were scarce, one valued at thousands of pounds in modern money, was taken from the ear of Metella and deliberately swallowed by the son of Aesopus. It is also well known that Cleopatra dissolved pearls in her wine before drinking it.
Nose ring made up of pearls (picture from wikipedia)

I have given below a relevant passage from my earlier post (13 February 2012) “Gem Stones in Kalidasa and Tamil Literature”:–

Pearl from Rain Drops

If the rain falls on Swati star day the oysters open their mouth to drink the rain drops and the rain drops become pearls-This was the belief of ancient Indians including Tamils.
Malavikagnimitra.1-6: Kalidasa says , ‘the skill of a teacher imparted to a worthy pupil attains greater excellence, as the water of a cloud is turned in to a pearl in a sea shell.
In Tamil Puram. Verse 380 ,Karuvur Kathapillay says the same about the origin of pearls. Bhartruhari makes it more specific by saying the rain on Swati Nakshatra days become pearls. Biologsits also confirm on full moon days a lot of sea animals like corals release their eggs or spores. So far as India is concerned it might have happened in that particular (the day Swati star is with Moon) season.
Kalidasa gives more similes about pearls. He describes the river that is running circling a mountain as a garland of pearls ( Ragu.13-48 and Mega.-49)
muthangi,srivaishnavism site
Picture of pearl dress of Sri Ranaganatha (picture from

Other references from Kalidasa: sweat drops as pearl:Rtu.6-7; tears as pearls: Mega 46, Ragu VI 28,,Vikra V 15; smile-KumarI-44, water drops on lotus leaf:Kumara VII 89

In Tamil the teeth are compared to the pearls: Ainkurunuru. 185, Akam 27

Since Gulf of Mannar is the main source of pearls in India ,there are innumerable references to pearls in Tamil literature. Even Kautilya refers to the pearls from Pandya country. Korkai was the harbour city where the pearl fishing was flourishing. Aink 185,188, Akam 27,130 and Natri 23mention pearls from Korkai.

Pearls in the Vedas

Rig Veda has the following references on pearl:
RV 1-33-4; 10-68-11; 1-126-4;7-18-23

Atharva Veda Sangamani Sukta (4-10-1) has a reference to pearl. Whitney says that it describes that the rain drops become pearls. It is customary to recite this sukta when one wears a pearl talisman.
“When the ocean roared against Parjanya with lightning, there from was born the golden drop” (Sadvimsa Brahmana 5-6)
Pearl from sea oyster

Tamils have lot of references to pearls that are found in the head of an elephant.

The rain drop turning into a pearl is found in Indian literature, from the Atharva Veda to Sangam Tamil literature. This shows that the beliefs were same among the Tamil Hindus and North Indian Hindus from Vedic times.

Kautilya’s chapter on Ratna Pariksha displays wonderful knowledge of our forefathers in this a particular art. Minute details regarding the source, the variety, the merits and the defects of each and every jems have been carefully recorded, one of which can be reproduced here for the sake of illustration.
10 Varieties,13 Defects and 8 Qualities!

There are ten varieties of ‘mauktika’ or ‘mukta’ i.e. pearl, according to the places where these are found, and these have been named accordingly. Thus there are (1) Tamraparnika, (2) Pandyakavataka (3) Pasikya (4) Kauleya (5) Carneya (caruneya) (6) Mahendra (7) Kardamika (8) Srautasiya (9) Hradiya and (10) Haimavata varieties of pearls found respectively in the river Tamraparni, in the province of Pandya, the rivers Pasika, Kula, and Curna, the sea near the Mahendra mountain, the rivers Kardama and Srotasi, a particular lake and the Himalayas.

There are three sources of Pearls:- conch shell, mother of pearl and miscellaneous i.e. the hood of a serpent, the forehead of an elephant, etc.
Burma issued a stamp for its large pearl

Thirteen types of defects can be detected in pearls and the price diminishes in proportion to the presence of these defects. These are 1)Masuraka- lentil shaped 2)Triputaka – triangular 3)Kurmaka – Tortoise shaped 4)Ardhachandraka – half moon shaped 5)Kancukita – having a sort of skin over it 7)Kartaka – cut 8)Khartaka – rough 9)Skithaka – having eruptions like the drops of wax 10) Kamandaluka – vessel shaped 11) Syava – brown 12) Nila – dark coloured and Durviddha – pierced at a wrong point.

The qualities of pearl are eight:- 1)Sthula – big 2)Vrtta – round 3) Talarahita – without a flat surface 4) Diptiyukta – Lustrous 5)Sveta – white 6) Guru – weighty 7)Snigdha – glossy 8) Yathasthane viddha – pierced at the right point.

And in this way, diamond, sapphire, crystal, coral and other gems have been fully discussed by Kautilya.

Please read my earlier post:

Gem Stones in Kalidasa and Tamil Literature (13 February 2012)
The Wonder that is Madurai Meenakshi Temple ( 14 October 2011) (about Madurai Meenakshi’s rare gems)