Already 4000 years ago, in Tibet and Nepal took shape and spread one of the oldest cult, bon or bon-po, from which later developed what became one of the most important and professed religion, Buddhism.
Closely related to Buddhist tradition, and Tibetan in particular, is a small object of great symbolic power and extraordinary prestige: the dzi, or gzhi, pronounced zii –bright, light, brilliance– is made with a fragment of agate, usually cylindrical or oblong, sometimes in shape of a slight crescent.
The distinctive feature of the dzi, which distinguishes it from an ordinary piece of stone, is the color, or more precisely the bands and designs that can be read on its surface.
Usually black and white or brown and white, the oldest and most authentic specimens have on their surface a series of natural motifs that can be circular, oval, squares, waves or stripes, according to the typical tibetan tradition; sometimes such decorations are created by the artisan himself.
The dzis belong to the extraordinary Tibetan culture, however, they are widespread throughout the Himalayan area, from Bhutan to Ladakh, to indian Sikkin but also in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and in Buddhist China, where the term dzi has been associated with the meaning of ‘stone of paradise, pearl of heaven’.
Worn by men and women and included in traditional jewelry, the dzis were also used to adorn statues and altars inside temples, since they were considered to be of divine origin; it was believed that these pearls had the power to give spiritual well-being and to defend from difficulties, due to their ability to develop a positive balance.
Virtually unknown outside of this area, the dzis became famous in the West after the Chinese invasion of Tibet: the monks fled leaving their earthly possessions behind, and sold their dzis in order to survive.
Each dzi is unique, because each is given its own distinct value and a special intrinsic meaning, linked to its symbolism: according to the most widespread belief, the owner would be flooded with lots of benefits, such as protection, prosperity, wealth, and good fortune.
Since the stone was believed to possess a positive energy, it was often combined with protective decorative motifs to increase significantly its special characteristics, and make it even more powerful; therefore the dzis that already naturally present such natural marks have an immense value: to fall into this category, such marks must be very defined and sharp, with smooth and proportionate shapes, an intense color, glossy and flawless.
Agate is a material with a variegated structure, then streaks and veins of various types are absolutely normal, and can create many different shapes.
As mentioned earlier, the most popular dzis were the ones with eyes, that is those circular formations that could even reach the number of nine; they were by far the most popular, appreciated and admired.
According to the number of eyes, the stone had different powers: a stone with one eye was associated with the sun and expressed inner strenght; two eyes meant balance and wisdom, three eyes reflection and imagination, and support to all those that dealt with business of various kinds.
Each design had its own meaning and determined the use of the stone, each specific piece of stone had its own function and purpose, and could thus be used only by the person it was meant for.
Therefore, the value and the price of these small stones could be, and still is, very high, as a precious jewel, also in reference to the age of the bead.
Likewise, the dzis handcrafted in the past are equally appreciated, since they can date back to thousands of years ago.
Due to a certain similarity, it seems that their origins trace back to the etched carnelian beads used as a mean of exchange between many countries of Asia, such as Mesopotamia, Afghanistan and other countries in the Indus Valley, as early as the third millennium b.c. The production of dzis by Indian and Iranians craftsmen continued until the eleventh century a.d., using techniques always used in India, Pakistan and Turkmenistan.
Although scholars have attempted to categorize and divide the different types of dzi, dividing them by size and variety of work, however, their exact origin and dating is unknown.
Such lack of information is also due to the fact that the Tibetan religious beliefs and their tradition of not burying the dead made archaeological excavations and reliable scientific research almost impossible.
However, such beads are mentioned in ancient Tibetan legends, related to ancient pre-Buddhist Bon religion, where they probably played a sacred role, later widespread throughout this mountainous region.
It seems that the dzis were found by farmers and shepherds during the cultivation of fields and when grazing their flocks in the meadows; this led to the belief that their origin was mysterious and otherworldly, and not created by human hands.
Hence the large number of stories and mythic tales that sprang up around these small beads, objects that like no other gave rise to discussions and debates still not concluded.
Since intact and complete dzis were rarely found, people thought they were divine objects, impure stones discarded by the gods and cast upon the earth, according to legend.
In traditional Tibetan medicine, the dzis were crumbled and used to prepare remedies and medicines such as ointments, as well as diluted in healing drinks.
In order to benefit from them, the dzis were to be received as a gift or found: this magical bead should not and could not be bought or bartered for, or stolen, otherwise it would lose all its virtues.
The dzi has always been considered so important as to be one of the Seven Treasures of Tibetan Buddhism, the asmagarbha, or the treasure of wisdom.
In the past, the designs of these precious beads were artificially made: the stone was soaked in sugar and then heated, so that the caramel darkened the stone. Nowadays, on the market there are dzis made of all kinds of materials, sold as originals but they are obviously faked!
Plastic, glass, various resins, bone… dzis are often produced using a laser, or painted with enamels and varnishes which penetrate the base material reproducing the typical patterns; the cost is obviously far from that of authentic dzis, even if it is not difficult to run into blatant imitations passed off as genuine and priced accordingly.
It is possible to find on the market recently manufactured dzis, definitely made of genuine agate, produced in Tibet, Nepal, India, Burma and Thailand; however, these new beads have an acceptable appearance and structure, and are well made, but the difference with a genuine dzi is definitely evident.