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Manual Beyond price: pearls and pearl-fishing : origins to the Age of Discoveries

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Taxila was an important Hindu and Buddhist center of learning belonging to the Gandhara period, and presently located in the Punjab province of Pakistan, 32 km northwest of Islamabad. Taxila, with its capital at Bhir, was situated at the crossroads of three major trade routes, in northwestern India, and hence came under the influence of foreign invaders; first by DariusI in B. Emperor Chandragupta himself was a student at Taxila when it was a seat of Vedic learning, and so was his closest advisor and strategist Chanakya, also known as Kautilya, who is said to have written the renowned treatise on political science and economics while being a teacher in the great halls of learning of Taxila.

Another distinguished alumnus of Taxila was the famous Ayurvedic healer Charaka. During the reign of king Ashoka, the grandson of king Chandragupta, who embraced Buddhism, Taxila under royal patronage became a great Buddhist center of learning. After the fall of the Mauryan empire, in B.

In 76 A. During the period A. The three former capital cities of Taxila, Bhir from the 6th-century B. During the excavations of Bhir, the oldest of the Taxila sites, mother-of-pearl, small pearls and corals were discovered.

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However, the pearls discovered came from the upper strata of the mound, and may not be older than B. Pearls of later date, probably 1st-century B. Pearls older than the ones discovered in Bhir, have not been reported from any part of India. Pearls identified on terracotta figurines from Ahicchattra, the ancient fortress city near Bareilly, believed to have been visited by the Buddha, dates from around B. The Aryans invaded northern India around 2, B. It is believed that the invasion of the Aryans from the steppes of Central Asia was probably responsible for the decline and fall of the ancient Harappa civilization.

The Aryans came with their culture and beliefs that eventually evolved into Hinduism or the Vedic culture, the oldest living religion in the world.

Pearl References

The scriptures of the Hindu religion are written in Sanskrit and the most ancient of these scriptures are the Vedas. The Rigveda is the oldest, believed to have originated around 1,, B. The peoples, places and events described in the Rigveda relate almost exclusively to northern India, and especially to the Punjab.

The Atharvaveda, the 4th-Veda originating from 1, - 1, B. There are many instances of reference to pearls both in the Rigveda and the Atharvaveda, the term used for pearls being "krisana," In later Sanskrit works, the term "krisana" is replaced by "muktha" which is of Dravidian origin. According to the Rigveda, krisanas were used to decorate horses and chariots or sacred wagons.

The Satapatha Brahmana mentions of golden pearls woven into the manes and tails of sacrificial horses. Thus, the Rigveda shows that pearls were highly valued and had symbolic significance in northwest India in the 2nd-millennium B. According to the Atharvaveda, the pearl and its shell serves as an amulet, that ensures long life and protects against all evils, such as disease, demons, poverty etc. Around B. Donkin was a result of the long familiarity with pearls over several millennia, perhaps extending to Proto-Aryan times in Central Asia.

The Manusmriti or the Laws of Manu, is believed by followers of Hinduism to be a revealed scripture Smriti by Lord Brahma himself, the creator, to his son Manu, prescribing the norms of domestic, social and religious life of Hindus, the duties and responsibilities of rulers, the modus operandi in civil and criminal proceedings and punishments to be meted out, laws of ownership of property and inheritance, divorce and lawful occupations of each caste, the kind of penance for misdeeds, and the concept of karma, rebirth and salvation.


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The scripture comprises of 2, verses, that are divided into twelve chapters. The origin of the scriptures are believed to date back from 1, B. In one of the verses dealing with penalties for theft, pearls are distinguished from corals and other gemstones including rubies. The fact that pearls are listed among valuable items of jewels and jewelry, clearly indicate the usage and appreciation of pearls among the ancient followers of Hinduism in India during the period 1, B.

Puranas are ancient oral traditions, and legends that existed as narratives or stories from time immemorial, concerning the history of the universe from creation to destruction, genealogies of kings, heroes, sages and demigods, and descriptions of Hindu cosmology, philosophy, and geography, that were subsequently converted to a written form during the Gupta period from 3rd to 5th century A. In the Varaha Purana consisting of 10, verses, one of the verses relate how a merchant embarked on a voyage in a sea-going vessel in quest of pearls with people who knew all about them.

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Markandeya Purana, the shortest Mahaprurana relating the origin of the Goddess C'andika, states that the "Ocean of Milk" gave a spotless necklace of pearls. Again reference to pearls are made in the Agni Purana 15, verses and the Garuda Purana 19, verses , treating the origins of different kinds of "pearls" both real pearls originating from the oysters and conch shells, as well as "pearls" originating from elephants, wild boars, whales, fish, cobras and in the stems of bamboos, some of which were renowned as amulets as the serpent pearls.

The Ramayana ascribed to the Hindu sage Valmiki possibly originated in the 5th-4th century B. The Ramayana and Mahabharata are the two great and ancient Sanskrit epics of India. The Ramayana ascribed to the Hindu sage Valmiki forms an important part of the Hindu canon, that brings out the duties and relationships of ideal characters in society, such as the ideal king, ideal wife, ideal brother and ideal servant.

The Ramayana consisting of 24, verses, in seven books kandas and cantos sargas , tells the story of Rama, an incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu, whose wife Sita is abducted by the demon king of Lanka, Ravana. Thematically, the epic explores the tenets of human existence and the concept of dharma. Historians have suggested the possible period of origin of the Ramayana as between the 5th-4th century B.

The Mahabaratha, ascribed to Vyasa, is the world's second largest book whose origins go back to the 4th-century B.


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The Mahabaratha, which is four times the length of the Ramayana, consisting of over , verses is considered as part of Hindu "itihasa" history , and is ascribed to the author Vyasa. It is probably the world's second largest book, after the Gesar epic of Tibet.

The origin of the Mahabharata is believed to be around the 4th-century B. The main story of the Mahabharata is the bitter rivalry that develops between the five sons of the deceased king Pandu, known as the Pandavas, and their cousins, the sons of the blind king Dhritarashtra, known as the Kauravas, over the possession of the ancestral Bharata kingdom, with its capital city in Hastinapura, on the Ganga river, in north-central India, that leads to a fratricidal war, known as the Kurukushetra war.

Incorporated into the epic narrative are philosophcal and devotional material, such as a discussion on the four goals of human life - dharma right action , artha purpose , kama pleasure and moksha liberation. Other works and stories associated with the Mahabharata are the Bhagavad Gita, the story of Damayanti, an abbreviated version of the Ramayana and the Rishyasringa, which are works in their own right.

Both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata make several references to pearls in their texts. Kautilya is believed to have written the "Arthashastra" while he was a teacher in the great seat of Vedic learning, Taxila. Brahmin intellectual Kautilya, also known as Vishnugupta or Chanakya, an eminent scholar and alumnus of the great seat of Vedic learning, Taxila in northwestern India, who was subsequently appointed as a close adviser, political and military strategist and minister to Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Mauryan kingdom in eastern India.

Kautilya is believed to have written his renowned treatise on political science and economics while being a teacher in the great halls of learning at Taxila, and Emperor Chandragupta who studied in the same Vedic schools, was a probably a student of Kautilya. Kautilya's views on statecraft was meant for a monarchy or an autocratic ruler, but he clearly advocated a people-centered form of governance.

Kautilya's treatise discusses theories and principles of governing a state ruled by a monarchy or an autocratic ruler, and may not be applicable in the modern context of democracy and republican form of government.


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  • Yet his treatise have a significance in a historical context as it shows how statecraft evolved from autocratic monarchial forms of government to the modern republican form of government. He says in his treatise, "The sacred task of a king is to strive for the welfare of his people incessantly. The administration of the kingdom is his religious duty. His greatest gift would be to treat all as equals. Their welfare is his welfare. A king should never think of his personal interest or welfare, but should ever try to find his joy in the joy of his subjects.

    He discusses the duties of a king extensively in Book I, Chapter When in his court he shall never cause his petitioners to wait at the door, for when a king makes himself inaccessible to his people and entrusts his work to his immediate officers, he may be sure to engender confusion in business, and to cause thereby public disaffection, and himself a prey to his enemies. He shall, therefore, personally attend to the business of gods, of heretics, of Brahmans learned in the Vedas, of cattle, of sacred places, of minors, the aged, the afflicted, and the helpless, and of women; all this in order of enumeration or according to the urgency or pressure of those works.

    All urgent calls he shall hear at once, but never put off, for when postponed, they will prove too hard or impossible to accomplish. These are some of the sublime thoughts of a great intellectual of the 4th-century B. Doubts have been cast on whether an individual capable of sublime thoughts as a people-centered governance would at the same time advocate violence as a means of perpetuating oneself in power.

    However, Kautilya's book was mainly intended as a guidance to kings and emperors, as this was the form of government prevalent during his time all over the world. While writing extensively of the duties of a king, he also gives guidelines of what a king should do to protect his position and power, from enemies, both external as well as internal from his own family.

    File:Johan Nieuhof - Pearl Fishery at Tuticorin png - Wikimedia Commons

    However, some of the methods he has suggested such as espionage, the use of provocative agents, murder, false accusations etc. Doubts have been cast on whether an intellectual capable of such sublime thoughts as outlined above, may at the same time advocate violence as a means of perpetuating oneself in power. Some of the more revolting sections in the Arthashastra as it is known today, may not not have flowed from the pen of the celebrated author himself, as it has been convincingly proved by historians, based on the numerous stylistic and linguistic variations, belonging to different periods, that other authors were also involved, who would have perhaps revised and expanded the treatise.

    The treatise also deals extensively on economic policies of a vibrant state, and discusses economic activities including natural pearl production. Apart from statecraft, military strategy, laws governing social institutions and punishment prescribed for violation of these laws and other criminal offences, the treatise also deals extensively on economic policies of a vibrant state, and discusses economic activities, such as mineralogy, mining and metals, agriculture, animal husbandry, medicine, the use of wildlife, and natural pearl production.

    Pearls were highly valued in India at that time, valued more than gold, and used exclusively by members of the royalty, or sold to other countries such as Greece and Rome, or countries of the Persian Gulf. Kautilya's account of the natural pearl industry in India is accepted by jewelry historians as a reliable guide to areas of pearl production in India around the time of Alexander the Great's invasion in B. The areas of pearl production in India in the 4th-century B.

    How to Grade and Value Pearls: The 5 S's

    Details given by Kautilya such as the areas of pearl production in India, properties of good and bad quality pearls, and the types of ornaments in which pearls are incorporated provides the strongest evidence for the antiquity of the pearl industry in India, that might go back to at least one millennium B. Thus, according to information provided by Kautilya on the status of the natural pearl industry in India, it appears that the industry had been on-going in India during the greater part of the 1st-millennium B.

    In Chapter XI, section 29, Kautilya examines the precious articles to be received into the treasury, and pearls occupy first place in the list. Kautilya, mentions only oysters and conches as sources of origin of pearls. Unlike other ancient and medieval authors, he does not advance any mythological or supernatural explanations for the origin of pearls.