Ratna in Sanskrit and Pali Literature

Manik Ratna Shakya, PhD

 

Abstract

Ratna, the precious stones such as ruby, pearl, coral, emerald, diamond are practiced as symbols in Buddhism. Ratna is a precious  substance which gives utmost happiness and provides reliefs to people. It is a valuable, immaculate and glittered treasure. The core of Buddhism like  Buddha, Dharma and Saṃgha is represented by three Ratnas. Ratna has specific status in Buddhism. In this article, an attempt is made to describe Ratna and its origin on the basis of Sanskrit and Pāli literature. Specific objective of this paper is to draw the history of Ratna on the basis of Buddhist versions. Besides, this article recommends Buddhist thoughts towards source of Ratna. Descriptive method is followed and diacritical marks are used for facilitating to pronounce the Sanskrit and Pāli terms.

 

Key words

Ratna, Pañcaratna. Ratna Sūtra, Ratnagarbha, Ratnadhātesvari.

Introduction

Ratna is a precious stone, a fine gem, jewel or semi precious stone in English. It is a piece of mineral crystal, which is used to make jewelry or other adornments. Ratnas are said to be five, nine or fourteen respectively[1]. Any valuable or precious, treasure, and anything best of excellent of its kind are also termed as Ratna.[2] The Dictionary of Gem and Gemology quotes: “Ratna is Singhalese word, which means gem”.[3] As stated in the same Dictionary, gem means a cut and polished stone which possesses the durability and beauty in ornaments.[4] Likewise, Webster.com, an online dictionary, also defines that Ratna, sometimes semiprecious stone, is cut and polished for ornament. Furthermore, Sanskrit dictionary compiled by Monier Williams mentions that Ratna is a gift, a valuable wealth and a jewel or gem, which indicates nine precious stones. It further states: “Maṇi is used as synonymous as Ratna“. [5]

Etymology of Ratna

The etymology of Ratna is cited in diverse texts. Different scholars have given various versions in their treaties regarding glorification of Ratna. Concerning the definition of Ratna, Sanskrit glossary named Amarkośa states, “Ratna svajātiśreșthhayopī[6]  which means Ratna is  the unique creation among matters. In addition, the book further mentions:

ramanīyatare yasmin ramante sarvamanavaha

Jātyutkriștarang yasmāt tasmāt Ratnam iti smritam.[7]

 

From the above-mentioned verse contained in Amarkośa, it appears that Ratna enchants every creature on earth and which is the best in all aspects among all matters. Among humans, the best people endowed with the highest qualities are called Ratna. Ayurveda Prakāṣa, a famous text basically used for making medicine also elaborates the attributes of Ratna. The text addresses: ‘Ramante asmin ativa atah Ratnam itiproktam șabdaṣāștraviṣāradai[8] which indicates that the element is called Ratna in which people can enjoy or feel joyful. This statement shows that in ancient times, human beings derived pleasure by observing the beauty of Ratna.

Buddhist literature is not far too apart about the meaning of Ratna. Many Buddhist texts etymologically define Ratna. Bauddha Tantra Koșa, a well known Buddhist journal also called Dhī and published by Tibetan Higher Study Institute, states that “ratimananta sukham tanotīti Ratnam caturthānanm bodhabyam[9] or the substance which gives utmost happiness and provides four types of reliefs to the body is called Ratna. Similarly, with reference to the Buddhist text entitled Jñāsiddhi, the journal further mentions “Ratnam tu durlabhādapi[10] or there are no matter as rare as Ratna. In addition, Guhyasamāj Pradip, further cites: “Ratnam samsār sthāyi parmānāsrava mahāsukham[11] which means the realm of Ratna is of permanent, ultimate happiness and free from defilements.

Pālī literature also contains a vivid account of Ratna. Samyuktanikāya, one of the major texts of Tripitaka, highlights that Prajñā narānām ratnam” or wisdom is like Ratna.[12] During the lifetime of Buddha, he himself announced of seven types of Ratna which are documented in Mahāsudassana Sūtra of Digghanikāya.[13] Buddha further announced in Cakkavati Sūtra of Digghanikāya that king Cakkavati should have Saptaratna (seven jewels) namely the jewel of wheel, the jewel of an elephant, the jewel of a stallion, the jewel of itself, the jewel of a lady, the jewel of a householder and the jewel of an executive governor[14]. From these citations, it seems that Saptaratna have been interpreted in symbolic form on the basis of their forces and capacity.

Consequently, many renowned scholars describe Ratna in various senses in different texts. Varāhamihira, one of the greatest ancient scholars of gems, has discussed the glories of Ratna in his book Vrihatsamhitā as:

Ratnena șubhena șubham bhawati, nripaṇā Maṇisṭamașubhena

Yasmādatah pariksaya daibam ratnāśritam tajhaih.[15]

This stanza states that if a princess or any royal man wears the fine gems, he would face blissful consequences, and if the gems are evil, then he would meet with evil consequences. The book further cites that the word Ratna has also been used as thunder.[16] Varahamihira attests in another book entitled Ratna Dīpikā, written about gems, that Ratna can be used as medicine in the form of Bhaśmas (ash) to cure many diseases.[17]

Vasundhara is one of the popular deities of Buddhism. Among 108 names of Vasundharā, one of the popular deities who is regarded as the patron of wealth, one name is mentioned “Ratnadhātesvari” which means bearing of Ratna. The term Ratnadhātesvari indicates that Vasundhara, the earth, bears gems in her womb.[18] Similarly, the text named Ratna Pariksā cites: “prithivibhritā rājňā ratnānām” or the earth is the king of Ratna.[19] Modern gemologists also quote that Ratna is directly associated   with fire under the earth. The modern science has also proved that Ratna is formulated with the support of heat. Similar statements are found in a world encyclopedia which stresses that Ratna is directly or indirectly associated with heat and found in the earth.[20]

On the basis of all the above mentioned statements, it seems that Ratna is such a type of element, which has unsurpassed power and attractiveness. It is made with the support of heat. It gives enjoyment to all human beings. It is used as a symbol of extraordinary purity.

Mythical views regarding the origin of Ratna

There are various ancient stories related to the origin of Ratna. The mythical description regarding the origin of Ratna is attested by different sources. It is mentioned that once the great demon named Vritāsur attacked the heaven and drove away gods from there. Indra went to take advice from Lord Vishnu. As suggested by Vishnu, the gods approached a sage named Dadhicī  and requested his life for the existence of Heaven. Hermit  Dadhicī accepted their request then Lord Indra and other deities made weapons using his bones. During the construction of the weapon, many pieces of bones fell down on the earth which transformed into gems.[21] Varāhamihir seems to have supported to this version, thus he writes: “ratnāni …. dadhīcitoanye vadanti jātāni[22], this statement indicates ‘ Dadhicī is the source of Ratnas‘. In addition, the book named Māṇikya(Ruby) also refers that Maharși Dadhicī offered his bone to construct Vajra for killing a demon named Vritāsura[23]. These ancient stories related to gems show that gems are supposed to have originated from sage’s bones.

 

In accordance with ancient stories, when the nectar was taken out from the sea, demons possessed it and ran away with it and gods chased them. During this event, some of the nectar drops fell upon the earth. Later, those drops were transformed into precious stones. Referring this story, Jagadisha Sharma mentioned that various Ratnas came out and they were divided by gods and demons during Samundra manthana(sea storming deeds).[24]

The legends associated with the origin of Ratna is also contained Purān stories; According to Garuḑapurāṇa,  once Vali, a demon, wanted to conquer the heaven and got victory over all the Gods. Knowing his concepts, Indra pleaded with him to become the animal for the sacrifice as he was not getting any that day, which meant his Yajñā ( fire ritual) were destined to go fruitless. Vali accepted the plea playfully knowing fully well that his body was invincible. However, Indra knew that naturally very well, hence he did not strike the demon king on his body but hurled his thunder, Vajra, on his weakest part, the head. The demon-king was shattered into pieces of gems, all, because he was a unique creature by himself, immensely powerful. This version illustrates that gems are supposed to have originated from unique creature Vali.[25] Similar description is mentioned in the booked named Ratna Pariksa. This book illustrates:”Tasya valākhyasyāsuraṇfm ……..vajrāni bhavanti” or diamond is made from demon ‘Vali‘.[26] Making reference to the demon king Vali, the emergence of gems and jewels are also documented by Varāhamihira in Brihatasamhitā.[27] The book named Pannā has also stated that from the body of Vali, eighty-four types of Ratnas were originated.[28]

In the Garuḑapurāṇa, it is also mentioned that from the bones of the demon king Vali, were found Diamonds, from his teeth the pearls, from his blood drops ruby, from the gall-bladder emerald, from his eyes came out blue sapphires, from the juice of his heart came bright blue lapis lazuli, from his nails appeared Lapis Lajuli and Cat’s eye, from his body fat came out rock-crystal, from his flesh came out coral, from his skin appeared yellow sapphire[29]. The book  Gems & Stones illustrates another information regarding the gems produced from the body of Vali. The book states that diamond came out from the forehead, pearls appeared from the psyche, rubies produced from the blood, emeralds created from the bile, corals created form the blood drops. Similarly, yellow sapphires produced of his flesh, blue sapphires created from the eye balls , moon-stones formed other parts of the eyes hessonites appeared from fats, turquoise created from the veins and fibers, cat’s eye created from the sacred thread. In addition, Lapis Lazuli  created from the hair,  touch-stones produced from chest, crystals created out of the sweat drops Upalak Maṇi –  formed from the deposit of caught, Taila Maṇi appeared from the skin and Ghrita Maṇi is believed to have been created from the belly of the demon. [30]

These various stories make it clear that in ancient times people faithfully believed that the various gems were formed out of the body of the demon-king Vali after he was struck by Vajra and from Dadhicī as well as Nectar from sea.

 Scientific Basis of the Origin of Gems

Concerning the origin of gems, Varāhamihira, the ancient astrologer, refers not only to the stories but he also writes that Ratna is naturally originated from the earth.[31] The hymns of Vasundharā, also state that the earth bears gems in her womb.[32] Out of the thirty eight synonyms that the earth has been mentioned in Amarkośa, the great Sanskrit dictionary, three – Vasundharā, Vasumati and Ratnagarbha– are expressing the same meaning that the earth is the source of Ratna which bears gems.[33] Amarkośa further explores that Ratna enchants every creature on the earth. These version mentioned in classical texts also reveal that gems are found under the earth. These text also said that Ratnas are stored in the Earth.

According to the scientific versions, there is no doubt that the earth bears, in her womb, precious jewels and gems. In fact, the Ratnas found in the earth are derived from metamorphic rocks. The metamorphic gems are always found in the form of large stone slabs. These gems are formed deep under the fourth or the fifth layer of the earth’s strata. Buried for thousands of years in the nature’s womb, in deep gravels of earth.[34]

History of Ratna

The book named Asian Gemstone states that the cult of jade worship began in the Neolithic era (4,500 and 2,000 BC)[35]. At that time objects made of the precious material were used in religious ceremonies, agriculture and war.

In Buddha’s period, around sixth century BC, the occupation of gem carving seems to have been very popular. The book named Saundarānanda Mahākābya, biographical description of Nanda, written by Aśvaghośa, a renowned writer of Buddhism of the first century, mentioned the occupations of Maṇi or gem. The workers of Maṇi were identified as Maṇikār at that time. As stated in the book of Aśvaghośa, Maṇikār used to make ornaments such as bracelets and garlands studded with gems. People used to wear Keyur (an ornament used for hand) decorated with Vaidurya gems. The ornament was called Vaidurya Keyur. [36] A similar description pertaining to gems is found in another book of Așvaghośa named Buddha Caritra. The text also reveals other statements about gems that after renunciation, Siddhartha took ordination by self, cutting his hair using a sword at the bank of Anomā river. The handle of the sword which he used was studded with gems.[37]  In the same text, it is also cited that Siddhartha had given his crown to Chandaka, the head charioteer of Prince Siddhartha, before cutting his hair by him. The crown was studded with various gems that glittered like the sun.[38]

 

Gem historians traced that Sri Lanka’s International Gem Trade goes back to 500 B.C., when Buddhists from northern India conquered the island and begun setting gems into jewelry. India is said to have an old history of gems. It is stated that diamond begun its colorful history in India, where the gems have been mined and set into jewelry since at least 400 B.C.Vedic literature tells of a jewel called Syamantaka that hung around the neck of the sun god and gave him brilliance. It is said that Syamantaka was a powerful gem which brought good to good and evil to evil. Syamantaka  Jewel is the most famous jewel in Vaidic literature and it is supposed to be blessed with magical powers. The story of Syamantaka appears in the, Matsyapurāṇa and Bhagavata Gītā.[39]

Greeks made ornaments of plain gold studded precious stones until around 400 BC. Roman jewelry was massive with ropes of pearl highly priced at that time. Ancient Greece writer, Theophrastus (391 BC–287 BC), the successor to Aristotle in the peripatetic school, who lived in 287 before Christ had written an authentic book on diamonds and precious stones. The great empress Cleopatra was supposed to have welcomed the Roman emperor, Julius Caesar, (100 BC – 44 BC), in a hall which was decorated with rarer jewels and gems.[40] However, Dr. Bhoj Raj Dwivedi mentions that even many hundred years before Julius Caesar, India was famous for exporting diamonds and such other high quality gems and precious stones like yellow sapphire, blue sapphire pearl to all these countries.

Another Roman writer Pliny (23AD –79 AD), who was a naturalist, and natural philosopher as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, had written in his famous book Natural History, a book of mineralogy, that there was a very large market for jewels and precious stones on the Saundra port in Egypt. According to him, Traders and merchants from Rome, Greece and other parts of the world assembled in a port in Egypt and bought and sold jewels and other precious stones[41].

Based on these all statements pertaining to history of gems, it can be said that existence of Ratnas using in ornament seems in the period of six century B.C. There are many textual evidences found from 1 to 3 century BC which support to draw history Ratnas.

Types of Ratna

There are various types of Ratnas in the world. According to Ratna Pradīpikā, in ancient times, five types of Ratnas viz. diamonds, rubies, pearl, blue sapphires, and emerald were recognized as major gems, which are also identified as Pañcaratna. Five Ratnas are considered to be highly auspicious and symbol of preciousness. These gems were used in all the religious and auspicious social activities.[42] The Buddhist text Dighanikāya, in the Chakkavati Sūtra and Mahāsuddasana Sūtra cites Saptaratna (seven gems)[43]. Similarly, Ratna Sūtra, one of the Sūtras of Mahāparitrāṇa Sūtra, describes the concept of Triple Gems. However, they are not physical Ratnas.

Regarding the types of gems, Varāhamihira mentioned various types of Ratnas in his volume in the prose as:

Vajendranīlamarakatakarketrarapadmarāgarūdhirākhyāh

VaidūryapulakavimalakarājaMaṇisphaṭikaṣaṣikāntāh

saugandhikagomedakaṣamkhamahānīlapuśparāgākhyāh

BramhaMaṇijyotīrasasasyakamuktāprabalāni[44]

This stanza narrates that these are the Ratnas: Vajra (diamond), Indranīla( blue sapphire) , Marakata (emerald),  Karketaka,  Padmarāga (ruby), Rudhir (red ruby), Vaidurya( cat’s eye), Pulak, Vimalaka(crystal),  RājaMaṇi, Sphaṭika, ṣaṣikāntāh, Saugandhika, Gomeda, śamkha, Mahānīla, Puśparāgā, BramhaMaṇi, Jyotīrasa, Sasyaka, Muktā, Prabala. According to the above-mentioned stanza, it appears that there were 22 types of Ratnas during the period of Varāhamihira of the 1st century BC.

Some Gemologists have said that the precious gems ruby, diamond, emerald, yellow sapphire, blue sapphire, gomeda, pearl, cat’s eye and coral are called Nava Ratna. Although, there are many gemstones in the world, these nine gemstones have been given great importance[45]. Nava Ratna (a combination of nine gems) appeared after practicing of nine planets. The tradition of nine gems is thoroughly associated with the nine planets. These gems were divided assigning the suitability of the time of influence of the planets.[46] Ruby pearl, coral, emerald, topaz, diamond, blue sapphire, zircon and the cats eye are also identified as Nava Ratna in Vrihatsamhitā too.[47]

 

It is said that there are one hundred types of gems worn by gods. It is also mentioned that there are over 300 types of minerals that have been used as gemstones. Indian gemology refers to 84 types of gems including nine gems, which are important to human beings. Amongst them, ruby, pearl, coral, emerald, yellow sapphire, diamond, blue sapphire, gomedhaka and cat’s eye-occupy foremost positions called Navaratna (Nine Gems). Similarly, Five of them-Ruby, Pearl, Diamond, Emerald and Blue Sapphire-are termed as most superior gems called Pañcaratna(Five Gems). Many of 84 gems are known in various countries by different names. These all gems are not related to the planets. Navaratna, Pañcaratna and other few gems are applied for planetary afflictions because of their color, luster, durability and hardness.

 

Conclusion

Ratna is a precious substance, which gives utmost happiness and provides relief from various ailments to people. It is a valuable, immaculate and glittered treasure, free from defilements. It is a precious and semi precious stone as well as a piece of mineral crystal to be used to make jewelry or other adornments. Ratnas are said to be five, nine or fourteen respectively. It is denoted in English as a gem or a jewel.

Modern gemologists state that Ratna is directly associated with fire under the earth. In fact, the gems found in the earth are derived from metamorphic rock, igneous rock and sedimentary rock. From Buddhist perspective, Ratna is stored in the earth. Ratnadhātesvari, a Buddhist deity related to wealth, is one whose name means bearing of Ratna. In addition, Classical Versions, mentioned in Pali and Sanskrit literature, pertaining to storage of Ratna are similar to the scientific versions. Both versions claim that Ratna, gem or jewel are kept in the Earth. It is also found that Ratna is a type of element, which possesses unsurpassed  power and attraction. It is made with the support of heat, and gives pleasures to all human beings.

 

 

Works Cited

Apte,  Vaman, Shivaram, Sanskrit English Dictionary, Delhi: Motilal Banarashidas Publication, 2012,
Bajracharya,  Dunda Bahadur (Tr.), Samyuktanikāya, Lalitpur: BirPurna Pustakala, 2056 B.S.

Bajracharya, Dunda Bahadur (Tr.), Dīghanikāya, Lalitpur: BirPurna Pustakala, 2056 B.S.

Bajracharya, Gajaraj (Tr.), Saundarananda Mahākāvya, Lalitpur: Sugat Pustak Sadan Pariwar,1983.

Dwibedi , Bhojraj, The Mystique of Gems & Stones, New Delhi: Diamond Pocket Books, 2004.

Krishnaji, Govinda, Amarkosha, Poona: Law Printing Press, 1913.

Mishra, Shreegulrajsharma ( Ed.), Āyurveda Prakāśa, Varanasi: Chaukhambha Bharati Academy,
2014.

Negi, Thakursen (Ed.), Dhī, Vol 42, Varanari: Tibetan Higher Study Institute, 2006.

Sharma, Buddhisagara, Ratna Pariksā, Kathmandu: Bir Pustakalaya, 2020.

Sharma,  Jagadisha, Mānikya, NewDelhi: Diamond Pocket Books, 2010.

Sharma , Jagadisha, Pukharāja, NewDelhi: Diamond Pocket Books, 2010.

Sharma, Vishvanatha (Ed.), Buddha Caritra, Kathmandu: Royal Nepal Academy, B.S. 2025.

Shastri, Girija Shankar, Ācārya Varāhamihir, Varanasi: Chaukhambha Sanskrit Bhawan,2011.

Shastri, Rakesh, Gems & Stones, Delhi: Sahni Publications,2006.

Singh, Umesh Kumar, Ratna Pradipika, Dilhi: Parimal Publications,2014.

Tiwari, Narvadeshwara, Brihatsamhitā, Delhi: Bharatiya Vidya Prakashan, 2006.

Vajracharya , Herakaji, Vasundharā in Nepalese Buddhism, Lalitpur: Buddhiraj and Bhimmaya Vajracharya, 2058 B.S.

  1. Rajsushila, Healing Power of Gems and Stones, New Delhi: Pustak Mahal, 2009.

Williams, M. Monier, Sanskrit English Dictionary, part 2, Varanasi: Parimal Publication, 2008.

…, Dictionary of Gem and Gemology, Los Angeles: Gemology Institute of America, 1948

…, Garuḑapurāṇa, Gorakhapur: Geetapresh, B.S. 2069.

 

Diamond Essential, America: Gemological Institute of America. 2014.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neolithic,  23 August 2016

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syamantaka,  Retrieval, 6 July 2016

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julius_Caesar, Retrieval,  24 August 2016

 

[1] Vaman Shivaram Apte, Sanskrit English Dictionary, Delhi: Motilal Banarashidas Publication, 2012,
p. 463.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Dictionary of Gem and Gemology, Los Angeles: Gemology Institute of America, 1948, p.189.

[4] Ibid.

[5] M. Monier Williams, Sanskrit English Dictionary, part 2, Varanasi: Parimal Publication, 2008, p.1259.

[6]  Krishnaji Govinda, Amarkosha, Poona: Law Printing Press, 1913, p.11.

[7] Ibid, p. 23.

[8]  Shreegulrajsharma Mishra( Ed.), Āyurveda Prakāśa, Varanasi: Chaukhambha Bharati Academy,
2014, p. 226.

[9] Thakursen Negi(Ed.), Dhī, Vol 42, Varanari: Tibetan Higher Study Institute, 2006, p. 102.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Dunda Bahadur Bajracharya(Tr.), Samyuktanikāya, Lalitpur: BirPurna Pustakala, 2056 B.S, p. 293.

[13] Dunda Bahadur Bajracharya(Tr.), Dīghanikāya, Lalitpur: BirPurna Pustakala, 2056 B.S, p. 290.

[14]  Ibid.

[15] Narvadeshwara Tiwari, Brihatsamhitā, Delhi: Bharatiya Vidya Prakashan, 2006, p.392.

[16] Ibid

[17] Umesh Kumar Singh, Ratnapradīpika, Delhi: Parimala Publications, 2014, p. 31.

[18] Herakaji Vajracharya, Vasundharā in Nepalese Buddhism, Lalitpur: Buddhiraj and Bhimmaya Vajracharya, 2058 B.S. p.93.

[19] Buddhisagara Sharma, Ratna Pariksā, Kathmandu: Bir Pustakalaya, 2020, p.2.

[20] Bhojraj Dwibedi, The Mystique of Gems & Stones, New Delhi: Diamond Pocket Books, 2004, p. 23.

[21] Ibid

[22] Tiwari, f.n. 15, p. 393.

[23] Jagadisha Sharma, Mānikya, NewDelhi: Diamond Pocket Books, 2010, p. 17.

[24] Jagadisha Sharma, Pukharāja, NewDelhi: Diamond Pocket Books, 2010, p. 16.

 

[25] …, Garuapurāṇa, Gorakhapur: Geetapresh, B.S. 2069, P.104

[26] Sharma, f.n. no. 24, P. 3.

[27] Girija Shankar Shastri, Ācārya Varāhamihir, Varanasi: Chaukhambha Sanskrit Bhawan,2011, p.113.

[28] Sharma,f.n. no 23, p. 17.

[29] Ibid, p. 105.

[30] Rakesh Shastri, Gems & Stones, Delhi: Sahni Publications, p.10.

[31] Tiwari, f.n. 15, p. 393.

[32] Vajracharya, f.n. no. 18.

[33] Govinda, f.n.no. 6.

[34]Diamond Essential, America: Gemological Institute of America. 2014, p.8.

[35] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neolithic,  23 August 2016

[36] Gajaraj Bajracharya(Tr.), Saundarananda Mahākāvya, Lalitpur: Sugat Pustak Sadan Pariwar,1983,p.316.

[37] Vishvanatha Sharma (Ed.), Buddha Caritra, Kathmandu: Royal Nepal Academy, B.S. 2025, p. 121.

[38] Ibid.

[39] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syamantaka,  Retrieval, 6 July 2016

[40] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julius_Caesar, Retrieval,  24 August 2016

[41] Ibid,

[42] Umesh Kumar Singh, Ratna Pradipika, Dilhi: Parimal Publications,2014,p.9.

[43] Vajracharya, f.n. no. 13.

[44] Tiwari, f.n. no.15.

[45] V. Rajsushila, Healing Power of Gems and Stones, New Delhi: Pustak Mahal, 2009,p.10.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Tiwari, f.n. no. 15.

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