In Nepal, as well as in India, you can often see women (and sometimes men) wearing different multi-stoned pieces of jewelry: pendants, rings, bangles. If you count the presented gems the number will be nine. And those are not just random choice of stones and not random arrangement of them. This type of jewelry is called navaratna and it has a special meaning and purpose. The nine gems represent sun, moon, five planets and the ascending and descending phases of the moon's cycle (together loosely referred to as nine planets).
Navaratna armlet, 19th century. Gold, enamel, ruby, emerald, sapphire, pearl, aquamarine, grossular garnet, amethyst, coral, citrine, turquoise , rose quartz, and cord. The Museum of Fine Arts, BostonThe idea of connection between the planets and gemstones is believed to have come to India from Mesopotamia where it existed in the third millennium BC. The nine stones included in a jewel are a miniature version of the larger universe in which good and evil forces are held in harmonious balance. They transmit the sun's power through the planets to the wearer and thus grant protection and good fortune. Besides, the number nine is itself considered to be magical (because being the last of the single digits it contains all numbers in one digit but is contained in none of them).
Navaratna ring, VBJ collection
A navaratna ornament usually consists of the diamond (Venus), pearl (Moon), ruby (Sun), sapphire (Saturn), emerald (Mercury), yellow topaz (Jupiter), coral (Mars), zircon or sometimes hyacinth (the ascending phase of the moon's cycle) and cat's eye (the descending phase of the moon's cycle). The planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are not presented because they were discovered after the Hindu cosmological system was established and do not belong to ancient Hindu astrology or astronomy.
The navaratna gems are used in rings, earrings, pendants, armbands, bangles, bracelets, rosaries, and necklaces but the arrangements of the stones in each ornament follows the cosmological chart. The most common arrangements are a square with three stones on each side and one in the centre ( usually it is the ruby) and a circle. In addition the stones can be arranged as two overlapping squares or a long rectangle. In rosaries nine gemstone beads are repeated in twelve units making a total of 108 beads (the twelve repeats are an allusion of the twelve months of the year).Traditionally each stone in the ornament should be of the same size so that all the planets were represented equally.
Navaratna armband, North India, 19th century. Gold, rubies, sapphire, cat&rsquos eye, yellow sapphire, emerald, diamond, pearl, coral, hessonite, enamel. The National Museum, Delhi
The nine gems jewelry has been known in Burma (nawarat) and Thailand (noppakao or nopparat), too. In Thailand the yellow sapphire, the garnet and the moonstone can be used instead of yellow topaz, coral and pearl. In the past noppakao ornaments were allowed only for the highest figures of the Thai court: rulers themselves and military leaders.
I have a unique piece of Nepalese navaratna jewelry in my personal collection. It is a pendant with a finely made peacock in the middle surrounded with nine stones. This is a rather untypical design for a navaratna jewelry which attracted me in the first place. And delicacy of work of the peacock image won my heart completely.
If you are interested in traditional crafts please check out my new blog Masters of Craft dedicated to arts and crafts from around the world.