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Ceremonial gorget

Hemis, Ladakh, Jammu, and Kashmir Ceremonial gorget: a cloth ground on which beads of coral, amber, turquoise, conch shell, and carnelian (the most widely used bead materials of Tibet) are fixed. At the center is a silver ga'u, and from its lower edge is suspended six smaller silver ga'us.
Collection Ghysels, Brussels

 

For millennia, red coral (munga in Hindi; pravala in Sanskrit) has been widely used in Indian jewelry. Not a mineral, coral is an organic substance manufactured by living, minute, soft polyps who multiply by budding and who live in colonies supported by a solid, medial, internal core required for growth and created by extracting calcium carbonate from seawater. Coral is in effect the internal skeleton, which in time develops a treelike form, permanently cemented to a rock or other solid at the sea bottom. If allowed to live to maturity, under favorable conditions up to thirty years, the main coral trunk can achieve a diameter of around two inches, although pieces of this size have always been rare.

 

 

Eighteen-strand Coral necklace
Among Southwest Indians, esteem for coral is second only to that for turquoise. In this eighteen-strand necklace, Victor Beck (Navajo) combined coral beads with inlaid gold and turquoise beads, a 14-karat gold ring bead, as well as turquoise, gold agate, and onyx beads. 1993. Length, 18" (45.7 cm)
(36" overall [91.4 cm]).
Courtesy Four Winds Gallery.

 

 

 

 

 

The popularity of coral in India is a curious phenomenon because, although some exists in Indian waters, it was not regularly fished here. What probably attracted Indians to coral initially, as in the case of carnelian, was its auspicious deep red color. Other red stones include the ruby, which is rare, very expensive, and beyond the means of most people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Equally active in the popularity of red coral is its long established place in Indian folklore. It is connected with one of the nava-grahas (nine planets), namely Mars (Mangala in Sanskrit), and associated with Karttikeya, the god of war. (The word mangala also refers to anything that is regarded as auspicious, such as an amulet.) Coral is believed to have the power to dispel the malignant effects of the evil eye, which accounts for its very popular use.


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