Tibetans consider Dzi potent protectors, though the beads' origins are subject to much debate. Indeed, Dzi have been found in Himalayan cremation grounds dating back as far as 4,500 years! (Their origins seem to lost somewhere in the shamanic lore of Bön.)
Antique Carthago necklace with some Dzi ! (Bardo Museum, Tunis)
Many tales grant them a divine origin - of one these stories maintain that dzis from time to time fall from the sky, slipping away from of the gods' treasure hoards. Another maintains that they grow in the depths of the earth and one can now and then find them inside geodes. Another legend even say the Dzi are in fact Garuda dung...
A Dzi Market in the Chinese part of Bangkok
A Dzi shop (Bangkok)
His Holiness Dilgo Khyentsé Rimpotché
(please note the several Dzi beads around his neck)
A Tibetan woman, wearing several Dzi beads
Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoché in Tibet, receiving Dzi from disciples
Dzi are sorted into different varieties, depending upon their composition and the designs they hold. Some of these varieties are considered more valuable than others. Here are the principal ones:
Natural Dzi beads
"Natural" dzi : These occur without any man-made help. Their designs or patterns appear naturally in the mineral composing the dzis. Some Tibetan lore maintains that what makes up a "natural" dzi is indeed a kind of petrified insect, and that the beads could not be other than
natural. This variety of dzi is extremely rare, and is a sort of "dzi-prototype," the original.
"Nalo-dzi" : They are a copies of dzi beads made of porcelain/enamel/glass/plastic. They are more decorative than protective, and some are enormous, up to 30 centimeters (or, very
nearly a foot) long! This variety of dzi dates back to the end of the 19th Century. They were the creations of an Austrian gentleman who amassed a fortune selling them to the wealthy residents of Lhassa!
"Man made dzis": They are made of naturally occurring crystals (usually agate but sometimes carnelian) upon which a mixture of plants and lead (the exact composition is kept secret) has been applied to form specific designs. The beads are then baked at a temperature in the
neighborhood of 1200 degrees C (2,192 degrees F). During this process the plant/lead mixture disappears leaving the designs in their place. (Some sources aver that very ancient beads were colored from the inside out, utilizing secret techniques now long lost.) These dzis
are sometimes created by lamas but more often by laymen artisans, and some the most valued dzis fall into this category. Also there exists another technique in which the beads a coated with a batter like substance; the designs are then drawn by a red hot iron pen. Another technique has the agate stone soaked in a sugar syrup for month, before to cook the bead!
A modern Dzi bead still attached to its agate stone block
The motifs drawn on the beads' surfaces vary greatly. The circles are called "eyes", the more of which appear, the more potent the bead the bead is considered. Nine seems to be the ideal number, though I have seen Nalo dzis with 365 eyes!
A giant Dzi bead weighting over 1.5kg!
In our day dzis are still much sought as a kind of protection (and are sometimes ground up and added to certain "long life pills" of Tibetan medecine.) Many American millionaires have been known to pay astronomical sums to obtain the security of wearing a dzi, the belief being that, should there be an accident, the dzi will absorb the destructive force, drawing it away from the bead's wearer. Dzis are also mentioned in ancient Tibetan texts, more specifficaly in some Tantra about the composition of some specific Malas to practice some advanced Tantric practice.
Thai video about a Dzi bead shop
Jowo Statue, Jokhang Temple (Lhassa TIBET), please note the several Dzi beads on this statue
I myself have witnessed a very impressive example: a friend of mine (who was wearing a dzi) was the victim in a very serious road accident. Firemens had to use a blow torch to extricate him from his Clio, he being trapped between two heavy masses of wreckage. After
the accident the Clio's height was only 80 cm (a bit less than a yard). To the stupefaction of all around, my friend emerged from the wreckage safe and sound (though a bit shaky in the knees). His dzi, however, had broken in two.
Another case a bit more recent: someone who recently acquired a dzi from me had a riding accident. The horse fell on his leg. The steel stirrup was bent into a 90 degree angle. His dzi was fractured but his leg was unhurt!
Another recent event: another client accidentally slammed a "guillotine window" on her hands, yet came out unscathed!
A better known story is that of a Taiwanese businessman who was the only survivor of a Boeing 747 crash in 1997 (247 dead). He waswearing an eight-eyed dzi. A variant on this story is that there were two survivors, another calls the whole thing an "urban legend".
When one wears a dzi for the first time, it is possible that one will feel an unusual thirst, or notice a humming in one's ears (like a mild migraine) for two or three days, the effects of one's metabolism being slightly raised. I have never felt these sensations but prefer to put
out the warning anyway.