SULEMANI
- BABAGORIA AGATE BEADS

Sulemani is a resent Indian term for black onyx or black/brownish agate with one or more white stripes. That beads made out of this material are referred to as Sulemani beads is due to the presence of Islamic culture in India from the 12. Century onwards. The Moslems, especially the Sufis preferred this type of beads with one or more white stripes in their prayer chains. However they reused beads of a much older origin and culture. A lot, but not all of the beads displayed here are from central India. According to the world renowned bead expert Jamey Allen the term for most of the agate displayed here should be babagoria.
 
The term babagoria is used by the local people in Central India living close to the sites from where most of these beads have been sourced. Goria means in their language bead. Baba means a holy man. So the locals called these beads, holy man beads. They have for centuries given these beads to both moslem sufis and holy men from the Hindu tradition.

It is worth mentioning that the ancient agate mines in Ratanpur, Gujarat were called Baba Ghori. Babagoria simply reflects the comon ancient cultural context in which all beads were seen. They were relics, amulets and talismen worn by holy men in a two way exchange: they made the person who wore thhem holy - the holy person who wore them sanctified the beads.
 
However, most probabaly the term Babagoria was used by the locals close to the ancient manufacturing places to hype burrial beads into sainthood, so they were more easy to sell and market as sacred beads used by holy men.

 




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Illustration 1 - SM 1
Due to the Tibetan/Chinese demand single lined
Sulemani beads have become very expensive.
This bead is sourced from Afghanistan
 


The term Sulemani was an Islamic renaming of
beads already in use for magic and religious purposes for thousands of years. Black/brownish beads with white stripes were used as objects of worship and in prayer malas by the Buddhists of Asia and most probably also before that, reaching back to 700 B.C.

In prayer malas beads are, out of practical reasons ball shaped like the above bead in illustration 1.

These beads are in the Buddhist context often referred to as Bhaisayaguru beads. However in Buddhist relic caskets, stupas or in burial places there has been excavated Sulemani beads in many other shapes like the long truncated convex bicone bead shown in illustration 2.
 

 



Illustration 2 - SM 2
 
This bead displayed has not, like the bead in
illustration 1
been
heat treated to get the dark color.
 

 
SULEMANI AGATE

Displayed in illustration 1, 2, 3 & 4 you can observe variations of typical Sulemani
agate beads. Note the blank shining surface of these beads.


Cylinder shaped Sulemani
Onyx beads
Onyx is virtually black agate which is two-layered. In the case of sulemani beads the layers are basically consisting of black/brownish and white.
 
 


SM 3 - 17 * 11 mm


SM 4 - 14 * 9 mm

 
SM 5 - 23 * 10 mm

Illustration 3
 

 

Truncated Convex Bicone Sulemani Onyx Beads
 
 


Illustration 4

  
 SM 6 - 22 * 14 mm


   
SM 7 - 23 * 13 mm



   
SM 8 - 23 * 12 mm



SM 9 - 15 * 10 mm
 

Pendant sulemani

SM 10 - 18 * 11 mm



AGATE HEATED BY FIRE

Displayed in the illustrations 5,6 & 7 you will see a different kind of black and white banded agate than the beads displayed above. The patina of these two kinds of agate is quite different.
 
 

Illustration 5


SM 11 - 12 * 7 * 4,5 mm

SM 12 - 13 * 8,5  mm

SM 14 - 11 * 6 mm

SM 15 - 9,5 * 6 mm

SM 16 - 10 * 5 mm

 SM 17 - 10 * 5 mm

SM 18 - 9 * 5 mm


SM 19 - 12 * 6 * 4,5 mm


SM 20 - 9 * 5 mm


SM 21 - 7 * 5,5 mm

   
 
The difference in patina
In illustration 5 the beads do not display the same kind of glass like shine as the beads in illustration 1, 2, 3 & 4. They have a more dusty, not reflective surface.

Greater contrast lines
Another characteristics is that the beads displayed in illustration 5 shows greater contrast between the black, grey and white colors.

Black lines in white stone - not white lines in black stone
Often the presence of white colored stone is, as you can observe in illustration 6 dominating in this type of agate:
 
 

Illustration 6

SM 22 - 19 * 7,5 * 4 mm


One could as a general rule say that the typical Sulemani beads as displayed in illustration 1, 2
, 3 & 4 have stripes of white in a black stone where this other kind of beads displayed in illustration 4 & 5 have black stripes in a basically white agate.

50 shades of grey

It is also worth to note that this type of agate stone often displays distinct bands of grey color
in many shades:
 
 


Illustration 7

SM 23 - 22 * 6 * 5 mm
 

SM 24 - 25,5 * 18 * 5 mm

A wonderful bow bead. Note the distinct
black, grey and white color bands.
These beads were sourced from Burma.
They learned together with the spread of
Buddhism to manufacture these beads.

 
The absence of brown colors
Furthermore this agate does not display brown or brownish colors as you will often observe in the more common Sulemani agate beads. An example of this brownish color can be observed in these typical Sulemani/babagoria beads:

 
 

CHANGE THROUGH HEAT TREATMENT
The difference between the 'normal' sulemani beads and these more white, grey and black beads is due to differences in the heat treatment process. These beads have been either deliberately or by accident been put in fire making them more white-black-grayish. The change might also be caused by the heat from a funeral pyre.
 
Great art through fire!
Whatever the reason... seen from an artistic viewpoint I love the appearance of these beads much more than the more ordinary ones with their brownish colors as you can observe above.
 
That leads me to the last theory, a theory I personally believe is closest to the truth: These beads have been deliberately produced to look like they do. They are simply too beautiful to be a coincidental side product of a burial pyre. According to Mr. Malik Hakila, a world leading bead expert and a bead shop owner from Kathmandu who also runs a bead factory in Cambey, Gujarat, there were two separate ancient bead cooking techniques involving in producing these Central Indian beads.
  
1) Ancient dry cooking by high temperature
The oldest technique, as one can observe in illustration 5 to 8, was to heat treat the beads without oil, like the the ancient Indians did with carnelian, but with a much higher temperature. In this way the beads became non translucent and with intense jet black and powerful white bandings, which definitely is an advantage seen from an artistic viewpoint. The problem with this technique is that it weakens the stone so badly that it easily breaks. Even in the finished specimen one can find a lot of scars and cracks, as you can observe in illustration 7. Scars and a cracks can happen anytime with this type of beads. I even had some wonderful specimen that cracked right in my hand.
 



Click on picture for larger version
 


Vulnerable beads
In central India there are ancient sites with huge piles, almost ton's of ancient broken beads made with the old and dry heating method. The massive presence of this type of beads in a broken condition indicate the problem with the fragility of beads made by the old production method.
A lot of these beads simply did not survive the manufacturing process itself.
On the illustration you can observe beads taken from such a junk pile close to the bead manufacturing place. Here we can observe  beads, broken before and after getting polished and some broken during the tumbling process itself as with the bead in the upper right corner with a polished  bead crack surface.

 

2) A more modern oil cooking technique
The other and more modern, but still ancient technique would be to cook the beads in oil. This technique keeps the natural transparent parts of the agate and at the same time upholds the strength of the bead. This technique replaced the former one about 2000 years ago. However the two techniques have most probably run parallel for quite some time, depending on customer demand.
 
Larger & older holes in the dry & hot cooked beads
The holes are as you can observe in illustration 5 to 8 and mostly much larger in the dry & hot cooked beads than in the more common agate bead in this traditional oil cooked bead:
 


The generally larger holes in the dry & hot cooked beads support the theory of two distinct different ways of bead treatment with radical different appearances.
 
Larger variation in motives in dry & hot cooked beads
Displayed in Illustration 8 one can observe the presence of ultra swirling and abrupt geometric motives and multiple eye formations in the dry cooked and super heated older type of beads. Swirling circular motives are typical for normal agate, but even more so in these specimens. It seems the different layers in the agate chosen for dry & hot treatment are more irregular and hence more interesting. Therefore my next hypothesis is: In order to get the best art beads out of the swirling effects of the agate, the the beads with most interesting patterns and swirls were chosen for the old heat treatment technique and the one with more regular banding were chosen for the new technique.
 
The most wonderful artful swirling play of circles is displayed in illustration 8 below, but can also clearly be observed in illustration 5.
 

 
 

Illustration 8

 

SM 25 -
7 mm

SM 26 - 9 * 7 mm


SM 27 - SM -
9 * 7,5 mm
 

SM 28 - 6 mm


SM 29 - 9 * 5,5 mm

SM 30 - 10 * 6  mm



SM 31 - 10 * 8,5 mm
   
 

THE TALISMANIC POWER OF THE ANCIENT DRY & HOT COOKED BEADS

In a way all ancient beads are amulets - if one think they are. The 'amuletic' power of a bead can never be isolated from the particular belief system in which the owner of the bead orients himself. In this way the world is constructed out of collective minds accepting the same story told reality. The naming of beads is part of the same game. Should we call these beads Sulemani, Bhaisayaguru or Babagoria beads? Each name attracts a certain collective reality and these 'realities' will fight internally about who is the most real reality.
 
Beauty is my religion
My personal belief system is centered around beauty - not beautiful beauty, not perfect beauty, but transcendent beauty hidden in the perfection of the imperfect. I would call it the sublime. Imperfect, fragile bead amulets like these ancient over cooked beads are full of story telling like faces of old men and women. Therefore I call these beads sublime and that is why I wrote a praise to the scarred bead.
 
To see the world as a story told reality or maybe even fantasy is in fact very close to the ancient Indian philosophy and according to my observations exactly the part of Indian religious culture that originated, not from the Arian invasion, but from India's own ancient super culture: the Indus culture.
 
Where we in the west tend to describe all mind made realities as unreal in opposition to
positivistic science, the ancient Indian thinking is one step ahead in pointing out - long time before the quantum physicists - that the observer is actually creating the observed.
 
Therefore beads have the power you observe them with.

But why ancient beads? Why not something plastic fantastic?
 
Exo-planetarian beauties
When I look at these worn and torn ancient dry &hot cooked beads - sometimes looking like exo-planets from far away solar systems - I am taken by awe. They are the eye bead displayed above full of fragile cracks emitting ancient light. Their swirling unpredictability make them perfect as amulets setting the course for my own unknown future.
 
The typical Asian collectors would not like them due to their imperfections.

I however observe this imperfection as perfectly imperfect.

An ancient bead is due to its history and esthetic appearance an ideal focus point for
meditative concentration of the powers of and in the mind. The scars, marks and cracks are ancient signatures of time itself.
 
It is an ideal hub where the Soul and the zero can meet, but not in the ideal formlessness of the zero alone. Because by accepting the scar as beautiful, you accept the imperfect life you live as beautiful. No need of escaping into the perfect, but depersonalized space of the zero.

THE (W)HOLE IN THE EYE - THE ZERO AND THE SOUL
The wonderful ancient big holed ball beads displayed here illustrates the ancient bead makers preference to put the hole as far as possible in the center of the eye.

The reasons for placing the hole in the eye could several. One is most probably religious and symbolic. The other could be purely out of aesthetic reasons. It is worth noting that the hole in a bead also resembles a zero. This is particular interesting because it was the Indians who invented the zero. The hindi name for zero is still today the word shoonyo, an old buddhist word for the fundamental perfect emptines of existence.
 

 

Illustration 9



SM 32 - 14,5 * 11
 

SM 33  - 15 * 12 mm  (Afghanistan)

SM 34  - 11,5 * 10 mm
 

SM 35  - 10 * 8,5 mm


SM 36  - 11,5 * 11 mm

SM 37  - 9 * 7 mm



SM 38  - 10 * 9,5 mm



SM 39 - 10 * 8,5 mm

SM 40  - 9 * 7,5 mm

SM  41 - 9 * 7,5 mm

SM 42 - 8 * 6,5 mm


SM 43  - 7,5 * 6,5 mm




SM 44  - 6 * 5 mm
 

SM  45 - 6,5 * 5,5 mm


SM  46 - 7,5 * 5,5 mm
 


SM 47 - 6 * 5 mm


 

Below you can observe a few beads with holes drilled with apparently no considerations to the eye patterns. The reasons for this could be several. Mainly I think it is due to technicalities, in the sense that the very nature of the stone could demand the hole to be drilled in a certain place.

The hole could also be placed as you can observe in the beads below out of other aesthetic motivations. The reason could also be due to a bead makers ignorance or not caring about symbolic eyes. There were countless centers for bead making in India - both seen in a historical and geographical view.

Most probably these centers had different cultural and religious views. As there always in ancient India were many different gods and religions there must also have been a lot of difference in the context of mindsets.

So it is possible that we had centers of bead making where the bead makers did not care about symbolic eyes and holes. It is here worth to remember that India had a great time of skepticism and atheism already 100 years before the birth of the Buddha.
 

 

Illustration 10


SM 48 -  9 * 7 mm


SM 49 - 12 * 9 mm
 

SM 50 - 7 mm

SM 51 - 7 mm

SM 52 - 8 * 6 mm

NEW HOLES IN OLD BEADS

This ancient bead displayd below has no hole. It never made it the whole way to the end of the manufacture process. It is not uncommon to find such beads.

The wonderful beads SM 53,54 and 55 just below are ancient. However they were found without hole. So the finders of the beads drilled new holes in them. Unfortunately my scanner is somehow not able to catch the true translucent beauty of these beads.
 

 




SM 53 - 11 mm - a bead whithout hole



SM 54  -  15 mm


SM 55 - 14 mm


SM 56 - 13,5 mm

 

BABAGORIA BEADS IN VARIOUS DESIGNS
In the following section you can, if you like, try to see the difference between the two kinds of agate. Since I hunt the older dry & hot cooked agate beads, most of the beads displayed below belong to that category.
 
 



 


SM 57 - 18 * 7 * 6 mm
 


SM 58 - 17 * 8,5 * 7 mm


 


SM  59 - 12 * 7 mm


SM 60  - 12 * 6,5 mm


SM 61  - 12 * 8 mm

SM 62  - 9 * 7 * 6 mm
 

SM 63 - 11 * 6,5 mm

SM 64 - 12,5 * 7 mm

SM 65 -



SM 66  - 11,5 * 6 mm


SM 67 - 14 * 7 mm


SM 68 - 12 * 7,5 mm


SM 69 - 10,5 * 5 mm


SM 70  - 9,5 * 7 mm


SM 71 - 13 * 6 mm
 

SM 72 - 9 * 5 mm

SM 73 - 12 * 6 mm
 

SM 74  - 15 * 6  mm



SM 75  - 14 * 4 mm
 


SM 76 - 12,5 * 7 mm


SM 77 - 9 * 7,5 mm


SM 78  - 10 * 7 mm


SM 79 - 9 * 5 mm


SM  80 - 9 * 5,5 mm

SM 81  - 9 * 7 mm

SM 82  - 8 * 6  mm

SM 83  - 9 * 8 mm


SM 84 - 8 * 7  mm


SM  85 - 11 * 6 * 4 mm

SM 86   - 9 * 7 * 4,5 mm
 

SM 87   - 14 * 8 mm
Note the very rare blues stripe

 


SM  88  - 11 * 7 mm


SM 89  - 12 * 5,5 mm


SM 90  - 11 * 5  mm


SM 91  -  9 * 5 mm


SM 92  - 9 * 6 mm

 


SM 93  - 8,5 * 5,5 mm


SM 94  - 8,5 * 5 * 4 mm

SM 95  - 9 * 6  mm
 


SM 96  - 8 * 5 mm


SM 97  - 11 * 8,5 * 6 mm


SM  98 - 10 * 6,5 mm
 

SM  99 - 8 * 6,5 mm



SM  100 -



SM  101 - 10 * 11 mm



SM 102  - 5 * 8 mm



SM 103   - 5 * 6 * 5,5 mm


SM 104   - 25 * 7 mm


SM 105  - 17,5 * 7 mm

 


SM 106  - 18,5 * 12 mm
 


SM 107  - 17 * 6,5 mm




SM  108 - 16 * 7 mm



BALL BEADS
 

SM  109 - 6 * 5 mm

SM 110  - 6 * 6,5 mm

SM 111  - 7 * 6 mm

SM  112 - 7,5 * 6,5 mm

SM 113  - 7 * 6,5 mm

SM 114  - 7 mm

SM 115  - 7 * 6 mm

SM 116  - 7 * 6 mm

SM 117  - 7 mm

 SM 118  - 7 * 5 mm

SM 119  - 8 mm

SM 120  - 8 mm

SM 121  - 8 * 7 mm

SM 122  - 8 mm

SM 123  - 8 * 7 mm

SM 124  - 8 * 7 mm

SM 125   - 9 * 7,5 mm

SM 126  - 9 * 6,5 mm
 
 
 

SM 127  - 9 * 7 mm
 

SM 128  - 9 * 6,5 mm
 

SM  129 - 9,5, * 8,5 mm
 

SM 130   - 9 * 10 mm
 

SM 131   - 10 * 7 mm
 

SM 132  - 10 * 9,5 mm

SM 133  - 10 * 12 mm
 

SM 134  - 10 * 6,5 mm
 

SM 135  - 10 * 10,5 mm
 

SM 136(1)  - 11  *  9  mm

SM 137  - 11,5, * 7,5  mm
 

SM 138  - 11 * 7 mm


SM 139   - 11 * 10,5 mm
 
   


SM  140 - 14 mm


SM 141  - 14 * 12 mm
Ancient bead with a new hole



This wonderful flat oval tabular, natural banded Sulemani agate bead displayed blow has a beautiful patina and a unique pattern. This bead has been heat treated with honey or sugar.

 
 


 
SM 185  -  26 * 23 * 12 mm
Origin: The Himalayas

Period: 300 B.C. to 1000 A.D.

   
 




SM 186  - 27 * 18 mm
 




Sulemani pendant beads
 




SM 187  - 22 * 9,5 mm




SM 188  - 15 * 8 mm



SM 189  - 21 * 9 * 7 mm
 


SM 190  - 11,5 * 9 mm

 


SM  191  - 14 * 9 mm
 


Buddhist Bhaisajyaguru beads


Sulemani agate was as mentioned in the beginning used by Sufi Moslem Faqirs and before that, they were used as Buddhist prayer beads. Especially Afghanistan is interesting in this context. Afghanistan was a predominant Buddhist culture up to 1000 AD!

The ball shaped Sulemani beads are also known as Bhaisajyaguru beads. These Prayer beads removes according to the Tibetan tradition, roots of diseases, ensures health and longevity. In Mahayana Buddhism, Bhaisajyaguru represents the healing aspect of the historical Buddha Sakyamuni. These beads have been in the hands of beings with pure intentions for generations. Some of these beings may even have been enlightened!
 
 







 
Average size: 7 to 12 * 4 to 5 mm
Ancient banded barrel shaped Sulemani agate beads
Period: 300 B.C. to 1000 A.D.


Click on picture for larger image
 


Here you can see the wonderful Bhaisajyaguru eye bead from Afghanistan that is displayed on the top of the page Bead Magic. It really shows that the bead hole itself actually can serve as a magic Eye!
 


SM 0 - 14 * 14 mm
Not for sale


 

BhaisayagurubeadsBall
 

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Contact: Gunnar Myhlman - Gunnars@mail.com