Myanmar: Land of Gems
By Yi Yan & Narom Chea
Myanmar is a diverse jewel of a country in Southeast Asia. A largely untouched place with a fascinating history and ancient culture, it is beautiful and captivating, rich in rare and precious gems, and a land of Buddhist devotion.
Myanmar is renowned for having a wealth of the world’s most precious gemstones such as ruby, sapphire and jade. Being the biggest exporter of gemstones in the world, it is often called “Land of Gems” or “Ruby Land.” It is home to the finest, most highly valued stones in the world. The wide variety of gems available here has meant that the stunning stones have played a role in the country’s culture since ancient times.
It is evident that the Burmese are precious-stone and jewelry enthusiasts. The streets and shops in cities throughout the country are called by such names as Diamond Street, Jade Store and Ruby Mall, even when gems are not sold in that particular place. The Burmese adopt the names of gemstones for people, too. For instance, the former prime minister of Myanmar is named Sheng Deng, meaning “100,000 gems.” One of the names popular for girls is Miao Miao Dan, which translates to “one million jades.”
Treasures of Mogok
Mogok, a historic city in the northern region, embraces visitors with a sign that reads “Welcome to Ruby Land.” As the sign implies, rubies in Mogok are exceptional in terms of both quantity and quality, though it also has a reputation for other gemstones. The beloved ruby is considered a national gemstone of Myanmar.
In the past, Mogok yielded 50,000 carats of rubies each year. Sadly, the land was exhausted by over-mining and the supply dropped. But because Mogok is so rich in these gems compared to everywhere else, it still supplies more than 90 percent of the world’s rubies. The most desired stones are saturated, pure, and vibrantly red, calling to mind a flame or fresh blood. Hence, “redness of pigeon’s blood” is a phrase used to describe those special rubies that display the finest examples of the color.
Ruby is one of the world’s most treasured gems. Over the centuries, many powers have been attributed to it. For example, during the Middle Ages, many people believed that powdered ruby mixed with water had the power to stop a person from bleeding. Some believed that ruby could treat fever and inflammation simply by being rubbed on the body. Even further back, in ancient times, Indians believed that wearing rubies could purify the blood and mind, while Persians believed that rubies could ward off evil thoughts and inhibit outrageous acts and behavior.
To the Burmese, rubies are Divine stones. In olden times, Burmese warriors would make a small cut on their body and place a ruby within before charging into battle. They believed that this ritual would make them mighty and invulnerable on the battlefield.
The sapphire, also considered a holy gift of Heaven, is believed to be a noble symbol of truth and energy that exudes a sense of mystery. Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Madagascar are the only countries in the world that produce blue sapphires of exceptional quality. Of these, Myanmar yields sapphires that are the most treasured by gem collectors as the color is rich and saturated yet crystal clear, evoking celestial and otherworldly imaginings.
Some people believe that merely looking at a deep-blue sapphire enhances wisdom and harnesses positive energy. The stone is associated with the vastness of the sky and the power of the sea. Throughout the ages, sapphire has been greatly loved by royalty and clergy in many parts of the world. Known as “the royal stone,” it has adorned the crowns and garments of English and Russian royalty.
A 330-carat sapphire known as the “Star of Asia” hails from Mogok. It is one of the finest star sapphires in the world, renowned for its rich color, sharp star and phenomenal size. The largest of its type, the Star of Asia is currently located at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. It is said that this awe-inspiring stone once belonged to India’s Maharajah of Jodhpur.
Stunning Jade Pagoda
Myanmar is also famous for its jade. Both the stone’s intense green color and the sounds it produces when gently knocked against a surface are extraordinary, representing peace and auspiciousness, bringing happiness and good luck, and warding off evil.
Myanmar supplies more than 70 percent of the world’s high-quality jadeite, a variety of jade. The jadeite found in the North is considered the best in the world. As far back as the
10th century, various sources in China have noted the preciousness and power of Burmese jade, which is dense with delicate textures and attractive colors that are rare.
In Mandalay, the ancient former royal capital of Myanmar, there stands the majestic Weirawsana Jade Pagoda. It is constructed of more than 1,500 tons of jade and stands at 75.6 feet, spreading out 176 feet. The pagoda is ornamented from the base to the top with breathtaking jade in a mix of hues including emerald green, light green, white, gray, and creamy yellow shades.
Inside the pagoda, natural stones and jade gleam on every door, wall surface, and even on every Buddha statue and artifact. There are many more precious stones buried at the base and on top of this “jade museum,” away from public view. These gems symbolize the safeguarding of the pagoda.
The Weirawsana Jade Pagoda is the most expensive building ever erected in Myanmar, and it is the world’s first jade pagoda. It is believed that the precious stones were donated by local jade merchants for the construction of this magnificent tower. While most marvel at the astonishing beauty of the jade pagoda, it is the aspiration and spiritual faith that drove its construction which make the deepest impression on those who look upon this cultural treasure.
Being home to a multitude of pagodas, Myanmar is often called “Land of Pagodas.” The Burmese believe that building a pagoda engenders good karma, great virtue, and blessings. Many people, even those of very limited means, strive to donate to the building and repair of pagodas.
They also believe in the spiritual power of giving the finest jade as an offering to Buddha. For many, sincere Buddhist faith is the cornerstone of their lives. The jade pagoda looks sacred and solemn under the azure sky as worshipers, holding lush bouquets of flowers, bow and prostrate in front of it.
Gentle Hearts Are Gems
In recent years, Myanmar has also offered the world high-quality pearls, tourmalines, spinels, peridots, ambers, and other stones. Its bounty of stones is immense, and evidence of the exquisite workings of Nature.
Decorating Buddha statues and pagodas with them is a natural thing to do. There are many golden pagodas, in both the cities and suburbs of Myanmar, decorated with dazzling diamonds and other precious stones. To the Burmese, the precious stones of their homeland signify the beauty and goodness of life. This bounty is also a reminder to respect Mother Earth, to give thanks for her blessings, and to never exploit her resources.
Respecting the Earth means respecting its people, and the hardworking Burmese radiate peacefulness and friendliness. They will never fail to give you a broad smile when their gaze meets yours. They are known to be happy and helpful people, always giving generously to monks whenever they meet one. Just like the pagodas exude a sense of sacred serenity, making one feel warm and peaceful, every gleaming smile reflects the gentle, kind hearts of the people.
For centuries, the trove of exquisite gemstones in Myanmar has symbolized not merely an abundance of material blessings, but a sincere connection to the Divine and a celebration of the beauty of Mother Nature.