Ever heard of ‘Nagamanikyam’? The “precious stone” formed inside the head of a cobra has been a favorite of frauds for long. The cobra who carries the gem spits it on full moon and black moon nights before praying to the almighty. The Nagamanikyam hunter grabs the opportunity to hide the stone under a pile of cow dung. The snake finishes the prayer, looks to swallow the stone back, and dies of sorrow when he can’t find it, leaving the pursuer with the invaluable stone the story goes. Of course, he washes the stone in milk and rosewater after recovering it from the dung!
The legendary stone is as big as a cherry and as bright as a cod-liver-oil pill. It radiates red hues at night. People who fall for these descriptions end up paying up to Rs 50 crore for the stone. The dealers camp in luxury hotels to lure in greedy customers looking to make a quick buck. They tell the customers that they source the Nagamanikyam from the tribesmen in Wayanad, Idukki and Palakkad districts.
Sample these advertising claims. An evergreen hero in Hindi movies starts his day by drinking water from the glass where a Nagamanikyam is kept. A liquor baron puts his Nagamanikyam in his peg of premium drink before cherishing it. At least two movie stars in Kerala have Nagamanikyam stored in their lockers. Almost all billionaires in the world owe their riches to Nagamanikyam.
Do not despair if you are too poor to own a stone. A single glance of this stone can do wonders for you. You just have to pay Rs 5,000 to Rs 25,000, depending on the bargain.
The elaborate fraud perhaps originated from a mythological tale. “Pambummekkatt Namboodiri”, as told by Kottarathil Sankunni in his famed ‘Aithihyamala’, meets a sage when he goes to the sacred pond inside the temple after the evening puja. When the scholarly priest asks the stranger who he was, the sage asks him to just carry on with his business. The Namboodiri is still curious and he spots a red shining object in the stranger’s hand. The stranger tells the priest that he was carrying Nagamanikyam and offers him to touch it. The Namboodiri later realizes that the visitor was the sacred serpent Vasuki.
Later Vasuki pays a visits to the priest along with the Nagayakshi. They present him with the Nagamanikyam and tell him to keep in his house, which eventually became the first temple in Kerala to be dedicated to serpents.
The Nagamanikyam does not exist anywhere but in this tale. A cobra’s sac or mouth or hood do not contain any precious stone. Anyway, the imaginary stone has made a few unscrupulous people rich and made paupers out of many more gullible people.
The Nagamanikyam on show in luxury hotel rooms are works of fantasy and sleigh of hand. Customers are shown a synthetic ruby in a jewel box with an LED bulb hidden beneath it. The artificial stone shines bright when the LED bulb is switched on in the dimly lit room.
Gem testing labs around the world know of only two animal-derived stones - pearl and red coral. Amber is a fossil formed by the resin of coniferous trees. Nobody has tested a Nagamanikyam but the frauds are still selling it.
Another fraudulent gem on sale is the cheaper ‘Aranamanikyam’, which comes out of a skink’s mouth. Another mythical gem is ‘Gajamuthu’, which comes from the head of an elephant. No veterinary surgeon anywhere in the world has ever come across any such stone. None of these are as popular as the ‘Nagamanikyam’ though.
The real ruby is a naturally occurring chemical compound - AI203. The aluminum oxide has a relative density of 3.99 to 4.00
It is found in India, Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka and parts of Africa. The color ranges from blood red to pale pink. You can get the gemstone tested in an approved lab to be safe from fraudulent sellers. The Kerala government’s mining and geology department operates a gem testing lab at Kesavadasapuram in Thiruvananthapuram.
Always buy gems from a certified dealer.