Home Columns Anantha Narayan Gem of a Story

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    Sharon Stone is not the only precious stone known to mankind. Apparently there are other pretenders to the throne. My first exposure to uncut gems was through movies. There was this old-world multiplex in Chennai with theatre halls that went by the names ‘Safire’, ‘Blue Diamond’ and ‘Emerald’. As a callow kid, I used to wonder what Safire really meant as it sounded rather distinguished.
    Thankfully, Etymology Online solved the puzzle for me by pointing out that sapphire is derived from the Greek word for ‘blue stone’. The label was chosen because the Greeks wrongly assumed that they were describing lapis lazuli. As it turns out, sapphire is an aluminium oxide mineral, while lapis lazuli happens to be a silicate.
    That brings us to the next question. How on earth did they hit upon the exotic name lapis lazuli? Well, lapis means ‘stone’ in Latin and lazuli is the Persian word for ‘azure’. What better way to allude to the blueish hue, no?
    Aquamarine and turquoise are two more blue stones that get a lot of press. Aquamarine literally means ‘sea water colour’ and turquoise is the French way of saying ‘Turkish stone’.
    Amethyst has a beautiful yarn. It is named after ‘Amethystos’ (meaning: ‘not drunk’), a nymph who was supposedly being stalked by the Greek god of wine Dionysus. Amethystos spurned his advances and wished to remain chaste. So she prayed to the deity Artemis, who turned her into a pure white stone. A remorseful Dionysus shed copious tears of wine over the stone, thereby turning it purple.
    Another myth involves Persephone (daughter of Zeus) and Hades (god of the underworld). As the story goes, Hades abducted Persephone and when he was forced to part with her, he handed out some magical pomegranate seeds that had the power to draw her back to the underworld whenever she consumed the fruit. Granatium is the Greek word for pomegranate seeds. And that’s the origin of the red garnet.
    Incidentally, ruby is Latin for ‘red’. Zircon is Persian for ‘gold-coloured’. Onyx is the Greek word for ‘finger nail’. And emerald is derived from the Sanskrit/Tamil word ‘maragata’.
    Opal and topaz have an Indian origin, too. Opal is from the Sanskrit word ‘uppal’ or ‘precious stone’. While topaz is inspired from ‘tapas’ or ‘heat’. Hope you’ve enjoyed these pearls.


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