Have you heard of the gem called Nagamanikyam? This powerful magical stone is formed inside the head of a cobra. It is bright yellow during the day and radiates dazzling red hues at night. Once acquired, it will give you all the fortunes and power in the world! This is somewhat the story that lured numerous people who then got fooled by frauds claiming to have the real Nagamanikyam.
The stories vary as it is told from one person to another. The cobra, who has the Nagamanikyam, gem spits it out on full-moon and new-moon nights before praying to their god. This is when a gem hunter would grab the gem and hide it in a pile of cow dung. After its prayer, the cobra dies of sorrow when it is unable to find the stone. The hunter then takes the gem from the cow dung and washes it with milk and rosewater, and they become the owner of the priceless gem.
People have ended up paying ridiculously large sums (up to ₹5 crores according to some sources) to own this mysterious fortune magnet. So this brings up the question – how did the Nagamanikyam myth start?
The story of Pambummekkatt Namboodiri
The origin of the myth of Nagamanikyam is said to be from the mythological tale of Pambummekkatt Namboodiri. It is also believed to be the story behind the origin of Pambummekkatt Mana in Thrissur, which is the first temple dedicated to serpent worship in Kerala.
A long time ago, when the people in Mekkatt Mana were struggling with poverty, the Namboodiri travelled to Thiruvanchikulam temple, where he prayed for 12 years to alleviate their poverty and miseries. One day he saw a mysterious figure, a sage, near the Thiruvanchikulam pond and he had a peculiar ring on his finger. The Namboodiri asked if the sage could show him the ring, which he did but immediately disappeared once the ring was returned. The next day when the Namboodiri saw the sage again and asked about his identity. The sage revealed to him that he was Vasuki, the God of Snakes.
Vasuki offered to fulfill a wish of the pious Namboodiri, and he immediately asked if Vasuki could come and bless the poverty-stricken Mekkatt Mana with prosperity. When the Namboodiri returned to the Mana, Vasuki and Nagayakshi (Goddess of Snakes) appeared to him and told him to install their idols to pray to as the family deities. The Namboodiri did as he was told and ever since then, Mekkatt Mana was known as Pambummekkatt Mana.
Another belief is that Vasuki gifted the Nagamanikyam itself to the Namboodiri, who placed it in the Mana.
Pambummekkatt Mana in Thrissur is said to be the first Nagaraja temple. There is also a famous myth that there is a five-headed snake inside the temple. It is also believed that the divine presence of Vasuki and Nagayakshi exists in the eastern portion or ‘Kizhakkini’ of the temple. There are 5 sarpa kavu near the temple and there is an ever-burning lamp, the oil of which is believed to cure ailments caused by snake venom.
But that’s not the only story associated with Nagamanikyam.
Legend of Ichchadhari Naag/ Naagin
According to Indian mythology, Ichchadhari Naag or Naagin are shape-shifting serpents who protect the Naagmani/ Nagamanikyam.
A normal cobra becomes an Ichchadhari Naag or Naagin after 100 years of penance and then after being blessed by Lord Shiva, they can take the form of any other living being including humans. They can live more than a hundred years without getting old but when a Naag or Naagin is killed by someone, the image of the killer gets captured in its eyes and the partner of that Naag or Naagin doesn’t rest till they seek vengeance. They can take any form during the time of revenge but are forced to show their true form on hearing the sound of the been (the instrument used by snake charmers).
Ichchadhari Naags and Naagins possess a gem which is called Naagmani/ Nagamanikyam which they protect with their life.
Nagina, a movie from 1986 starring Sridevi, is a Bollywood fantasy film in which Sridevi plays the role of a Naagin seeking revenge for the murder of her spouse. Nagina is a woman-centric movie that revolves around the story of Rajni the Naagin, and also mentions the Naagmani.
What is the actual Nagamanikyam?
First of all, there is no scientific proof of the existence of such a thing as a magical Nagamanikyam gem. The world, as of today, knows of only two animal-derived gems – the pearl and the red coral. Then there is amber, which is solidified resin of coniferous trees that are found as fossils.
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In many different countries, including India, there is in fact a ‘stone’ called snake-stone or viper’s stone, which is a folk medicine for treating snake bites. The snake-stone is basically animal bone (which may or may not be from a snake) and it is used in different ways to treat venomous snake bites. This form of medicine is practised in countries like India, Africa, and South America. However, the WHO has stated that this medical procedure has no effect on snake bites and that it only delays proper treatment.
There is also an ‘actual version’ of Nagamani (or Nagaratna), which is obtained from the skulls or tails of venomous snakes especially cobras (hence called cobra pearl). Sometimes a cobra may only use a small portion of its venom when killing a prey, compared to how much it can actually release. The remaining extra venom then gets deposited on the top portion of its skull. As more extra venom accumulates, it forms a solidified blue-black mass that resembles a gem. This ‘gem’ is said to be rare as most cobras use all of their venom when killing their prey and so no extra venom gets accumulated.
Usually, this Nagamani is obtained from snakes once they are dead but there have also been mass killings of snakes in search of this ‘gem’.
Scams in the name of Nagamanikyam
The myth of Nagamanikyam is widely used to defraud credulous victims into paying crores. In 2015, three conmen from Tamil Nadu had been caught trying to sell a nagamani for ₹1,000 crores. They had put the stone near two hibiscus flowers saying that the flowers bloomed because of the power of the nagamani. Unfortunately for them, their customers happened to be undercover detectives and so they got caught red-handed.
Several tricks like these are used to fool the buyers into thinking that the stone contains powers. For instance, it is said that LED bulbs are hidden under synthetic stones and shown to the customers in a dimly lit room, which would make them appear to be radiating red hues.
That’s not all…
It doesn’t end with just the Nagamanikyam. Though not as famous or as in demand as the Nagamanikyam, there are cheaper ‘gems’ like Aranamanikyam and Gajamuth.
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Aranamanikyam is another mythical gem that comes out of a skink’s mouth. Then there is Gajamuth, which is a gem obtained from the head of an elephant. There is also an actual version of Gajamuth or elephant pearl, which is not a gem but calcium formation inside the large teeth of elephants. Just like the Nagamanikyam, these gems are also said to hold magical powers and bring good fortune.
Though the stories and tricks might seem convincing, there is no scientific evidence that shows that these gems exist. However, people still get tricked into such schemes. Needless to say that it is always advisable to approach a gem testing lab before purchasing any precious gem.