ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday March 30, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 44

Come, see the true glory

Genuine gajamuthu, or rare pearls found within elephant tusks are among the many treasures at the Hunupitiya Gangarama Temple

By Asuntha Edirisooriya, Pix by Alexander Balasuriya

Statues of the Buddha made of precious metals, rare coins, gems, ancient Buddhist texts and various items made of the world’s most precious materials are some of the rare and amazing artefacts on display at the Gangaramaya Temple. Among the most precious of the precious treasures are gajamuthu. These are the rare pearls found within elephant tusks.

The Hunupitiya Gangarama Temple has exhibits of these pearls from the initial stages of their formation to maturity in all their glory and the temple doors are open to anyone who is interested in studying or seeing the “real” pearl.

A casket made of these pearls.

Many dealers pass off pieces of tusks as these pearls, cautioned the Chief Incumbent of the temple, Ven. Galaboda Gnanissara Thera, explaining that as the pearl harvested from an oyster is formed when a grain of sand gets embedded within its shell, those in elephant tusks come about with the collection of bacteria through an infection at the base of the tusks, growing like a cancer into the tusks.

“Research shows that an elephant lives abut 125 years and it takes 75 to 80 years for these pearls to be formed,” the Thera said. As the pearls ‘grow’ and spread across the tusk interior, its exterior shows slight changes as well, with the surface developing small holes and the usually smooth and beautiful texture losing its lustre.

“The pearl starts off as a tiny grain within the tusk but grows to different sizes, depending on the tusker,” said Ven. Gnanissara Thera who had the opportunity to gather information about this precious stone in his research ventures that took him around the world.

The various stages of the gajamuthu formation on display at the Gangaramaya have been collected from the United States, China and Hong Kong. Most of the specimens are from Hong Kong.

The pearls from elephant tusks are considered priceless treasures but getting the real pearls is an almost impossible task, it is learnt. The situation is aggravated by the fact that in some countries where the value of these pearls is not recognized, they are used in the creation of various artefacts and trinkets. Among other unique exhibits at the Gangarama Temple is a priceless casket crafted from these pearls.

Fake pearls made from pieces of tusk Another artefact made of


The pearl in its initial stages of formation at the base of the elephant’s tusk Small holes on the exterior of the tusk indicating the
formation of pearls
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