"Sulemani" is a contemporary Indian term that pertains to black onyx or black/brownish agate that has one or more white stripes. This classification of beads, known as Sulemani beads, is influenced by the presence of Islamic culture in India since the 12th Century. Muslims, particularly the Sufis, held a preference for this variety of beads, characterized by one or more white stripes, for their prayer chains. However, they were repurposing beads that originated from a much older and different culture.

Many, although not all, of the beads showcased here come from central India. World-renowned bead expert Jamey Allen proposes that a more accurate term for most of the agate beads displayed here would be "Babagoria."
"Babagoria" is a term used by locals living in proximity to the sites from where most of these beads have been sourced in Central India. In their dialect, "Goria" means bead, while "Baba" denotes a holy man. Hence, these beads have been colloquially dubbed as "holy man beads." For centuries, locals have gifted these beads to holy men across both the Muslim Sufi and Hindu traditions.
Interestingly, the ancient agate mines in Ratanpur, Gujarat were known as Baba Ghori. The term "Babagoria" is a reflection of the shared ancient cultural backdrop in which all beads were perceived. They were relics, amulets, and talismans adorned by holy men in a bidirectional relationship: wearing them conferred holiness upon the individual, while simultaneously, the sanctity of the holy person who wore them blessed the beads themselves.
In all likelihood, the term "Babagoria" was coined by locals residing near the ancient manufacturing sites. Their intention was likely to elevate the status of burial beads to sainthood, thereby making them more marketable as sacred objects. This wouldn't be the first or last instance in history where tradespeople have influenced the naming of commercially valuable objects.

The relatively modern term "Sulemani," as suggested by Jamey Allen, likely emerged to establish an imaginative connection to the famed ancient King Solomon
in order to hype the prices on the bead market. I tend to see the Sulemani as a genuine sufi term. The term "Sulemani" may have originated within the Sufi community when they started incorporating these ancient beads into their religious practices. The name could be a nod to King Solomon, a figure revered in Islamic tradition for his wisdom and fairness. His association with magic and control over jinn or spirits in some Islamic narratives may have further bolstered the beads' perceived spiritual significance. The Sufi community's use of these beads, and their possible role in coining the term "Sulemani," underscores how cultural and religious interchange can shape the understanding and naming of historical artifacts.

The term Sulemani bead was an Islamic renaming of beads already in use for magic, religious, and currency purposes for thousands of years. Black/brownish beads with white stripes were used as objects of worship and in prayer malas by the Buddhists of Asia and most probably also before that, reaching back to 700 B.C. In the Buddhist context ball-shaped beads, suitable for malas are named Bhaisayaguru beads.

Just as with platforms like Spotify, where algorithms habitually lean towards the most commonly used terms, the label "Sulemani beads" has managed to dominate the conversation. In the realm of contemporary global bead communities, the term "Babagoria" remains largely unfamiliar. Thus, for the sake of broad recognition and understanding, we will continue using the term "Sulemani." This highlights the evolution and adoption of popular terminology over more localized or original names in a globally connected world.


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SM 1a - average size 9mm - 'cooked'
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There's an intriguing saying in the Konyak tribe: One bead necklace is equivalent to one Nepali slave. This may seem strange to us today, but it provides valuable insight into the role of beads in older cultures.

Cultural customs and behavioral patterns within tribal societies can often offer a unique window into our ancient past.

In the context of the Indus civilization, however, beads were likely symbols of social status within an emerging labor and class-based society, rather than units of currency. The idea of using beads as money might seem natural today, but this concept likely didn't exist in the early stages of history.

It's probable that only after the decline of the Indus civilization did beads begin to evolve into a form of monetary exchange. As trade expanded and societies grew more complex, these small, portable, and universally valued items could have found a new role in the economic systems of the time.


SM 1b -
5 to 6,5 mm - 'cooked'
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The earliest forms of money needed to meet three essential criteria: they had to be aesthetically pleasing, portable, and difficult to procure or manufacture. This set of requirements naturally led to items such as
shells  and beads being used as mediums of exchange in increasingly organized and large-scale trade systems. Hence, beads evolved from primarily being status symbols to also serving the function of 'cash' in the burgeoning urban trade economies of the Indo-Gangetic Plain during the post-Indus period.

Beads, consequently, transitioned into Niksha, or circulating money, akin to the later usage of
trade beads  in Africa.

Interestingly, bead-currency was likely utilized within economic systems even after the advent of the first
punch marked coins around the 6th century B.C. In a twist of historical irony, history repeats itself: today, Sulemani and DZI beads are used in facilitating transactions within China's parallel black and gray economies.


SM 1c - 4 to 8 mm - 'over cooked'
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The reason for discussing the concept of beads as money in the context of Indus beads, despite them not being used as such, is to draw attention to a significant transformation in the role and characteristics of beads:

When beads transitioned into serving as a medium of exchange or money, they lost their distinctiveness.

In other words, as beads began to be standardized for their new economic role, their individual artistic expressions and unique features became less important, if not undesirable. The emphasis shifted from the artistic and cultural value of each bead to its uniformity and reproducibility, crucial attributes for any form of currency. This metamorphosis marked a stark departure from the array of shapes, colors, and materials that defined the Indus beads and their individualistic appeal.


SM 1d - 5 to 8 mm - 'over cooked'
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A critical requirement for a bead to evolve into a currency was its ability to be recognized and valued over larger geographical areas, necessitating a certain level of standardization. The bead had to morph from a symbol of unique artistic expression and rarity into an item of reproducible and recognizable uniformity, akin to shells.

As these new requirements took precedence, the emphasis on beauty, rarity, and diversity inherent in bead production had to be down-prioritized. The aesthetics and individuality that characterized the Indus beads gave way to an emphasis on replicability and standardization.

This shift likely serves as the primary explanation for the striking transition from the extraordinary variety and uniqueness of beads seen in the Indus period to the relatively uniform, mass-produced beads that emerged later. This transformation marked a significant turning point in the role of beads in society, from a symbol of personal status and cultural expression to a utilitarian tool for economic transactions.


SM 1e - 4 to 7,5 mm - 'over cooked'
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The prolific presence of beads, particularly from around 700 B.C. and the subsequent 1000 years, can be attributed to their adoption as a form of currency. Despite the estimated 90% of 'ancient' beads in today's market being inauthentic, the remaining 10% constitute a staggering number, hinting at the scale of bead production in ancient times. In fact, archaeological excavations occasionally unearth massive quantities of ancient beads in a single find, sometimes amounting to as much as 50 kg. This is analogous to the mass production of automobiles by Ford in the 1930s, where the demand for a ubiquitous commodity led to a substantial increase in standardized, look-alike products.


SM 1f - 5 to 7 mm - 'over cooked'
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SM 2a
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SM 2a
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Displayed in illustration 1, 2, 3 & 4 you can observe variations of typical Sulemani
agate beads. Note the blank shining surface of these beads.

Cylinder shaped Sulemani
Onyx beads
Onyx is virtually black agate which is two-layered. In the case of sulemani beads the layers are primarily consisting of black/brownish and white.

SM 3 - 17 * 11 mm

SM 4 - 14 * 9 mm

SM 5 - 23 * 10 mm

Illustration 3


Truncated Convex Bicone Sulemani Onyx Beads

Illustration 4

 SM 6 - 22 * 14 mm

SM 7 - 23 * 13 mm

SM 8 - 23 * 12 mm

SM 9 - 15 * 10 mm

Pendant sulemani

SM 10 - 18 * 11 mm

Displayed in the illustrations 5,6 & 7 you will see a different kind of black and white banded agate than the beads shown above. The patina of these two kinds of agate is quite different.

Illustration 5

SM 11 - 12 * 7 * 4,5 mm

SM 12 - 13 * 8,5  mm

SM 14 - 11 * 6 mm

SM 15 - 9,5 * 6 mm

SM 16 - 10 * 5 mm

 SM 17 - 10 * 5 mm

SM 18 - 9 * 5 mm

SM 19 - 12 * 6 * 4,5 mm

SM 20 - 9 * 5 mm

SM 21 - 7 * 5,5 mm

The difference in patina
In illustration 5 the beads do not display the same kind of glass-like shine as the beads in illustration 1, 2, 3 & 4. They have a more dusty, not reflective surface.

Greater contrast lines
Another characteristic is that the beads displayed in illustration 5 show greater contrast between the black, gray and white colors.

Black lines in white stone - not white lines in black stone
Often the presence of white colored stone is, as you can observe in illustration 6 dominating in this type of agate:

Illustration 6

SM 22 - 19 * 7,5 * 4 mm

One could as a general rule say that the typical Sulemani beads as displayed in illustration 1, 2
, 3 & 4 have stripes of white in a black stone where this other kind of beads displayed in illustration 4 & 5 have black stripes in white agate.

50 shades of gray

It is also worth to note that this type of agate stone often displays distinct bands of gr
ay color in many shades:

Illustration 7

SM 23 - 22 * 6 * 5 mm

SM 24 - 25,5 * 18 * 5 mm

A wonderful bow bead. Note the distinct
black, gray and white color bands.
These beads were sourced from Burma.
They learned together with the spread of
Buddhism to manufacture these beads.

The absence of brown colors
Furthermore, this agate does not display brown or brownish colors as you will often observe in the more common Sulemani agate beads. An example of this brownish color can be observed in these typical Sulemani/babagoria beads:


The difference between the 'normal' Sulemani beads and these more white, gray and black beads is due to differences in the heat treatment process. These beads have been either deliberately or by accident been put in fire making them more white-black-grayish. The change might also be caused by the heat from a funeral pyre.
Great art through fire!
Whatever the reason... seen from an artistic viewpoint I love the appearance of these beads much more than the more ordinary ones with their brownish colors as you can observe above.
That leads me to the last theory, a theory I believe is closest to the truth: These beads have been deliberately produced to look like they do. They are simply too beautiful to be a coincidental side product of a burial pyre. According to Mr. Malik Hakila, a world leading bead expert and a bead shop owner from Kathmandu who also runs a bead factory in Cambay, Gujarat, there were two separate ancient bead cooking techniques involving in producing these Central Indian beads.
1) Ancient dry cooking by high temperature
The oldest technique, as one can observe in illustration 5 to 8, was to heat-treat the beads without oil, like the ancient Indians did with carnelian, but with a much higher temperature. In this way, the beads became non-translucent and with intense jet black and powerful white bandings, which is an advantage seen from an artistic viewpoint. The problem with this technique is that it weakens the stone so badly that it easily breaks. Even in the finished specimen, one can find a lot of scars and cracks, as you can observe in illustration 7. Scars and cracks can happen anytime with this type of beads. I even had some specimen that cracked right in my hand.

Click on picture for larger version

Vulnerable beads
In central India, there are ancient sites with huge piles, almost ton's of ancient broken beads made with the old and dry heating method. The massive presence of this type of beads in a broken condition indicates the problem with the fragility of beads made by the old production method.
A lot of these beads simply did not survive the manufacturing process itself.
On the illustration, you can observe beads taken from such a junk pile close to the bead manufacturing place. Here we can observe beads, broken before and after getting polished and some broken during the tumbling process itself as with the bead in the upper right corner with a polished bead crack surface.


2) A more modern oil cooking technique
The other and more modern, but still ancient technique would be to cook the beads in oil. This technique keeps the natural transparent parts of the agate and at the same time upholds the strength of the bead. This method replaced the former one about 2300 years ago. However, the two techniques have most probably run parallel for quite some time, depending on customer demand.
Larger & older holes in the dry & hot cooked beads
The holes are as you can observe in illustration 5 to 8 and mostly much larger in the dry & hot cooked beads than in the more common agate bead in this traditional oil cooked bead:

The generally larger holes in the dry & hot cooked beads support the theory of two distinctly different ways of bead treatment with radical different appearances.
Larger variation in motives in dry & hot cooked beads
Displayed in Illustration 8 one can observe the presence of ultra swirling and abrupt geometric motives and multiple eye formations in the dry cooked and super-heated older type of beads. Swirling circular motives are typical for normal agate, but even more so in these specimens. It seems the different layers in the agate chosen for dry & hot treatment are more irregular and hence more interesting. Therefore my next hypothesis is: In order to get the best art beads out of the swirling effects of the agate, the the beads with most interesting patterns and swirls were chosen for the old heat treatment technique and the one with more regular banding were chosen for the new technique.
The most wonderful artful swirling play of circles is displayed in illustration 8 below, but can also clearly be observed in illustration 5.


Illustration 8


SM 25 -
7 mm -Sold

SM 26 - 9 * 7 mm

SM 27 - SM -
9 * 7,5 mm

SM 28 - 6 mm

SM 29 - 9 * 5,5 mm

SM 30 - 10 * 6  mm

SM 31 - 10 * 8,5 mm - Sold

For every over-cooked more ancient bead there are hundreds of oil cooked beads.

Is it a coincidence that oil cooked beads in mass production appeared on the historic Indian scene at the same time as the rise of the use of money, nishka? I don't think so. The oil-cooked beads fulfilled the need of currency before the minted coins took hold. For a long time, bead-coins and metal coins most probably have coexisted. In this process of monetization of beads, the production of the over-cooked beads had to make way for the oil-cooked one out of two simple reasons.

Oil-cooked beads were more durable and were not likely to break when shifting hands in circulation.

Oil-cooked beads were less individual and artistic. When cooked in oil the beads tend more to look like each other, which is an advantage when used as currency.
With the rise of urban trade, artistic beads had to give way to the more consistent mass production of bead-currency.


In a way, all ancient beads are amulets - if one think they are. The 'amuletic' power of a bead can never be isolated from the particular belief system in which the owner of the bead orients himself. In my view the world is constructed out of collective minds accepting the same story told reality. The naming of beads is part of the same game. Should we call these beads Sulemani, Bhaisayaguru or Babagoria beads? Each name attracts a certain collective reality, and these 'realities' will fight internally about who is the most real reality.
Beauty is my religion
My belief system is centered around beauty - not beautiful beauty, not a perfect beauty, but transcendent beauty hidden in the perfection of the imperfect. I would call it the sublime. Imperfect, fragile bead amulets like these ancient over cooked beads are full of story telling like faces of old men and women. Therefore I call these beads sublime, and that is why I wrote a praise to the scarred bead.
To see the world as a story told reality or maybe even fantasy is in fact very close to the ancient Indian philosophy and according to my observations exactly the part of Indian religious culture that originated, not from the Arian invasion, but from India's own ancient super culture: the Indus culture.
Where we in the West tend to describe all mind made realities as unreal in opposition to
positivistic science, the ancient Indian thinking is one step ahead in pointing out - long time before the quantum physicists - that the observer is actually creating the observed.
Therefore beads have the power you observe them with.

But why ancient beads? Why not something plastic fantastic?
Exoplanetarian beauties
When I look at these worn and torn ancient dry &hot cooked beads - sometimes looking like exoplanets from far away solar systems - I am taken by awe. They are the eye bead displayed above full of fragile cracks emitting ancient light. Their swirling unpredictability makes them perfect as amulets setting the course for my own unknown future.
The typical Asian collectors would not like them due to their imperfections.

I however, observe this imperfection as perfectly imperfect.

An ancient bead is due to its history and aesthetic appearance an ideal focus point for meditative concentration of the powers of and in the mind. The scars, marks, and cracks are ancient signatures of time itself.
It is an ideal hub where the Soul and the zero can meet, but not in the ideal formlessness of the zero alone. Because by accepting the scar as beautiful, you accept the imperfect life you live as beautiful. No need of escaping into the perfect, but depersonalized space of the zero.

The wonderful ancient big holed ball beads displayed here illustrates the ancient bead makers preference to put the hole as far as possible in the center of the eye.

The reasons for placing the hole in the eye could be several. One is most probably religious and symbolic. The other could be purely out of aesthetic reasons. It is worth noting that the hole in a bead also resembles a zero. This is particularly interesting because it was the Indians who invented the zero. The Hindi name for zero is still today the word shoonyo, an old Buddhist word for the fundamental perfect emptiness of existence.


Illustration 9

SM 32 - 14,5 * 11

SM 33  - 15 * 12 mm  (Afghanistan) - Sold

SM 34  - 11,5 * 10 mm

SM 35  - 10 * 8,5 mm

SM 36  - 11,5 * 11 mm

SM 37  - 9 * 7 mm

SM 38  - 10 * 9,5 mm -Sold

SM 39 - 10 * 8,5 mm

SM 40  - 9 * 7,5 mm

SM  41 - 9 * 7,5 mm -Sold

SM 42 - 8 * 6,5 mm

SM 43  - 7,5 * 6,5 mm -S

SM 44  - 6 * 5 mm -Sold

SM  45 - 6,5 * 5,5 mm

SM  46 - 7,5 * 5,5 mm -Sold

SM 47 - 6 * 5 mm


Below you can observe a few beads with holes drilled with apparently no considerations to the eye patterns. The reasons for this could be several. Mainly I think it is due to technicalities, in the sense that the very nature of the stone could demand the hole to be drilled in a
particular place.

The hole could also be p
ut as you can observe in the beads below out of other aesthetic motivations. The reason could also be due to a bead makers ignorance or not caring about symbolic eyes. There were countless centers for bead making in India - both seen in a historical and geographical view.

Most probably these centers had different cultural and religious views. As there always in ancient India were many different gods and religions there must also have been a lot of difference in the context of mindsets.

So it is possible that we had centers of bead making where the bead makers did not care about symbolic eyes and holes. It is here worth to remember that India had a great time of skepticism and atheism already 100 years before the birth of the Buddha.


Illustration 10

SM 48 -  9 * 7 mm

SM 49 - 12 * 9 mm -S

SM 50 - 7 mm -Sold

SM 51 - 7 mm -Sold

SM 52 - 8 * 6 mm


This ancient bead displayed below has no hole. It never made it the whole way to the end of the manufacturing process. It is not uncommon to find such beads.

The wonderful beads SM 53,54 and 55 just below are ancient. However, they were found without hole. So the finders of the beads drilled new holes in them. Unfortunately, my scanner is somehow not able to catch the true translucent beauty of these beads.


SM 53 - 11 mm - a bead whithout hole

SM 54  -  15 mm

SM 55 - 14 mm

SM 56 - 13,5 mm


In the following section you can, if you like, try to see the difference between the two kinds of agate. Since I hunt the older dry & hot cooked agate beads, most of the beads displayed below belong to that category.


SM 57 - 18 * 7 * 6 mm

SM 58 - 17 * 8,5 * 7 mm


SM  59 - 12 * 7 mm

SM 60  - 12 * 6,5 mm

SM 61  - 12 * 8 mm

SM 62  - 9 * 7 * 6 mm

SM 63 - 11 * 6,5 mm

SM 64 - 12,5 * 7 mm

SM 65 -

SM 66  - 11,5 * 6 mm

SM 67 - 14 * 7 mm

SM 68 - 12 * 7,5 mm

SM 69 - 10,5 * 5 mm

SM 70  - 9,5 * 7 mm

SM 71 - 13 * 6 mm

SM 72 - 9 * 5 mm

SM 73 - 12 * 6 mm

SM 74  - 15 * 6  mm

SM 75  - 14 * 4 mm

SM 76 - 12,5 * 7 mm

SM 77 - 9 * 7,5 mm

SM 78  - 10 * 7 mm

SM 79 - 9 * 5 mm

SM  80 - 9 * 5,5 mm

SM 81  - 9 * 7 mm

SM 82  - 8 * 6  mm

SM 83  - 9 * 8 mm

SM 84 - 8 * 7  mm

SM  85 - 11 * 6 * 4 mm

SM 86   - 9 * 7 * 4,5 mm

SM 87   - 14 * 8 mm
Note the very rare blues stripe


SM  88  - 11 * 7 mm

SM 89  - 12 * 5,5 mm

SM 90  - 11 * 5  mm

SM 91  -  9 * 5 mm

SM 92  - 9 * 6 mm


SM 93  - 8,5 * 5,5 mm

SM 94  - 8,5 * 5 * 4 mm

SM 95  - 9 * 6  mm

SM 96  - 8 * 5 mm

SM 97  - 11 * 8,5 * 6 mm

SM  98 - 10 * 6,5 mm

SM  99 - 8 * 6,5 mm

SM  100 -

SM  101 - 10 * 11 mm

SM 102  - 5 * 8 mm

SM 103   - 5 * 6 * 5,5 mm

SM 104   - 25 * 7 mm

SM 105  - 17,5 * 7 mm


SM 106  - 18,5 * 12 mm

SM 107  - 17 * 6,5 mm

SM  108 - 16 * 7 mm


SM  109 - 6 * 5 mm

SM 110  - 6 * 6,5 mm

SM 111  - 7 * 6 mm

SM  112 - 7,5 * 6,5 mm

SM 113  - 7 * 6,5 mm

SM 114  - 7 mm

SM 115  - 7 * 6 mm

SM 116  - 7 * 6 mm

SM 117  - 7 mm

 SM 118  - 7 * 5 mm

SM 119  - 8 mm

SM 120  - 8 mm -Sold

SM 121  - 8 * 7 mm

SM 122  - 8 mm

SM 123  - 8 * 7 mm

SM 124  - 8 * 7 mm

SM 125   - 9 * 7,5 mm

SM 126  - 9 * 6,5 mm

SM 127  - 9 * 7 mm -Sold

SM 128  - 9 * 6,5 mm

SM  129 - 9,5, * 8,5 mm

SM 130   - 9 * 10 mm

SM 131   - 10 * 7 mm -Sold

SM 132  - 10 * 9,5 mm

SM 133  - 10 * 12 mm -Sold

SM 134  - 10 * 6,5 mm -Sold

SM 135  - 10 * 10,5 mm

SM 136(1)  - 11  *  9  mm -Sold

SM 137  - 11,5, * 7,5  mm

SM 138  - 11 * 7 mm

SM 139   - 11 * 10,5 mm

SM  140 - 14 mm

SM 141  - 14 * 12 mm
Ancient bead with a new hole

This wonderful flat oval tabular, natural banded Sulemani agate bead displayed blow has a beautiful patina and a unique pattern. This bead has been heat treated with honey or sugar.


SM 185  -  26 * 23 * 12 mm
Origin: The Himalayas

Period: 300 B.C. to 1000 A.D.


SM 186  - 27 * 18 mm

Sulemani pendant beads

SM 187  - 22 * 9,5 mm

SM 188  - 15 * 8 mm

SM 189  - 21 * 9 * 7 mm

SM 190  - 11,5 * 9 mm


SM  191  - 14 * 9 mm

Buddhist Bhaisajyaguru beads

Sulemani agate was as mentioned in the beginning used by Sufi Moslem Faqirs and before that, they were used as Buddhist prayer beads. Especially Afghanistan is interesting in this context. Afghanistan was a predominantly Buddhist culture up to 1000 AD!

The ball shaped Sulemani beads are also known as Bhaisajyaguru beads. These Prayer beads remove according to the Tibetan tradition, roots of diseases, ensures health and longevity. In Mahayana Buddhism, Bhaisajyaguru represents the healing aspect of the historical Buddha Sakyamuni. These beads have been in the hands of beings with pure intentions for generations. Some of these beings may even have been enlightened!


Here you can see the wonderful Bhaisajyaguru eye bead from Afghanistan that is displayed on the top of the page Bead Magic. It really shows that the bead hole itself actually can serve as a Magic Eye!

SM 0 - 14 * 14 mm

And here are some boxes to buy from:
Note the peculiar bluish light in these rare specimens


Click on boxes for larger picture








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