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Some local words used in the Gem Industry of Sri Lanka

Every industry has its terminologies used by its professionals. Being one of the most precious gemstones producers in the world, Sri Lanka has its own local words used in the gem industry since ancient times. There is no surprise that the majority of those traditional words are in the Sinhalese language and Tamil language due to the involvement of local gem miners.

Words used in the gem mining process

During the gem mining process, the gravel which bears gems is called Illama, while the gem bearing gravel located just below the surface of the earth is called Goda Illama. Illam kamatha is an area reserved to place the illama before washing it. The steel rod which is approximately 4.5 meters is called illam kura, used to measure the depth of illama. After washing the gravel, the remaining materials in the gem baskets are called Nambuwa. Later on, the gemstones collected or found after washing the gravel are cut using, gem cutting machines called Hanaporuwa.

Temporary dwellings near  mining sites are called Patal Vadiya and a temporary hut with cadjan roofs used to guard the illama always is called Mura Vadiya. Massa is the temporary hut covered with similar types of cadjan roof and made of wooden walls. It is the home for the miners during mining periods.

Malava is the kaolinized and micaceous material formed from decomposition below the illama while Kiri-mati malava is Malava rich in Kaolin. Parugala means unweathered bedrock which is found below the Malava.

Leaves from plants called Kakilla and Habarala are shaped like an umbrella that holds water on the surface on those leaves are used among the Karuvhavla, the group of people including miners, finance partners, timber suppliers the working on the mining process. The underground tunnels in a gem mine are called Donava.

Mahavamsa which is an excellent chronicle of the history of Sri Lanka is one of the main sources of the written history of Sri Lanka provides valuable information on the ancient gem industry of the island. Having a majority of Buddhists in the country, gemstones are used in temples too. A  gem quartz gemstone that is cut and polished and placed at the top of the Buddhist pagodas are called kotha.

Names of stones and effects

The rare orange-pink type of corundum (sapphire) found only in Sri Lanka are referred to as Padparascha, which is a Tamil word. (Padmaraga in the Sinhalese language, where the Padma means lotus and Raga means colour). Similarly, Pushparaga means the yellow variety of sapphire (Yellow Sapphire). Zircons of gem quality are known as Jargoon.

Though it is unknown, the word Tourmaline is derived from the Tamil and Sinhalese word Toramalli from the Sri Lankan gem industry.

Geuda is a semi-transparent to an opaque type of corundum which may be heat treated to improve the reflections of the stone. Dhum geuda means a geuda with a smoky look. Ottu means corundum gemstones containing colour patches or dots either on the surface or within it which is often found in blue sapphires.

While less valuable gemstones are known as Pajaathi gal such as garnets and zircons, valuable gemstones are known as Jathi gall ((Jathi means precious and gal means stones) such as blue sapphires and alexandrites.

Asterism in gemstones or the six-pointed stars are called Arunula and a feather-like effect in a gemstone is known among the miners as Tharasama, while Pasanama or kowanguwa is referred to as the silky effect noted in some rough sapphires. The silky effect mentioned here gives the star or cat’s eye effect to some cut stones. While small rough gemstones which are not much valuable are called Dalan found during the sorting process. However, sapphires that show a mixture of two colours (Usually blue and red) are known as Dengune. Katta is the almost black coloured gemstones found in the washing baskets not suitable for gem cutting.

9 types of gemstones are referred to as Navaratna namely diamond or white sapphire, yellow sapphire, green tourmaline or emerald, padmaraga, ruby, chrysoberyl cat’s eye, hessonite garnet (gomedaya), blue sapphire and pearl. Similarly, Panchaloha is referred to five different types of precious metals such as silver, copper, gold, platinum and iron.

Hessonite garnet (Cinnamon stone or grossular garnet) which can be set in jewellery to protect the wearer against evil forces coming in the traditional beliefs, is called Gomedaya. Dark jet black blue sapphire is called kakanila that can be set in a ring are also used to protect the wearer against evil forces.

i) Internet Stones.COM
ii) Gems of Sri Lanka (Sixth Revised Edition) by D.H. Ariyaratna FGA, DGA, FGS
iii) Zoroastrianism- WikipediaYou are welcome to discuss this post/related topics with Dr Shihaan and other experts from around the world in our FORUMS (