In positive perspective, pearls are treasured for their luminosity, loveliness and durability.
A European tourist was admiring an Adivasi’s necklace. “What’s it made of?” she asked. The Adivasi replied, “Alligator’s teeth.” Amused, the tourist asked, “So, I guess it’s as valuable for you as pearls are for us?” “Not quite,” replied the native, “Anyone can open an oyster.” Let’s open oysters, so to say, to discover pearls of wisdom within.
Pearls, everyone knows, are produced by oysters — from the presence of irritants that work their way into oysters. Experiencing pain and unrest, oysters begin secreting layer-upon-layer of nacre, which results in luminous, lovely pearls. How wonderful it would be if each of us could convert our irritants into pearls, our foes into friends, our competitors into collaborators!
Pearls are the oldest of the world’s gems, prized for some 4,000 years. Pearls were precious from ancient China — used only for adorning the royal family— up to Egypt where, historian Pliny reports, Queen Cleopatra impressed Roman leader, Mark Antony, by hosting and boasting at a banquet that she could concoct the world’s costliest drink in a jiffy. Incredulous, Mark Antony challenged her. Cleopatra then dissolved one of her pearl earrings into a goblet of vinegary wine and quaffed it, winning the wager. Heady brew, indeed!
Pearls are priceless in religious consciousness. Lord Krishna, it is believed, drew the first lustrous pearl from the depths of the ocean to adorn his daughter Pandaia on her wedding day. Hinduism also associates pearls with the moon, symbolic of love and purity.
In the Bible, pearls are mentioned with positive and negative meanings. In negative nuance, pearls are used by women of loose morals who, like the whore of Babylon, are bedecked with pearls and transact business with them. In positive perspective, pearls are treasured for their luminosity, loveliness and durability.
Jesus compares God’s words to “pearls” and cautions us: “Don’t throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot.” In his parable of the ‘pearl of great price’ Jesus compares God’s kingdom to a “pearl of such great value,” which a judicious jeweller found in a plot of land; and, “sold all he had to buy it.” The parable praises the attitude of the jeweller who recklessly sells everything to procure something which is priceless for him.
Jesus teaches: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be.” What does your heart treasure? Pearls? Gold? Position? Prestige? About the afterlife, the Quran foretells: “Allah will admit those who believe and do righteous deeds to gardens beneath which rivers flow. They will be adorned therein with bracelets of gold and pearls.”
Finally, the Bible speaks of heaven as the “pearly gates”. Instead of hoarding pearls, wouldn’t it be better to earn punya, merit, for those pearly gates?