Magical Seeds From India

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Magical Seeds From India: Manjadikuru
Also Known As Circassian Seeds (U.S. & Britain) and Jumbie Beads (Caribbean)

© W.P. Armstrong (Updated 16 February 2010)

The owner of a magical seed will be granted
a wish for each elephant contained inside it.

Magic Seed On U.S. Penny
Many years ago, a student brought a shiny red seed to the Life Sciences general biology laboratory. A tiny carved elephant protruded from the seed, like a fancy stopper on an expensive bottle of whiskey. The seed was attached to a card giving a brief description and history. According to the card, the "magic charm bean" comes from the "kunda-mani" which is the "good luck tree" of India. This is the famous seed (kuru) of the manjadi tree (manjadikuru).

  How Large Is Penny In Above Image  

Circassian seed containing 12 tiny elephants, good for a dozen wishes.

Significance Of 12 Elephants Within The Magical Seeds

The significance of 12 elephants and the magical red seeds obviously centers around the sacred temple of Guruvayoor in the state of Kerala on the tropical Malabar coast of southwestern India. A large uruli, a heavybottomed vessel, is placed near the entrance to the sanctum of the temple and it is filled with bright red "manjadikuru" seeds. It is believed that the devotee who places his hands in the uruli and ploughs through the seeds three times is cured of all diseases and attains prosperity. The main festival celebrated at the Guruvayoor temple is the Ekadasi of the Mandala season (November - December) when a procession of caparisoned elephants is taken out to honor Guruvayoor Kesawan, an elephant gifted to the temple by the king of Nilambur and was famed for his sheer devotion to the Lord. Seevelis (elephant ride of the idol around the temple) and the 12 day Carnatic Music Festival are also held during the same time. The temple's annual festivities (Utsavam) are held in February - March and a mock elepant race is the highlight of this festival.

The following story about manjadikuru seeds is from "A Tale to Tell From Guruvayur"
by Anjali Menon (April 2008), available on-line at

The lucky red seeds or Manjadikuru are placed in Krishna temples in the state of Kerala. The origin of this practice lies in folklore of the temple of Guruvayur. Guruvayur temple houses the deity of Vishnu, and this particular idol is believed to have been worshipped by Lord Krishna of Dwaraka in ancient Hindu mythology. According to the story, a peasant woman who lived in the northern province of Kerala was an ardent devotee of Krishna and aspired to someday visit Guruvayur temple. It was customary to bring offerings to the temple, but she was too poor to afford any gifts. She knew of an old tree that shed beautiful shiny red seeds, so she gathered a pouchful of them. Leaving the safety of her home and loved ones, she set out on her quest to reach Guruvayur. It was a long, perilous journey on foot during which she had to traverse rivers and deep forests.

Four days later she arrived in Guruvayur. Apparently it was the first day of the month, and the local ruler or Naaduvazhi would visit the temple on the first of every month. To display his devotion, he would donate an elephant every month as an offering to Krishna. Officers of the Naaduvazhi cleared people away from the path to make room for the ruler and his elephant. During the procession the women was knocked to the ground, spilling her precious pouch of red seeds on the ground. Immediately the elephant went beserk and began to run wild. People ran for their lives as the mad elephant began to destroy everything in its path. Unable to control the elephant, the Naaduvazhi prayed to Krishna for a solution to this dangerous dilemma. Suddenly a voice was heard from within the temple: "Where is my Manjadikuru? Where is my devotee, who you have insulted and hurt? Where is my gift that she lovingly put together?"

As the story goes, the people apologized to the woman and gathered up her seeds that were scattered on the ground. With her pouch full of seeds she was escorted into the sanctum of the temple. After submission of her offering, the elephant returned to normal. In memory of her offering, even to this day, a large urn of shiny red seeds is kept within the temple.

Hindu legend states that the owner of this seed will be granted a secret wish for each miniature hand-carved elephant contained inside it. I never paid much attention to the bright red seed given to me many years before. In fact, I never even checked to see if it really did contain twelve elephants. Years later on a Palomar College field trip to the Virgin Islands, our class discovered a tree on the island of Saint John which produced this remarkable seed. In fact, there were literally thousands of the red seeds beneath the tree, showering down from hundreds of dried pods on the branches above us. The shiny red seeds (resembling Red Hot® candies or Sudafed® tablets) are often referred to as "Circassian seeds," presumably in reference to the legendary beauty of the ancient land of Circassia. But the seeds beneath the trees contained only the cotyledons and embryos of a true leguminous seed, with no miniature elephants inside. Later I rediscovered my little gift from that dear student of 3 decades ago, and sure enough when I removed the elephant stopper, the seed contained twelve miniature elephants. The elephants appeared to be carved out of bone or ivory, but exactly how this was done remains an enigma (see Addendum). The tiny elephants are very flat, as though they were shaved off of a stock material. Although some have a definite elephant shape, others resemble elephants with a little imagination. This story is perhaps one of the most remarkable of all the Wayne's Word Noteworthy Plants.

Circassian seeds are produced by a tropical Asian tree called the red sandalwood (Adenanthera pavonina), a beautiful tree of the legume family (Fabaceae) with pinnately compound leaves and dense racemes of fragrant, creamy-yellow blossoms. It is also called the "bead tree," "necklace tree," and "peacock flower-fence." On many islands of the Caribbean, the bright red seeds produced by this tree are known as "jumbie beads." The generic name Adenanthera comes from the Greek aden (a gland) and anthera (anther), referring to minute glands on the anthers. The slender, flattened pods become contorted and twisted as they split open at maturity, and each pod releases up to a dozen brilliant red, lens-shaped, extremely hard seeds. The hard, reddish wood of this tree is used for cabinet-making. It is often used in place of true sandalwood (Santalum album, Santalaceae), except it gradually becomes purplish-red due to light exposure. For this reason, in many areas of tropical Asia it is known as "red sandalwood." Another better known red sandalwood (Pterocarpus santalinum) also belongs to the legume family. The trees are also used extensively as shade trees ("nurse trees") in coffee, clove and rubber plantations of Malaysia and Indonesia. According to the Flora of Ceylon (Volume 1) by M.D. Dassanayake, a red dye is obtained from the wood which is used by Brahmins to mark religious symbols on their foreheads.

  See Dye From The Red Sandalwood  

Compound pinnate leaves, seed pods and bright red seeds ("jumbie beads") of the necklace tree Adenanthera pavonina growing in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Of all the thousands of species of seed-bearing plants on earth, Circassian seeds are certainly one of the most beautiful. The naturally-shiny, bright red seeds are used for leis, necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rosaries throughout the Old and New World tropics. They have a remarkably uniform weight, each seed weighing about four grains. It takes about four seeds to make one gram, and approximately 109 of them to make an ounce.

Thousands of years ago, goldsmiths of Asia used the red seeds in their scales to weigh precious gems, gold and silver. A pearl or diamond weighing 20 grains would be roughly equivalent in weight to five shiny Circassian seeds.

Circassian seeds are very similar in shape and size, and have a remarkably uniform weight of about four grains. It takes about four seeds to make one gram and approximately 109 of them to make an ounce. The head of an ordinary straight pin in the lower right corner shows how small these elephants really are.

  See Straight Pin & Sewing Needle Used In Wayne's Word Articles  

Shiny red Circassian seeds or "jumbie beads" (Adenanthera pavonina) were once used by Goldsmiths of Asia as a standard for weighing precious metals and diamonds. The front center "seed" is actually a Sudafed® tablet.

Chicken eyes (Adenanthera bicolor), another species of Adenanthera native to Sri Lanka. The seeds are similar to Circassian seeds except they have a black spot at one end.

Other species in the legume family (Fabaceae) have bright red seeds, some of which are very poisonous if ingested. Like Circassian seeds, the seeds from a common tropical vine called "precatory bean" or "rosary bean" (Abrus precatorius) were used by Goldsmiths of East Asia. In spite of a deadly protein within the seed called abrin, the red and black seeds of rosary beans were used as standard weights for weighing gold and silver. Each seed has a remarkably uniform weight of 1/10th of a gram. It is the bottom left seed in following image.

A. Erythrina caffra
B. Erythrina sp.
C. Ormosia monosperma
D. Ormosia cruenta
E. Rhynchosia sp.
F. Rhynchosia precatoria
G. Rhynchosia sp.
H. Abrus precatorius
I. Adenanthera pavonina
J. Sophora secundiflora

See The World's Deadliest Plants

Addendum (Summer 2010)

One of the most frequent requests that I receive at Wayne's Word is where to purchase these amazing magical seeds containing 12 elephants. I haven't seen them in gift shops for at least 25 years. The most recent request was from a soldier in Iraq who wanted to buy one for his daughter. Apparently she once had one but unfortunately lost it years ago. In fact, this latest request prompted me to update my site and hopefully find a source for these wonderful seeds.

Another e-mail message from a traveler in India during the late 1950s reports seeing a man in Bombay (Mumbai) carving ivory into miniature elephants and inserting them into hollowed-out red seeds. What is very unusual about this report is the number of elephants contained inside each seed: up to 100 or more! This reported seed may be different from the ones I have seen. The tiny elephants also appeared to be more realistic than the ones in my seeds. See the following image of my imported seed filled with only 12 elephants. You must use a little imagination on some of the tiny elephants.

There is clearly insufficient room for 100 elephants in my Circassian seeds imported from India.

In July 2010, I received yet another e-mail message reporting seeds with 100 elephants and 500 elephants owned by a Lutheran missionary in India. He describes three different-sized elephants. The artist had to wear a magnified eyepiece in order to carve the minute elephants. According to this writer, the practice was outlawed because it caused severe eye damage and even blindness. This statement was cooroborated by another writer who describes why a vendor in San Diego no longer sold the seeds at Kobe Swap Meet in the late 1980s. "He sold imported goods from around the world and he always had those little beans. One day (in approx. 1987) he was out of them and when I asked when he would have more, he replied "Never." He explained that the beans were often made by children who were, indeed, going blind as a result of the working conditions and attention to minute detail. I was heartbroken to learn this and apparently never coveted the beans the same way there after, as I no longer have a single bean in my possession."

Just when I think I have seen everything about carved Circasian seeds, I received another fascinating e-mail message in August 2010. The attached image showed 12 tiny carved animals, but only one was an elephant! The others included a giraffe, lion, wild boar, horse and possibly a camel. I am not certain about the identity of the other 6. Stay tuned for more information about this latest revelation. See the following image:

A variation in the contents of a Circassian seed compared with dressmaker's pin

Although several people stated that some Circassian seeds contained 100 tiny elephants, I doubted this based on observations of my seeds. Then in February 2013, I received a remarkable image from a woman who lived in Pakistan as a child. Her original Circassian seed apparently had 100 elephants, although the following image shows 73. The elephants are minute, only a few mm in diameter (about the size of the head of an ordinary straight pin)!

  See Straight Pin Used In Wayne's Word Articles  

  • Armstrong, W.P. 2000. "Botanical Jewelry: Necklaces & Bracelets Made From Plants." Wayne's Word: Vol. 9 (1) Spring 2000 (Accsessed 9 July 2010).

  • Francis, Peter, Jr. 1984. "Plants as Human Adornment in India." Economic Botany 38 (2): 194-209.

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