Last Updated: 28th Jan 2008

Daniel Russell

Folkmyths in the area around Khambat (“Camaby”) in Gujarat Province, India, state that the ancient agate mining and cutting industries in that region were started by Baba Ghor, a circa 1500AD merchant from Ethiopia who had led a large contingent of Muslims to settle in the area. Both agate mining and agate cutting clearly predate Baba Ghor’s arrival in Gujarat. Some scholars have suggested that the agate resources of the region were known to Ptolemic Rome. But little of the agate mines or Cambay gemcutters appear in European literature until circa 1500, strangely coincident with the same period that Baba Ghor was introducing an industry into the area. Italian explorer Ludovico di Varthema mentions the “carnelian hills seventy miles from Cambay.” Portuguese trader Duarte de Barbosa states relative to carnelian, “they extract it in large pieces, and there are cunning craftsmen here who shape it, bore it, and make it up in divers fashions, that is to say: long, eigh sided, round, and olive leaf shapes, also rings, knobs for hilts of short swords and daggers, and other ways.” 

Dr. Valentine Ball, an Irish born geologist who served 17 years in India before returning home to take up the post as Professor of Mineralogy at University of Dublin. In 1881, just before he returned to Ireland, Ball published a detailed account on the agate cutting industry at Khambat:

Four agates, the common, the moss, the Kapadvanj, and the veined, rank next to the Rajpipla carnelians. The common agate is of two kinds, a white half-clear stone called dola or cheshamdar, and a cloudy or streaked stone called jamo. The colour varies, but is generally a greyish-white. Both kinds come from north-east Kattywar near Mahedpur in Morvi, 3 miles from Tankara. Of the stones, which lie in massive blocks near the surface, the most perfect do not exceed five pounds in weight, while those of inferior quality, in many cases cracked, weigh as much as sixty pounds. These stones are brought to the Cambay dealers by merchants, who, paying a royalty to the Morvi chief, hire labourers, generally Kolis, to gather them. When worked up, the common agate is a greyish-white, and being hard, brittle, and massive, it takes a high polish. 

Like the common agate, the moss agate, suabhaji, comes from Bud-Kotra, 3 miles from Tankara in Morvi. Found in the plain about 2 feet under the surface in massive layers often cracked, and from half a pound to forty pounds in weight, they are gathered in the same way as the common agate. When worked up, they take a fine polish, showing, on a base of crystal, sometimes clear, sometimes clouded, tracings as of dark-green or red-brown moss.

Besides from the town of Kapadvanj in Kaira, where, as its name shows, the Kapadvanj agate is chiefly found, this stone is brought from the bed of the river Majam, between the villages of Amliyara and Mandva, about 15 miles from Kapadvanj. It is found on the banks and in the beds of rivers, in round kidney and almond-shaped balls from half a pound to ten pounds in weight. Picked up by Bhils, they are sold to a Mandva Bohora, who disposes of them to the Cambay stone-merchants at from 6s. to 24s. for forty pounds (Rs. 3-12 a maund). When worked up the Kapadvanj agate takes a high polish. It varies much in colour and pattern. In some cases they are variegated; in others they have forms of finely-marked plans grouped into landscape and other views. The trade names of the chief varieties are khaiyuagiyu, and ratadiyu.

The most valued Cambay agate, the veined agate, doradar, comes from Ranpur in Ahmedabad. Found near the surface in pebbles of various shapes, not more than half a pound in weight, they are gathered in the same way as moss agates, and when worked up take a high polish, showing either a dark ground with white streaks, or dark veins on a light background. 

Of other Cambay stones the chief are the jasper or bloodstone, the chocolate stone, a variegated pebble known as maimariam, crystal, the lapis-lazuli or azure stone, the obsidian or jet, and the blue-stone, piroja

Of these the first four are found in Guzerat. The rest are foreign stones brought from Bombay. The jasper, heliotrope, or bloodstone comes from the village of Tankara in Morvi, about 20 miles north of Rajkot; found on and near the foot of Bhag hill, in massive layers of from half a pound to forty pounds, it is gathered in the same way as the agate. When worked up it takes a high polish, varying in colour from lila chhantdar, a green variety with red streaks or spots, to the finer patolia, whose green base is more equally mixed with red and yellow. The chocolate stone , comes from Tankara in Morvi; found on the surface, or a few feet under ground, in masses of from one to eight pounds, it is too soft and earthy to take a high polish. Maimariam is a liver-brown, marbled with yellowish marks of shells and animalculae. Dug in blocks of considerable size at Dhokavada on the Ran of Cutch, about 60 miles north of Deesa, it is too soft to take a high polish. Cambay crystal, phatak, comes from Tankara in Morvi, where it is found in masses of from one to twenty pounds. As clear as glass it takes a high polish. The best Cambay crystal comes from Madras, Ceylon, and China. Lapis-lazuli, or azure stone, rajavarat, is deep-blue with a sprinkling of silvery or golden spots; a foreign stone coming to Cambay through Bombay, it is found in rounded balls in Persian and Bokharan river-beds. It is too soft and earthy to take a high polish. Jet, or black stone, kola phatar, is also foreign coming through Bombay from the hills of Bassora and Aden, where it is found in large blocks. Like glass in fracture, it is not very heavy, and takes a high polish (it is probably obsidian). The Cambay jet trade has almost entirely ceased. The Cambay blue-stone is not the true piroja or turquois, but a composition imported from China in flat pieces of not more than half a pound in weight. Like blue glass in appearance, though soft, it takes a good polish. 

The rough stone generally passes through three processes, sawing, chiselling, and polishing. When a stone is to be sawn it is brought to a strong frame of two wooden uprights, joined at the foot by a cross-board, and at the top by a strong rope doubled and tightened by a stick. The stone is then laid on the cross-board, and fixed firmly to it by a cement of coarse bees'-wax and cloth fibres. The saw, a slight toothless iron plate in a light wooden frame, is then brought up, and, according to the size of the stone, is worked by one or two men. To smooth its freshly-cut faces, a mixture of ground emery, fine sand, and water, is kept dropping into the cleft in which the saw works. To chisel it into shape the stone is taken to a slanting iron spike, khondia, driven into the ground till only the head is left above the surface. Laying against the edge of this spike the part of the stone to be broken off, the workman strikes with a horn-headed hammer till all roughness has been removed. The article is now handed over to the polisher. He takes it to a platform 16 inches long by 6 broad and 3 thick. In this platform are two strong uprights, and between the uprights a wooden roller, 8 inches long and 3 in diameter, fastened into a head at one end. This roller works on an iron spindle or axle. On the one end, the axle is screwed and fitted with a nut to which certain plates or discs can be made fast. These grinding or polishing plates are made of emery mixed with seed lac. The emery, karanj, of greyish-black, is carefully powdered and glistening. The preparation of emery varies in fineness according to the nature of the work. For rough work the proportion is three parts of ground emery to one of lac; for medium work the proportion is two and a half pounds of finely powdered emery to one of lac; and, for the finest work, lac and carnelian dust, vari, are used in equal quantities. Besides the composition plates a copper disc is occasionally used for polishing very hard stone, such as Ceylon cats'-eyes and other precious stones, and for the softer sort of pebbles, a plate of teak or other close-grained wood is used. Fastening in its place on the roller the disc best suited to the stone to be polished, the workman, squatting on his hams, steadies the machine with his foot. A bow, with its string passed round the wooden roller, is held in his right hand, and by moving the bow backwards and forwards, the roller and with it the polishing plate is whirled round, while the article to be polished is held in the workman's left hand, and as it revolves is pressed against the outer face of the polishing disc.

Besides these three regular processes, certain articles require special treatment. After beads have been chiselled into shape, to smooth their surface, a number are fixed in a pair of wooden or bamboo clamps, and rubbed on a coarse and hard smoothing stone called dholia. Next they are grasped in a grooved clamp, and rubbed along a wooden polishing board called patimar. The surface of this board is cut into grooves, and roughened by a composition of emery and seed lac. To give beads their final brilliancy, from one to several thousands of them, are, along with emery dust and fine carnelian powder, thrown into a strong leather bag, about 2 feet long and from 10 to 12 inches across. The mouth of the bag is tied, and a flat leather thong is passed round its centre. Seated at opposite ends of a room, two men, each holding one end of this leather thong, drag the bag backwards and forwards. This rolling lasts from ten to fifteen days, and during the whole time the bag is kept moistened with water. "When the polishing is complete, the beads are handed over to have holes bored. This is done by a diamond-tipped steel drill, and as the drill works water is dropped into the hole through a thin narrow reed or metal tube. Cut beads are polished on the wheel as well as rubbed on the smoothing stone, and knife-handles are prepared in the same way as cut beads. In making cups, saucers, and other hollow articles, the outside is first chiselled into shape and ground on the smoothing stone. To hollow the inside, the diamond-tipped drill is worked to the depth of the fourth of an inch all over the space, till the surface is honeycombed with drill holes. The prominent places round these holes are then chipped away till a hollow of the desired depth has been formed. The inside is then polished on a convex mould, of the same composition as the polishing plates, and like them fastened to the polishing wheel. Miniature cannons are bored by diamond-tipped drills. A small headed drill is first worked, and then the number of diamonds on the head is gradually increased from two to a circle of twelve. Flat ornaments, such as paper-cutters, paperweights and ornamental slabs, are cut into layers of the required thickness by the toothless saw. 

Cambay agate ornaments belong to three classes : those suited for the Chinese, the Arab, and the European markets. For the Chinese market, carnelian ornaments only are in demand. Of these there are two kinds, flat stones named muglaigul, and beads called dol. The flat stones, oval, square, and like watch seals, are worn in China as armlets and dress ornaments. Plain polished round beads are made into necklaces of fifty stones each. For the Arab markets, the stones most in demand are Ranpur agates, Ratanpur carnelians, cats'-eyes, and bloodstone." These are wrought into both plain and ornamental ring stones, necklaces, wristlets, and armlets. Of necklaces there are those made of cut beads, peludar dol; of diamond-cut beads,gokhendar dol; of almond-shaped beads, badaini dol; and of spearhead-shaped beads, chamkali dol. Again, there are necklaces of three stones called madalia or tavit, and of plain round beads used as rosaries as well as necklaces. Of armlets and wristlets there are those of two stones, mota madalia, worn either on the arm or wrist; wristlets of seven round flat stones, patia; wristlets of several flat stones, ponchi; armlets of one stone cut into different fanciful devices, baju; and single stones in the shape of large flat seals, nimgol. Rings, anguthi, and stones for setting as rings, nagina, are also made of carnelian and cats'-eyes. For the European markets, the ornaments most in demand are models of cannon with carriage and trappings, slabs for boxes or square tables, cups and saucers, chessman, flower-vases, pen-racks, card and letter racks, watch-stands, inkstands, knife-handles, rulers, paper-cutters, penholders, necklaces, bracelets, brooches, paper-weights, crochet needles, silk winders, marbles, brace and shirt studs, seals, and rough stones polished on one side. Within the last thirty years (1851), part of the trade with Arabia lay through Veraval in South-west Kattywar. At present (1878), except a very small supply for the Sind and Kabul markets taken by the horse-dealers and other Afghans who visit Cambay, the whole produce is bought by Bombay merchants, chiefly of the Bohora caste, and by them sent from Bombay to China, Arabia, and Europe. 

According to the latest details, the trade in Cambay stones at present supports about 600 families of skilled workmen, and from 500 to 600 unskilled labourers. The skilled workmen are all Kanbis, the labourers Musalmans and Kolis. The whole body of skilled workmen includes four distinct classes, each engaged on a separate process. Compared with the 1850 returns, the figures for 1878 show a fall from 200 to 100 in the number of polishers on the rough stone, dolias. On the other hand, the workers on the lapidaries wheel, ghasias, have remained steady at 300; the drillers, vindhars, and the polishers on the wooden frame, patimars, at 50. 

[Ball adds as a footnote: “Within the last thirty years about 167 families of agate workers have abandoned their craft. Of these, 7 have pone to Ahmedabad; 10 to Baroda; 25 to Bombay ; and 125 have become cultivators in Cambay. Those in Ahmedabad have taken to silk-weaving; those in Baroda to tobacco-selling, polishing precious stones and weaving; those in Bombay to stone-polishing and glass-mending. The Bombay settlers still keep up their connection with Cambay, going there for marriage and death ceremonies. They have also, both publicly and in their houses, shrines representing the tomb of the founder of their craft. (These and some of the particulars about the trade uuions have been obtained from one of the Kanbis settled in Bombay.) “]

Each process is carried on in a distinct workshop. At the head of each, workshop, karkana, is a well-to-do Kanbi known as thekarkhanawala, or head of the factory. This headman, though generally not above working with his own hands, has under him, besides a varying number of labourers, from two to ten skilled workers. The skilled workers, all grown men, as women and children do not help, receive monthly wages, each according to the work he has done ; the unskilled labourers, many of them boys, are paid by the day or as their services are wanted. From the richest of the workshop heads, the highest class of agate workers, the agate dealers, akikias, are recruited. The akikia, who must be a man of some capital, buys the stones as they come rough into the Cambay market. In his factory the rough stones are sawn and chiselled, and then, according to the nature of the stone and the use to which it is to be put, he hands it over to the headman of one of the polishing factories. When the work is completed, the Cambay dealer disposes of the finished articles to the agate merchants of Bombay, or sends them through Bombay to Calcutta, China, or Jedda. According to the returns, the number of agate dealers, akikias, in Cambay has, during the last twenty-five years, fallen from 100 to 50. 

In each branch of the craft the heads of factories form a distinct guild or i>panchayat. There is the guild of polishers on stone,dolla panchayat; of polishers on wood, patimar panchayat; of workers on the lapidaries' wheel, ghasia panchayat; and of drillers,vindhar panchayat. Above them is the dealers' guild, akikia panchayat, in whose factories the work of sawing and chiselling is carried on. Over each of these guilds a headman, chosen by the votes of the members, presides. There is no combination among the workers in the different factories, and there is no record of any dispute between the workers and their employers. Any skilled worker, who raises himself to be head of a factory, may become a member of the guild of the branch of the craft to which he belongs. On joining a guild the new-comer is expected to give a feast to the members, the expense varying from £17 10s to £80 (Rs. 175-800). He is at the same time required to pay the Nawab a fee of from £1 10s. to £10 (Rs. 15-100). [Some years ago the details were, to join the dolia guild, £19 (£17 10s in dinners and £1 10s for the Nawab); to join the ghasia guild, £37 (£35 in dinners and £2 for the Nawab); to join the patimar guild £15 (£12 10s. in dinners and £2 10s. for the Nawab) ; and to join theakikia guild, £90 (£80 in dinners and £10 for the Nawab). At present (1876) a fee is paid to the Nawab only on joining the akikia guild.]

From time to time the members of a guild hold a feast, meeting the charges out of the common funds. In any factory, if one of the skilled workers wishes to have a son taught the craft, or if a new hand is anxious to join, he gives a dinner to the head of the workshop and to the other skilled workers. Except in making arrangements for the unpaid service due to the Nawab, the trade funds would seem to be applied to no purpose but that of entertaining the members. When a guild feast is held, if one of its members chances to be sick, his share of the dinner is sent him. With this exception, the practice of using trade funds to support the sick or those out of work, or to provide for widows and orphans, is unknown. 

On paying the Nawab a fee, and agreeing to meet the customary charges, including a yearly subscription of £1 4s. (Rs. 12), any member of one of the under-guilds may become a dealer, akikia. About four years ago, the heavy cost of joining the akikia guild caused a dispute. Certain of the polishers, ghasias, claimed the right to deal in stones without becoming members of the akikiaguild. The regular dealers were too strong for them, and failing to get any business, they were forced to leave Cambay. With some families of drillers they retired to Ahmedabad. But finding themselves no better off there, they returned to Cambay. 

The guilds are useful in arranging for the service due to the Nawab. When the Nawab wants a lapidary, he tells the dealers’ guild what work he wishes done. The chief of the dealers sends to the master of one workshop in each branch of the craft, telling him what is wanted, and asking him if he will undertake the duty. If he agrees — and there is generally in each class one master-worker who undertakes the Nawab's orders — he receives from £5 to £6 (Rs. 50-60) from the guild funds. Among guild rules, one forbids master-workers engaging the services of workmen belonging to another factory. Another lays down certain days, amounting in all to about two months in the year, to be kept as holidays. Breaches of the rules are punished by fines varying from 2s 6d. to 5s. (Rs. 1¼ - 2½).

The actual value of the trade is less extensive than may have been concluded from the above; in 1805 it was estimated at Rs. 62,230; in 1843 Rs. 94,900; and the returns for the five years ending 1878 give an average of Rs. 70,000.


Ball, V. A Manual Of The Geology Of India. Part III. Economic Geology, Calcutta 1881

Francis, Peter Jr. (1986) Baba Ghor and the Ratanpur Rakshisha Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 29, No. 2 (Jun., 1986), pp. 198-205

Harris, Joseph E. (2003) Expanding the Scope of African Diaspora Studies: The Middle East and India. Radical History Review - Issue 87, Fall 2003, pp. 157-168