What is Kausthubham?

by Jayaram V

Kausthubha or Kausthubham is a divine gem worn by Vishnu on his chest. It is mentioned in his descriptions and several prayers and invocations addressed to him.

Kausthubham was one of the 13 treasures that emerged from the waters during the churning of the oceans by gods and demons for the immortal nectar (amritam).

Kausthubha was the fifth treasure to emerge. It was gifted to Vishnu and ever since it adores his chest and forms part of his iconography.

Kausthubham and goddess Lakshmi were the two treasures Vishnu received from the gods and demons as gifts and they enhanced his glory.

The gem is depicted in the iconography of not only Vishnu but also several of his incarnations and emanations.

While the gem is frequently mentioned in the Puranas, we find only a few references to it in the Mahabharata, once in Adi Parva and once in Bhishma Parva.

According to some the Jewel represents the brilliance of the sun, an Aditya, an epithet of Vishnu. According to Gopala Uttara Tapani Upanishad, the gem represents consciousness.

According to Vishnu Purana, it stands for the pure Self which Vishnu wears and which is devoid of qualities.

Apart from Kausthubham, there is another gem named Samantaka which was gifted to Satrajit by Surya and he in turn gifted it to Lord Krishna.

In her book Living Divinity, the author Shakuntala Balu narrates a story that in 1978 on the occasion of Krishna's birthday, Sri Satya Sai Baba materialized Kausthubha gem at Whitefield and showed it all those who were present on the occasion. "What they saw was a big emerald, bluish-green and rectangular, surrounded by diamonds, hanging on a golden chain."

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