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Indian Religions in the Global Emerald Trade: A Photo Essay


  • Brian Brazeal


The Indian emerald trade has traditionally been controlled by members of the Jain religious community. Jain emerald traders are deeply pious and ascetic. The emerald business as it is practiced outside of India is rife with violence, lying, cheating, sexual exuberance, and a deep attachment to shiny green stones. There seemed to be a contradiction between the model of personal piety envisioned by Jainism and their participation in such an impious economy. Jain traders and philosophers explained that there was no contradiction at all. Hindus and Muslims join their Jain counterparts in Jaipur's Johari Bazaar, or Jewelers’ Market. Together, these three religious communities have created a moment of peaceful, profitable, and predictable exchange in the global gemstone economy. Photography has long been an integral part of the gemstone business. Rarely, however, do we catch a glimpse into the lives of the men who mine, manufacture, and distribute these stones around the world. This photo essay locates these people in their social, economic, and especially religious contexts. The emerald trade follows the contours of religious communities. While it is not possible to convey the content of a religious ethic in a photograph, it is possible to show people living out those ethics.

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