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Prayer beads

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Prayer beads or Rosaries are used by members of various religions such as Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Bahá'í Faith to count the repetitions of prayers, chants or devotions. They may also be used for meditation, protection from negative energy, or for relaxation.


Using Prayer beads as a tool of meditation is as old as written history. It is not a coincidence that Prayer beads are present in almost every religion.

Prayer beads may have physical, metaphysical and psychological effects on their users. Since the beads are fingered in an automatic manner, they allow the user to keep track of how many prayers have been said with a minimal amount of conscious effort, which in turn allows greater attention to be paid to the prayers themselves.

There are three widely accepted uses for Prayer beads:

  1. Repetition of the same devotion a set (usually large) number of times. This is the earliest form of prayer beads (the Japa Mala) and the earliest Christian form (the prayer rope). This is also the type in use by the Bahá'í Faith
  2. Repetition of several different prayers in some pattern, possibly interspersed with or accompanied by meditations.
  3. Meditation on a series of spiritual themes, as in e.g. Islam or Catholicism.

Prayer beads made with precious stones have attracted people with their colors and charming gloss since ancient times. Since then, each stone has gained special meaning. For instance Native Americans believed that the bones of the people wearing Turquoise wouldn’t be broken and they used to engrave this stone onto their shields during war. It is also known that Turquoise was also very important for Aztec culture where the stone was believed to give protection from evil effects. Again, in Native American culture it was believed that the Agate was good to quench thirst and used for this purpose.

In ancient Greek culture, it was believed that Amethyst would prevent people from becoming drunk and goblets were made of this stone.


The number of beads also vary depending on the different religions, Islamic prayer beads "Tesbih", "Tasbih" or "Misbaha" usually have either 99 or 33 beads. Buddhists and Hindu Brahmanists use "Japa Mala" usually with 27 bead malas, a divisor of 108, or 108 itself, whereas Baha'i Prayer beads consist of either 95 beads or 19 beads strung with the addition of five beads below. Sikhs use a Mala with 108 beads. Greek "komboloi" has an odd number of beads usually one more than a multiple of four, e.g. (4x4)+1, (5x4)+1. Roman Catholics use the "Rosary" (Latin "rosarium", meaning "rose garden") with 54 with an additional five beads whereas Eastern Orthodox Christians use the "Rosary" with 100 knots, although "prayer ropes" with 50 or 33 knots can also be used. [1]


Japa mala (prayer beads) of Tulasi wood with 108 beads - 20040101-01

Hindu Japa mala prayer beads, made from Tulasi wood, with the head bead in the foreground.

The earliest use of prayer beads can be traced to Hinduism, where they are called Japa Mala. Japa is the repeating of the name of a deity or a mantra. Mala (Sanskrit:माला;mālā) means "garland" or "wreath".[2]

Japa mala are used for repetition of a mantra, for other forms of sadhana (spiritual exercise), and as an aid to meditation. The most common mala have 108 beads.[3] The most common materials used for making the beads are Rudraksha seeds (used by Shaivites) and Tulsi stem (used by Vaishnavites).


Buddhist rosary 01

Japanese Zen Buddhist prayer beads (Juzu)

Prayer beads, or Japa Malas, are also used in many forms of Mahayana Buddhism, often with a lesser number of beads (usually a divisor of 108). In Pure Land Buddhism, for instance, 27 bead malas are common. In China such malas are named "Shu-Zhu" (数珠); in Japan, "Juzu". These shorter malas are sometimes called 'prostration rosaries', because they are easier to hold when enumerating repeated prostrations. In Tibetan Buddhism malas are also 108 beads: one mala counts as 100 mantras, and the 8 extra are meant to be dedicated to all sentient beings (the practice as a whole is dedicated at its end as well). In Tibetan Buddhism, often larger malas are used of for example 111 beads: when counting, they calculate one mala as 100 mantras, and the 11 additional beads are taken as extra to compensate for errors.

Various type of materials are used to make mala beads such as seeds of the rudraksha tree, beads made from the wood of the tulasi plant, animal bone, wood or seeds from the Bodhi tree or seeds of the lotus plant. Semi-precious stones like carnelian and amethyst is also used. The most common and least expensive material by comparison is sandalwood.[4]



Greek Orthodox komboskini of 100 knots.

The Desert Fathers of the 3rd to 5th century, used knotted ropes to count prayers, typically the Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner"). The invention is attributed to St Anthony or his associate St Pachomius in the 4th century.

Catholics and some Anglicans use the The Rosary with 54 + additional 5 beads as prayer beads. The Rosary's name comes from the Latin "rosarium", meaning "rose garden" and is an important and traditional devotion of the Roman Catholic Church, combining prayer and meditation in sequences (called "decades") of an Our Father, 10 Hail Marys, and a Glory Be to the Father, as well as a number of other prayers (such as the Apostle's Creed and the Hail Holy Queen) at the beginning and end. Traditionally, a complete Rosary involved the praying of 15 decades: 5 joyful mysteries, 5 sorrowful mysteries and 5 glorious mysteries; Pope John Paul II added an additional five called the 5 luminious mysteries.

Catholics also use prayer beads to pray chaplets. Their rosary beads are composed of crucifix and center which can be made of sterling silver and/or gold; beads are usually made of glass, amethyst, rose quartz stone, crystal, black onyx, lavender glass or pearl. [5]


Eastern Orthodox Christian use "The Rosary" with 100 knots, although "prayer ropes" with 50 or 33 knots can also be used. The loops of knotted wool (or occasionally of beads), called chotki or komboskini to pray the Jesus Prayer. Although among the Orthodox, their use is mainly restricted to monks and bishops, being less common among laity or secular clergy. Among Russian Old Believers, a prayer rope made of leather, called 'lestovka', is more common, although this type is no longer commonly used now by the Russian Orthodox Church. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "The rosary is conferred upon the Greek Orthodox monk as a part of his investiture with the mandyas or full monastic habit, as the second step in the monastic life, and is called his 'spiritual sword'." [6]


Hand-carved Roman Catholic rosary beads.

In the mid-1980s the Anglican Rosary or "Christian prayer beads" was developed in the Episcopal Church[disambiguation needed]. They have since been adopted by some Protestants. The set consists of 33 beads (representing the 33 years of the life of Christ) arranged in four groupings of symbolic significance. Many Anglo-Catholics use the Catholic rosary in addition to or instead of Anglican prayer beads.

Pearls of Life

Pearls of Life

The contemporary "Pearls of Life", invented by Martin Lönnebo, Bishop Emeritus of the Linköping Diocese of the Swedish Lutheran Church, is a set of 18 beads, some round and some elongated, arranged in an irregular pattern. Each one has its own significance as a stimulus and reminder for meditation, although they can also be used for repetitive prayer.



A Misbaha

In Islam, bismillah prayer beads are referred to as Misbaha or Tasbih, and contain 99 beads, corresponding to the 99 Names of Allah. Sometimes only 33 beads are used, in which case one would cycle through them three times to equal 99. Use of the misbaha to count prayers and recitations is an evolution of Muhammad's practice of using the fingers of his right hand to keep track. While widely used today, some adherents of Wahhabism shun them as an intolerable innovation, preferring to stick to the exact method believed to have been used by Muhammad. Their use as a religious item has somewhat diminished over the years, except among adherents of the Sufi orders, and many use them nowadays strictly as worry beads and as status symbols.[7]


Sikhs, pray with 108 beads (originating from Hinduism). Sikhs also pray regularly and meditate by repeating God's name, often with the aid of rosary beads[8]. The founder of the religion, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, is often depicted in paintings with the mala in his hand .


Non-denominational prayer beads borrow from many traditions without adhering solely to any one religion or creed. They are neutral in nature so that as a spiritual practice, they can fit into an already existing belief set as easily as they can stand on their own.

By selecting symbols and choosing the ways in which to work with them, non-denominational prayer beads can be personalized.

Non-denominational prayer beads can act as a focusing tool in prayer or meditation, adding a tactile element to those practices. They can be used as an anchor for affirmations and even projects (like writing projects.) When used with repetitive phrases they can provide comfort and ease the grieving process.

In his book, Simply Pray, Erik Walker Wikstrom offers a modern prayer practice that can be customized to meet individual spiritual needs. Using a set of 28 beads as a frame of reference, the practice includes centering and entering-in prayers, breath prayers and prayers of Naming, Knowing, Listening and Loving.

Electronic Prayer Beads

Programmes for PDAs and mobile phones are available to duplicate the functions of a set of prayer beads. They are usually customisable with options for the various prayers and meditations commonly used.

A typical programme might use only two buttons on the device: X (prayer rounds) and Y (complete rounds). When the counting button has been pressed X times the device reacts with a specific chosen action (vibration or sound); when the counting button has been pressed Y times the phone will react with another action.[9]

See also


  1. [1] Retrieved on 17 December 2008
  2. Apte, V S. A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary. 
  3. The Significance of the number 108.. Retrieved 2007-12-23. 
  4. [2] Retrieved on 18 December 2008
  5. [3] Retrieved on 18 December 2008
  6. Newadvent Retrieved on 17 April 2008
  7. Da Cruz, Daniel (November/December 1968). "Worry Beads -- The use of Misbahas in modern times". Saudi Aramco World. Retrieved 2008-04-15. 
  • Kimberly Winston, Bead One, Pray Too: A Guide to Making and Using Prayer Beads , Morehouse, 2008.

External links

sk:Čotky fi:Rukousnauha uk:Чотки zh:念珠

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