Prayer beads are a popular method of expressing deity devotion and meditation. For each of the beads a prayer is recited. Prayer beads are common traditions in many different types of religious beliefs. For example, the rosary is used in Christianity, the jappa is used in Hindu, the subhah is used in Islam, and the mala is used in Buddism.
I am of the Christian faith. The main purpose of the Rosary is to help Christian believers keep in mind the certain principal events or mysteries in our salvation’s history. The Rosary is for thanks and praise to God for these events and mysteries. Even though I practice within a Christian faith, I have never used Rosary beads. I believe they are common to Catholic denominations and other Christian religious beliefs.
The Roman Catholic believers us the “Rosary” having 54 beads and an additional five beads. Other Christian faiths such as the Eastern Orthodox Christians use a knotted “Rosary” having 100 knots. They also use prayer ropes with 50 or 33 knots. Anglo-Catholic believers used the Dominican rosary since the 19th century until the 1980’s when Rev. Lynn Bauman from an Episcopal church in the U.S. started using a Rosary with 33 beads instead.
Each religious belief has their own common traditions in which they practice faithfully. Each belief has their own type of beads, some beads have specific symbols while other beads are carved or painted. The number of beads is also specific to different Christian denominations and how the beads are actually used differ from one sect of Christian believers to another.
It may be true, however, that the Buddist religion was the very first to use beads as a form of meditation and devotion, which may differ from one region to another region.
The Mala used in Buddism is similar to a haiku, a sonnet or limerick in which a specific set of steps must be followed. The steps may involve the number of beads and in some cases patterns of beads may be part of the rituals followed. There is usually a guru bead tying the whole lot of beads into one and usually a tassel attached as well. The tassel may be a personal preference for some sects of people and not actually required. The guru bead has three holes and represents the guru or spiritual teacher. There are also several categories of malas having different numbers of beads and patterns. All patterns are divisible by 3 or 9 which are holy numbers according to the buddism faith. The math involved here gets much more complicated. In Hinduism the holy number is 108 meaning many of their devotional practices must be repeated 108 times. The Buddism and Hinduism seem to reflect a system of “numerology” as was practiced by some Indians.
Bead material is significant as well to these traditional belief systems. The beads are sometimes made from wood, bone, carved bone in the shape of a human skull, semi-precious gemstones, sandalwood, red sandalwood, bodhi seed, rosewood and even lotus seeds in the patterns of the sun and moon.
A typical bead pattern might be white with black speckles to represent the stars and will have a small hole drilled in to represent the moon. A tassel may be real silk or imitation. Metal spacers may be worked into the focal beads between the guru and the tassel. Different types of stones are associated with different kinds of feelings such as the boddisattva is associated with “compassion,” and the quartz crystal stone is associated with Quan Yin. Red sandalwood is scented and is said to help the user reach a higher purpose.
Islamic prayer beads are called “misbaha,” or “Tasbih,” and usually have 99 or 33 beads.
Of interest here also is their different beliefs about prayer and how to pray using prayer beads. Some believe if a prayer is recited 100,000 times the person will gain wisdom. Of interest also is how each culture of people change the rules and abide by those changes within their groups.
Prayer beads are used in many different kinds of religious traditions both Christian and non-Christian belief systems.
Written by: Connie Limon