Prayer Beads in Major Religions


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj .

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In many major religions and cultures, the device most used to help devotees to pray and meditate is the strand of prayer beads. Nearly two-thirds of the world’s population meditate or pray with beads.

Hindu/Buddhist 108-bead mala of  jasper with turquoise howlite and red bamboo coral marker beads.
Hindu/Buddhist 108-bead mala of jasper with turquoise howlite and red bamboo coral marker beads.

Many scholars admit that the use of prayer beads originated with the Hindus in ancient India,and the Hindu or Buddhist mala is the great mother of rosaries. From India and the Himalayan kingdoms, the prayer beads traveled east to China and Japan, and to the west to Africa and Europe, where it evolved into the Islamic Subha, the Christian rosary, the Eastern Orthodox prayer rope, and the secular worry beads used throughout Greece and the Middle East.

Catholic Rosary
Roman Catholic Rosary

Traditionally, the prayer beads have consisted of strings of similarly sized beads, seeds, knots, or even rose petals and beads made from crushed roses, from which we get the word “rosary.” In Latin the term “rosarium” means ‘crown of roses’ or ‘garland of roses.’ The Roman Catholics sometimes write the word ‘rosary’ with an initial capital as ‘Rosary.’

Since counting prayers were initially so important, each religion embracing the use of prayer beads developed its own symbolic structure to follow. In addition to helping keep one’s place in structured prayers, the prayer beads also symbolize the commitment to spiritual life. With its circular form, a string of beads represents the interconnectedness of all who pray.

Common to many strands of prayer beads is the number nine. Greatest of the single-digit numerals, nine symbolizes completion. Where the numbers do not add up to nine, they are often divisible by three, symbolic of the trinity in Hinduism (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva), the three central concepts of Buddhism (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha) and the trinity in Christianity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit).

In addition to their use in the religious rituals of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity, the prayer beads find a place in the spiritual practices of cultures as diverse as the African Masai, Native Americans, Greek and Russian Orthodoxy.

Eastern-Orthodox Prayer Rope
Eastern-Orthodox Prayer Rope

Many similar prayer practices exist in various other Christian communities, each with its own set of prescribed prayers and its own form of prayer beads or prayer rope. These other devotions and their associated beads are usually called “chaplets”. The rosary is sometimes used by other Christians, especially in Lutheranism, the Anglican Communion and the Old Catholic Church.

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