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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12 thoughts on “Prayer Beads in Major Religions”

  1. Those who want to follow Jesus Christ and be called accordingly Christian, should now that in the Bible it is indicated that a repetition of words said over again is something God does not requires. He prefers that own words are used and not repeated over and over again like it would be if God would not understand them the first time and would not react on one simple question.

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    1. I have seen/heard some non-Catholic Christians say ‘let us pray’ then read their favorite verses on multiple occasions. To me this is same as a Catholic reciting the rosary.

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      1. This would be like saying the Rosary in case they would repeat the verses continuously one after the other. But in case it are different bible verses or readings from the Psalms or Lamentations this would be not a repetition of words but using words God has given us to use for meditation, prayer and worship. We can use the Words God or the words Christ have given us to pray to the Most High. As such e.g. praying the Lords Prayer once would not be the same as reciting the Rosemary, where there are also prayers said to the mother of Christ. Though we should not pray to saints or dead people who can not hear us or do anything for us.

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        1. No one prays to dead saints, because those in heaven are more alive than we are. The Lord is God of the living, not of the dead. The fervent prayer of a righteous man is very powerful (Jas 5:16). Those in heaven are surely righteous, since nothing unclean can enter heaven (Rv 21:27). Those in heaven are part of the Mystical Body of Christ and have not been separated from us by death, but surround us as a great cloud of witnesses (Heb 12:1). They stand before the throne of God and offer our prayers to him (Rv 5:8) and cheer us on as we run the good race. Intercession among members of the body of Christ is pleasing to God (1 Tm 2:1-4) and even commanded by him (Jn 15:17). Those in heaven have a perfected love, so how could they not intercede for us? Christ is the vine, and we are the branches; if we are connected to him, we are inseparably bound together as well. Can the eye say to the hand, “I need you not”? Neither are we to say we don’t need the prayers of our brothers and sisters (alive here or in heaven), because salvation is a family affair.

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          1. When people die, they come in a state like they were before they were born. Being death they shall be powerless.

            “5 For the living know that they shall die; but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Also their love and their hatred and their envy is now perished; neither have they any more a portion forever in anything that is done under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 KJ21)

            “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might, for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10 KJ21)

            “They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise; therefore hast Thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish.” (Isaiah 26:14 KJ21)

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