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The History of Prayer Beads in Different Religions

Updated on August 22, 2012
Hand-carved Roman Catholic rosary beads.
Hand-carved Roman Catholic rosary beads. | Source
Greek Orthodox komboskini of 100 knots.
Greek Orthodox komboskini of 100 knots. | Source

Prayer Beads

Almost all major religions are associated with prayer beads in some form or the other. The length of the string may differ, the material of the beads may not be the same, but the concept of repeating a single prayer a fixed number of times is the common element.

It is not always necessary for the prayer string to actually include beads.In the Komboskini, that is used by the Orthodox Greek there are merely a 100 knots in the prayer string which is used during meditation.

The Holy Rosary

The Catholic Rosary Devotion has a prayer string where one large bead is followed by a set of three small ones. There is also a crucifix attached to the string.

As per Wikipedia the large bead is used say the Our Father prayer. This is followed by the Hail Mary prayer on each of the three small beads with the following intentions -

  1. For the increase of faith
  2. For the increase of hope
  3. For the increase of charity

There is no standard prayer beads string for all religious communities. Even in the Christian faith the actual number of beads and the purpose of prayer or meditation can vary.

The Jap Mala

In Hindus the Jap Mala (which quite literally means prayer necklace) has a fixed set of beads 108 in the string and one extra that unifies both the ends of the string at the end. The mantra or prayer that you say has to be repeated once for each of the 108 beads and on the final bead you are to think of and thank your Guru.

Most of the common mantras include remembering the Isht Dev or quite literally taking the name of your favourite God.

1. "Om Namah Shivay" for Shivji

2. "Jai Shree Ram" for Lord Ram

3."Om Sai Naam" for Sai Baba

4. The Gayatri Mantra is popular in the mornings.

Then there are personal mantras that a person may have been given by their Guru which they may say. The list is absolutely endless. Personally I use a combination of "Sat Chit Ananad Satguru Shri Sai Nath Maharaj Ki Jai" and the Gayatri Mantra. It depends on how much time I want to devote to the Jap mala.

The Sikhs and Buddhists have similar 108 bead prayer malas. I suppose that comes from the influence of Hindusim from which both the founders of these two relatively new religions developed. After all Guru Nanak and Gautam Buddha were both born Hindus and went on to establish Sikhism and Buddhism respectively.

The Misbah

In Islam the prayer beads string is called the Misbah. It has also been called Tasbeh or Sibha. It contains 99 beads as each bead is said to correspond to the 99 names of Allah. As it is not always possible for all to remember the 99 names a simplified version of the prayer divides the 99 beads into sub sections of 33 each.

The first 33 beads are used to say "Subhan Allah" which means Glory be to God, the next 33 times you have to say "Al-hamdu lilah" which meansPraise be to God, and the last 33 times "Allahu Akbar" which is God is the greatest.

This cycle of three 33 beads is supposed to be carried out every day after the 5 ritually prescribed daily prayers.

Material of the beads

Prayer beads can be made of many different types of materials. In the Hindu tradition which follows Shivji, the beads tend to be the seeds of the Rudraksha tree. This is said to be the panch muchi rudraksha or five faced seed which is representative of the five facets of Shiva's personality.

Those who follow Vishu tend to use beads that are carved out of the wood of Tulsi or holy basil plant. These are usually the first beads that a child is given at the age of seven when he begins his own individual worship.

For the Buddhists the beads are usually wooden ones carved from the Bodhi Tree. The Japanese SHOZOIKI JIU-DSU contains beads that are wooden and number 112. Worry beads that are used in Greece, Turkey and Armenia are a string of 33 beads which can be made of a variety of materials including pearls, turquoise, amethyst, rose quartz stone, crystal, black onyx, and lavender glass.

These days the crystal beads have also gained popularity thanks to the alternative healing procedures such as Reiki, Crystal Healing and Angel Therapy. In Angel Therapy they say that you must repeat your affirmation a minimum of 50 times for the Universe to hear, register and answer your prayer. So, you guessed it, they use prayer beads with 51 beads.


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    • MSGolden51 profile image

      MSGolden51 4 years ago

      Hi, cashmere never knew any of this thank you for enlightening me.


    • girishpuri profile image

      Girish puri 5 years ago from NCR , INDIA

      Thanks cshmere for this very important part of religion, i never thought of the beads origin before, an addition to m, useful hub, God bless.

    • cashmere profile image

      cashmere 5 years ago from India

      If you come to think about it, all religions arose from man's desire to invoke a higher authority than himself. So it is natural that most religions have common elements, such as the prayer beads for repeated mantras or invocations.

    • dzephaniah profile image

      David Zephaniah 5 years ago from Florida

      Most of the religions today, are pagan religions in disguise. It is pagan customs to use those types of things.

    • ImKarn23 profile image

      Karen Silverman 5 years ago

      who knew? certainly not i!