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Prayer Beads

Prayer beads are one of the oldest religious symbols in existence. Used by nearly every faith in some way, shape or form, hey serve more than one purpose, they are decorative, symbolic an used as an aid in prayer.

The first recorded use of prayer beads was in India, in the 8th century BC, and usage has spread across nearly every major religion on the globe. Over two-thirds of the world’s population presently use prayer beads as part of their religious practices, though their meanings and specific usage vary from religion to religion. Let’s see what they symbolise across religions :

  • Christianity – Rosary beads are used to help the devotee keep track of their prayers.
  • Islam – The beads are both symbolic and functional. The 99 ordinary beads on the Muslim subha represent the 99 attributes of Allah, while the final differentiated bead is reserved for reciting the name of Allah, a symbolic end to the prayer.
  • Native Americans – They have used prayer beads since 800 A.D., believing that they served as talismans to protect against threats.
  • Buddhism – In Buddhist regions people may be distinguished by the beads they wear. More devoted persons, like monks, tend to wear longer strings of 108 beads, which represents the impurities a person must overcome to reach Nirvana.
  • African Religions – Beads are used to communicate or to predict the spiritual path upon which a person was destined to embark. Diviners often wore beaded necklaces to identify themselves as spiritual leaders, as many Buddhist monks also do.
  • Judaism – Knots are used in lieu of actual beads to represent the prayers or attributes that are intended to be acknowledged on a prayer scarf.

Beads were originally used to assist illiterate worshippers to keep track of their prayers, allowing them to recite specific passages are verses without having to have the ability to read the texts themselves. Furthermore, in many regions of the world, paper was a scarce commodity and the ability to actually read even less common. Prayer beads served as a simplistic but highly effective means by which people from varied walks of life and throughout various periods of history have been able to memorise and recite their prayers.

The global and cross-cultural nature of prayer beads serve as a reminder that, at our core, people are not so different. We may have a different viewpoint on a subject or lead a different lifestyle, but instead are all linked in our biology and in the fact that we all share commonalities in many aspect of our lives.

17 replies »

  1. Very interesting. I have long used the Rosary as well as the Divine Mercy Chaplet (very similar), which are in the Catholic tradition. (To the best of my knowledge prayer beads are not used by Protestants or the Eastern Orthodox.) I was aware of similar memory aids in other religions, but not all the details.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just simply love prayer beads Matt. Yoga prayer beads deepen your meditation. As someone who meditates, you understand how powerful it can be. The deeper you get into it, the stronger the outcome. Mala prayer beads help make that connection between your mind, body, and soul. It calms and soothes your mind, allowing you to dip further into the state of mind that allows you to obtain mindfulness.


    • It helps you go into trance. In the stage of perfection called trance, or samadhi, one’s mind is completely restrained from material mental activities by practise of yoga. This perfection is characterised by ones ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self. In that joyous state, one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness, realised through transcendental senses. Established thus, one never departs from the truth, and upon gaining this he thinks there is no greater gain. Being situated in such a position, one is never shaken, even in the midst of greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries arising from material contact.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for the insight. Can I do it without prayer beads, and still achieve heightened senses? Anyway, I had an “spiritual” experience holding onto a friend’s prayer bead which he prayed to Lord Siva with. I felt a “shift”. More like, centering of my senses. I was going through a “spiritual episode” with lots of anxiety. When he took it away from my hand, my senses skewed back again. Can a prayer beads do that? Is it me, or the beads? Weird.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great post!

    Growing up as a Muslim, I got to know (through study) that prayer beads are only used by some Muslim denomination to keep track of their daily remembrance (prayer). I know it wasn’t originally part of islam (and some scholars preached against it), but I don’t really know it’s origin.
    It’s really insightful to know though. More ink to your pen.

    Liked by 1 person

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