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.