Baha'i News -- Rites Various Prayer beads

Rites Various Prayer beads

Source: Baton Rouge Advocate
Publication date: 2002-11-02

Prayer beads occur in many religions, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Bahai. Perhaps best-known is the Roman Catholic rosary (see the main story on this page) used for public and private prayer.

Other Christian denominations also use prayer beads. In Eastern Orthodoxy, it is usually a monastic devotion. Its Greek and Turkish branches used a string of 33, 50 or 100 knots known as kombologion. Greek Orthodox brothers pray Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. In Russia, the vervista has 103 beads in parallel strands separated by four large beads, suggesting a ladder for a soul ascending to heaven.

Since the 1980s, Episcopalians have had a 33-bead rosary, representing the years of Christs life.

During the Reformation it was known as telling the beads and was often practiced by the congregation instead of listening to the sermon.

Subha Subha, meaning to praise, is a string of Muslim prayer beads whose units (100, 11, 25, or 33) represent the 99 names of God. As the beads (wood, bone, precious stone) are touched one by one, Muslims may recite any of several formulas, the most common is Glory to Allah, the 99 names of God. Prayer may be said secretly in the heart. The beads are an aid and are not required. Many do not use them.

Mala Some scholars believe Hindus were the first to use prayer beads. Hindus used them for reciting mantras and to count ones breath to focus during meditation. The strands are called malas (Sanskrit for garland) and can be worn like a necklace. The mala is 108 beads representing the cosmos. Malas are made from natural materials.

Buddhists also wear malas. Buddhist malas are 108 same-sized beads with a larger bead called the focal or guru bead. Smaller strands with 54 or 27 beads were designed so the beads wouldnt touch the ground when bowing. The beads are made of many materials including bone, glass, seeds, sandalwood, teak, coconut or gems. Buddhists use the mala for the same reasons as Hindus, however, the 108 beads represent worldly desires or negative emotions to overcome to reach nirvana.

Others o Some ancient cultures used the beads as time trackers, often based on the moon cycle. o Some Bahai use prayer beads to repeat the prayer Allahuabha (God is Most Glorious) 95 times. Bahai prayer strands are usually circles of 19 beads with five counters or a circle of 95 beads with a marker after every 19 beads. o Modern uses have been developed. A visitor to tells of writing the names of people and issues she is praying about on wooden craft beads, using them as reminders.

SOURCES: Merriam-Websters Encyclopedia of World Religions, Wendy Doniger, editor; HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion, Jonathan Z. Smith, editor; World Religions, John Bowker; http://

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