Prayer Beads

Around the 8th century B.C.E., Hindus were the first humans to use prayer beads in mala (garlands). Devotees of the god Siva use rudraksha seeds from a tree unique to the island of Java in Indonesia. These rough seeds represent the difficult and rigid life required of the worshippers of Siva. Vishnu mala are made using 108 wooden beads carved from the sacred tulsi (basil shrub).

Buddhist monks and nuns brought prayer beads to China, Korea, Japan, and Tibet.  Buddhist mala also have 108 beads, reflecting the religion's historical connection to Hinduism. The 108 beads represent the 108 impurities or lies that one must overcome in order to reach Nirvana. 

It is thought that Muslim faithful adopted strings of 100 prayer beads called subha ("to exalt") through contact with Buddhism and Hinduism. Muslim prayer beads usually occur in sets of 99 counting beads and an elongated terminal bead. The counting beads are used to recite the 99 attributes of God, with the terminal bead reserved for reciting the name of Allah.

Christians first started using prayer beads in European medieval monasteries.  The term rosary is derived from the Latin for "rose garden." In Catholicism, the rose is a symbol of perfection; thus the rosary expresses the idea of a permanent garden of prayer. The rosary is used to count prayers recited in honor of the Virgin Mary while meditating on scenes from the life of Christ and his mother.

The first style of rosary I learned to knot is Dominican: this type requires a total of 59 knots.  I'm learning to make and repair Franciscan Crown rosaries, which have 72 knots or beads and are worn daily by Franciscan monks and nuns, hanging at the waist.

Click to view photos of malas and rosaries I've made.