What is the meaning of prayer beads?

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What is the meaning of prayer beads?
Rosaries are a form of prayer beads. (rosary image by palms from Fotolia.com)

Beads are decorative objects that have a hole in them so a person can string them on a thread or wire. Prayer beads are typically round and made from materials such as wood, plastic, glass, gemstones, pearls, coral, amber resin or crystal, according to Prayer Beads World. People wear prayer beads as necklaces or bracelets. Prayer beads are present in many religions and are used for meditation and relaxation purposes as the user counts the number of prayers or devotion spoken or chanted.

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Hindu Prayer Beads

A Hindu prayer bead set, also called a "mala" or "Japa mala," is comprised of 108 beads or other numbers divisible by nine. The New Zealand Hare Krishna Spiritual Resource Network states the numbers 108 and 9 are sacred in the Hindu religion as they represent Chakras, God, the servants of Krishna, the "108 feelings," energy intersections, planets and their houses, chandrakalas and other frames of reference.

Sikh Prayer Beads

The Sikh religion uses 108 beads for prayer and meditation. Religion Facts reports Sikhs use prayer beads as a prayer aid as they repeat God's name and meditate. Although this religion rejects many Hindu beliefs, the use of beads among Sikhs originates from Hinduism. Nanak Dev Ji, the first of the 10 Sikh gurus, holds a strand of prayer beads in his right hand in many of his paintings.

Buddhist Prayer Beads

Like their Sikh and Buddhist counterparts, Buddhist prayer beads also use 108 beads that are also called "malas." Some malas, however, only contain 21 or 28 beads for doing prostrations to show reverence to Buddha, his teachings and the spiritual community. The Tibetan Buddhist Altar explains the prayer beads are used to help a user count his recitations and also represent the form and speech of his deity. The large 109th bead represents the deity while the other 108 beads are the deity's followers.

Christian Prayer Beads

Individuals in the Catholic denomination of Christianity use a Rosary that contains 54 beads looped together with an additional five beads where a cross, one invitatory bead and four Cruciform beads hang. The "Catholic Encyclopedia" states The Rosary is a form of prayer where 10 of the beads represent 10 "Hail Mary" prayers, another 10 represent The Lord's Prayer and the final 10 beads represent the prayer "Glory Be to the Father." The prayers represented in the rest of the beads in a Catholic Rosary are the joyful, sorrowful, glorious and luminous mysteries. According to the "Catholic Encyclopedia," monks in the Eastern Orthodox religions refer to their prayer beads as "spiritual swords."

The Anglican Rosary uses 33 beads divided into four groups of seven beads. The number 33 represents the number of years Jesus Christ lived on Earth.

Islamic Prayer Beads

In the Islamic religion, prayer beads are also called "Misbah" or "Tasbih." The strand contains 99 beads, which represent the 99 names of Allah. However, it is common to find strands of prayer beads that contain only 33 beads, which a user would cycle through three times. Many followers of Islam use prayer beads as "worry" beads, according to "Saudi Aramco World," to help relieve stress.

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