Prayer Beads: Medium For Vibrating Transcendental Sound
Prayer beads, known as japa mala by the Hindus and by yoga practitioners around the world, are used to keep count of the repetitions of prayers or mantras. The mala consists of a certain number of beads depending on the religion. The material with which it is made also varies. While chanting, one moves from one bead to another and in this way keeps track of the number of prayers said. The beads allow one to focus the mind on the chanting. If it were without beads then the attention would be partly diverted on counting. The following paragraphs describe the different types of beads and their roles in meditations in different religions.
The use of japa beads originated in Hinduism, more precisely in the Vedic culture. Worshippers of the different forms of God and demigods use a japa mala to chant mantras as part of their daily rituals, known as sadhana. Worshippers of Shiva use Rudraksha beads and Vaishnavas, worshippers of Vishnu, use Tulsi beads. In Buddhism, several of the sects use 108 bead mala and some others use 27. These shorter rosaries are also called 'prostration rosaries', because they are prefered by those doing prostration chanting. In Tibet, Buddhists chant on a 111 bead mala. The prayer ends on the 100th bead and the 11 that are left compensate for mistakes or offenses while chanting.
In Islam, the prayer bead is known as Misbha. It contains 99 beads corresponding to the 99 names of Allah. Some consist of 33 beads and the chanters circles it 3 times to make one full round. The use of the misbha is an innovation. The prophet Mohamed used his fingers to keep track. Some Muslim sects condemn the idea of the misbha for they say it is a deviation from the original practice of the prophet.
The string of Prayer Beads of the Roman Catholics and Anglicans is called the Rosary. It is a traditional act of devotion, combining prayer and meditation in sequences called decades unto different divinities like The Father, The Virgin Mary, The Apostles, etc. Eastern Christians use loops of knotted wool (or occasionally of beads), called chotki or komboschinia to pray the Jesus Prayer. Among Russian Old Believers, a prayer rope made of leather, called lestovka, is more common, although this type is no longer commonly used by the Russian Orthodox Church.