Prayer beads have been used for thousands of years in a wide variety of religions, including Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. Devotees use prayer beads to help them focus on their prayers or mantras. The fingering of the beads brings one back into focus when the mind begins to drift from the prayers onto the more mundane considerations of everyday life. Prayer beads also help one to keep track of the number of prayers recited when they’re doing repetitions, such as in Christianity when reciting the Hail Mary using a rosary. In Buddhism, when reciting mantras such as the Om Mani Padme Hum (Sanskrit) or Om Mani Peme Hung (Tibetan), the mala helps one to stay focused as well as to count the number of repetitions.

Prayer beads have a variety of different names, depending on the religion in which they’re used. Buddhist prayer beads are called malas. In the Christian tradition, prayer beads are called rosaries. Hindu prayer beads are known as japa mala. In the Islamic religion, prayer beads are called Misbaha, Tasbih or Sibha. Eastern Orthodox Christians use a prayer rope with knots instead of beads.

Prayer beads are made with a variety of different materials. Buddhist malas can be made from the wood of the Bodhi tree, the seeds of the lotus plant, tulasi wood, animal bone, or semiprecious gems, such as amethyst or carnelian. They are also sometimes made of sandalwood. Hindu japa malas are usually made from tulasi wood or sandalwood. Christian rosaries can be composed of from a wide array of substances, including glass, ivory, amethyst, wood, silver, gold and plastic. Rosaries usually are adorned with an extra string on which hangs a cross symbolizing the crucifixion of Christ. Buddhist and Hindu malas have a string with several beads, symbolizing the guru, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Sometimes prayer beads are smooth and sometimes they’re carved.

The number of prayer beads varies according to the religion in which it’s used. Buddhist malas usually have 111 beads, of which 100 beads are used to recite mantras and 11 to account for errors during recitation. Tibetan malas also contain 108 beads on which 100 mantras are recited and 8 are dedicated to the liberation of all sentient beings. Devotees of Pure Land Buddhism use malas with 27 beads. Christian rosaries have 59 beads, which are designated as 53 to recite the Hail Mary prayer and 6 to recite the Our Father prayer. Islamic prayer beads are made up of 99 beads, which are counted when reciting the 99 names for Allah. Muslims also have smaller ones with 33 beads which are cycled through 3 times to make up 99 prayers. The Hindu japa malas are comprised of 108 beads, or any number which can be divided by the number 9.

Prayer beads play an integral role in these various religions throughout the world. They serve to help devotees concentrate on the prayers as each bead is fingered in succession during recitation. Some people carry their prayer beads with them at all times to keep them in touch with their faith and to ward off harmful elements.

Author's Bio: 

Prayer Beads, Rosaries, and Malas, are topics of interest to Sylvia Smelcer, as the owner of websites supplying item for meditation.