Hindu Beads

Hindu mala of 54 rudraksha beads and one bodhi seed

Prayer beads are central to the life of many Hindus. Prayers are repeated along with the names of favorite gods for hours daily, causing one nineteenth-century observer to note that "the pious Hindu…computes his daily prayers as if they were so many rupees added to his capital stock in the bank of heaven." Two basic types of prayer beads (mala) correspond to the two major Hindu cults of Siva and Vishnu.

For at least a thousand years, the devotees of Siva have carried rosaries of rudraksha, beads made from the seeds of the tree Eleaocarpus ganitrus (left). Vishnu rosaries consist of 108 beads made from tulsi, the holy basil Ocimum sanctum. It has been suggested that the continued importance of wooden prayer beads in India parallels a preference for wood in the construction of religious buildings.

Hindu mala of 54 rudraksha beads and one bodhi seed

Hindu Mala

A mala (strand) of fifty-four rudraksha beads and one Bodhi bead (lower left). Rudraksha are seeds from a small tree unique to Java. Bodhi are seeds from the Bodhi tree (ficus religiosa). Often worn as a necklace by followers of the Hindu god Shiva, rudraksha are perhaps the earliest form of prayer beads. The natural surface of each seed is rough with grooves, symbolizing the austere life required for the worship of Siva. The five lines typically on each seed represent Siva's five faces. Largest bead diameter, 1.6 cm, 1990. The Bead Museum, Glendale, Arizona

Hindu Beads » Prayer Beads » The History of Beads: From 100,000 B.C. to the Present
Lois Sherr Dubin (2009) Abrams Publishers, Inc.


The History of Beads: From 100,000 B.C. to the Present

The History of Beads: From 100,000 B.C. to the Present

Since its publication in 1987, The History of Beads has become the world's definitive guide for bead lovers, collectors, and scholars. In this new edition, author Lois Sherr Dubin updates al chapters with the latest archeological discoveries; pens a new chapter on contemporary adornment since the 1980s, with a focus on glass beads; and best of all, revises and adds 225 beads to what is considered by many to be the piece de resistance: the eight-page gatefold timeline that guides readers through the remarkably rich history of the world's first form of adornment. The latest revisions include an update on the oldest bead ever discovered, now dating to around 100,000 B.C., and an explanation on why beads worn on the human body were the original media communication system.

Beads are among the most stunningly attractive and varied items of jewelry known to humankind. Yet they represent far more than mere personal adornment. Beads have been used throughout the world in countless ways: as talismans in prehistoric and contemporary societies; as status symbols in the ancient world and in present-day Africa; as religious articles in the Buddhist, Christian, and Islamic faiths; and as a standard medium of barter throughout the world. They represent basic relationships to life and the supernatural and have been used to organize and symbolize cultural world views. They have been guideposts in human relationships and expressions of innermost feelings. Each bead is therefore a capsule of cultural information, containing a fascinating tale of the origins of its materials, its manufacture, its multifold uses, perhaps its travels, and certainly its potent symbolism.

Lois Sherr Dubin presents the panoramic scope of these ubiquitous objects, unravels the mysteries of the world's rarest beads, and explores the myriad cultural context from which beads have come. Along the way, she examines the dominant historical, geographic, and thematic features of beads, as well as their impact on cultural cross-fertilization and the light they shed on the ritualistic practices of various peoples.

Updates include the numerous maps, which have been modernized and are now in color; approximately seventy formerly black-and-white images have been changed to full color; and 200 new photographs have been taken especially for this edition. Beautifully packaged with a new cover, this revised and expanded edition of The History of Beads is a must-have for devotees of the first edition and for the next generation of bead obsessives and aficionados.