Rosaries of India

A Hindu sadhvi gives blessings in Northern India.
A serene sadhvi (female sadhu) gives her blessing in Northern India. The right hand is raised in the traditional Hindu blessing. (Photo: Brett Davies, 2012)

The use of rosaries in India is widespread among followers of the major religions and by others. The rosary is believed to have been the invention of Brahmanical Hindus (as early as 1500 B.C.), from whom the concept passed to the Buddhists. Around the tenth century A.D., conquering Muslims came into contact with Hindu and Buddhist practices and in turn adopted its use from them. Among Christians, the employment of the rosary (which in English means "a garland of roses"; it's equivalent in most Indic languages is mala, "a garland of flowers") is thought to have begun during the eleventh to thirteenth centuries A.D., when the Crusaders went to the Holy Land in an attempt to recover it from Muslim control. Upon their return to Europe, they brought with them the Muhammadan idea of rosary use.

As in all religions, the rosary functions as a counting device by which the number of prayers recited by a devotee can be noted. In all cases, this practice is considered to be a form of worship that will gain the reciter favor with the Divine.

Though primarily religious in function, a rosary worn as a necklace, as it commonly is in India, becomes a form of devotional jewelry. At the same time, it can also serve a practical purpose as a device for mathematical calculations.

Rosaries of India » Traditional Jewelry of India
Oppi Untracht (2008) Thames & Hudson, Inc.

Traditional Jewelry of India

Rosaries of India featured in Traditional Jewelry of India

The result of more than thirty-five years of research into every conceivable aspect of the subject, this survey is the first comprehensive presentation of one of the greatest of all the world's jewelry traditions. Its strengths lie not merely in a sumptuous visual display and the documentation of hundreds of pieces but also in the extent to which it shows the intimate relationship between the jewelry and the lives of people of India. Alongside form and technique, the influence of myth, religion, social structure, economics and politics illuminate the context in which jewelry of exquisite beauty and great originality has been created.

More than five thousand years of personal ornament are explored in a story that encompasses every area of this complex country, ranging from urban settings to  isolated ethnic communities. Beginning with Paleolithic body ornaments, Oppi Untracht then identifies the emergence of major traditional forms, such as amulets, rosaries, marriage ornaments, temple jewelry, theatrical jewelry and adornment for animals. Major themes—the goldsmith tradition, the use of gemstones, the design innovations that originated under the Mughals and the cross-cultural influences in jewelry design between India and the West—are also defined and illustrated.

More than 800 illustrations are drawn from sources all over the world. Photographs of individual ornaments are juxtaposed with others showing how pieces are made, who wears them and on what occasions. Numerous line drawings depict traditional design forms and techniques. Complete with a comprehensive bibliography and an invaluable list of comparative vernacular terms for Indian jewelers' tools and materials, this encyclopedic and beautiful volume will be essential for anyone interested in jewelry, ornament or the rich cultural heritage of India.