Prayer Beads and Rosaries – Traditions and Meanings

It was back in the middle ages when rosaries, a type of prayer beads, became a part of praying. During those dark times many individuals held dearly to stating the words “Ave Maria”, and began the practice of repeating the prayer 50 or more times as a gesture of devotion. In the earlier days, with limited raw materials available to the common person, a rosary was often just a simple knotted cord or a strand of beads.

Many practices of the use of prayer beads and devotional acts have been added over the centuries. The Liber Experientiarum in the 15th century gave us the 50 points of the life of Christ to be meditated upon while reciting the Ave Maria. Later the meditations became known as “mysteries”, and has continued to this day as a religious exercise.

prayer beadsPrayer Beads Around the World

What other cultures used strands of beads for prayer? The famed traveler Marco Polo discovered back in the 13th century that the king of Malabar wore a chain of gems, thought to be a count of 108 in total, around his neck. He used this chain of gems in his morning and evening prayers.

The Buddhists use a mala of 108 prayer beads in order to complete the repletion of their mantra, a prayer typically from the ancient sanskrit language that holds a melodic rhythm and sound. The count of 108 is stated to be highly important, though there is nothing documented that gives us a clear idea why that number is so important.

We can pre-date the Buddhist practice with the prayer beads of the Muslims, who used 99 beads to recite the 99 names of Allah. Still we cannot stop there, for the Muslim tradition is derived from a Hindu prayer bead practice used in the worship of the god Shiva.

All Ways Lead Us To Our Divine Source

There are many pathways to spiritual expression. Isn’t it amazing that prayer and worship have been a part of most every culture and country around the world? What does this tell us? Perhaps it says that even in our darkest times we can always turn inward in prayer to find hope and perhaps an answer. The steps may vary, and the words may change, but the shared intent cannot be denied.

In selecting a mala (prayer beads) or a rosary there are many directions you can take. Here are a few suggestions:

  • For the Buddhist style you will use a mala, noting that they will always have 108 beads, with one larger as your starting/stopping place. The beads are spaced so you can easily pass from one bead to the next without taking focus off your mantra.  I recommend the Bodhi Seeds Prayer Beads Mala because the bodhi seeds themselves have significance and meaning.
  • For a rosary it is more common to find gemstones or silver as the material, and many rosary’s include a cross, such as this Sterling Silver Rosary.

Prayer Beads and Rosaries – Traditions and Meanings. About the author: Ava Saadi offers a glimpse into divine practices and their meaning here at, and shares insights into the restoration of our individual spiritual temple, the body, and how we can restore vitality and grace through nutrition and Reiki Energy Healing.

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