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Indian Prayer Beads

Indian prayer beads or “Mālā,” c. 1930s, Rudraksha fruit pits, Gift of Judge John Webb Green and Ellen McClung Green, 1957.3.118

Many large religions across the globe share a use for prayer beads. Most notably to the Western viewer might be Catholic rosary beads. In India, the material of prayer beads or Mālā show the wearer’s affiliation with a specific god or sect in Hinduism (although Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism have been known to also use the Mālā). This necklace is made out of the seeds of a rudraksha tree and was most likely worn by a devotee of the god, Shiva. Shaivites wear the strand usually to aid in the recitation of mantras or texts, but can be also be adorned as a symbol of protection. The rudraksha tree stands as a reminder of when Shiva awoke after a long period of yogic meditation and shed a single tear. The tear fell to earth and sprouted the first rudraksha tree.


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