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Chinese Carved Mala Prayer Beads

While beads are often associated with adornment or jewelry, beads have been part of spiritual and religious practice…in all parts of the world…for tens of thousands of years. Prayer beads in Asia are often referred to as a mala …the beads range from simple materials to elaborately carved rare stones.

1A mala, commonly used by Hindus or Buddhists, may be any number of beads that can be evenly divided by 9. The Mandarin Court Necklace I wrote about August 15th, 2007… with 108 beads, is the largest Asian prayer string …and is also referred to as a mala.

The first string features 16 carved white jade figures of monks with small carnelian beads (carved with the Shou symbol) I believe these jade monk beads at one time were part of a prayer string … and the reason there are only 16 monks, is the set was separated and the other two were probably made into earrings.   3

Another type of Chinese mala that appears fairly often is this string of 18 heads, carved from peach pits, each with a different facial expression… prized by many jewelry designers… these 19th century carved malas are often cut up and sold by the bead.

These 18 bead malas have their own name-they are referred to as the 18 Arhats or the 18 Lohan. The 18 Arhats are Buddhist and similar to the Eight Daoist Immortals …humans who have transcended to another life…but they still have the ability to take action in events on earth.

1bI have to wonder if one of the attractions to these beads is not only their artistry… but the spirit they seem to radiate?

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One Comment

  1. Julianne
    Posted May 3, 2009 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Dear Susan,
    Thank you for sharing your incredible collection with us. Your website is gorgeous. My husband and I got to see an actual 18 Lohan Mala at the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach this week and it took our breaths away. You are so correct in your assessment about the essence they radiate. It is so strong as to be palpable and we still feel its effects.
    Julianne & Mark Riise

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