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This Buddhist rosary (sin-‘phen) or mala is the finest example we have encountered. It has an exceptional depth of colour from age and handling and patina.
It is composed principally of coconut shell disks which is itself rare – the raw material would have been unusual and expensive because it would have been imported most probably from India. Each coconut shell disk has the most splendid patina. Additionally there are large beads of carnelian or orange agate and again, these have a splendid patina. Also there are smaller coral beads, small agate beads, beads made of small seashells, and silver alloy spacers.
There are also two sets of ten silver bead counters; a large carved chank shell central marker bead; and four wonderful, large silver double-sided, flower-form beads set with turquoise and coral cabochons.
The set retains its original leather stringing.
Buddhist rosaries evolved from ancient Hindu-Indian mala prayer beads. In Tibet, they were used by both laymen and monks. They are supposed to comprise 108 beads plus others as counters, although sectarian variants might have as many as 111 beads plus counters, and others as few as 100. The main prayer beads were used to count repetitions of prayers and the counters were used to record multiples of the main beads, so that thousands of repetitions could be counted. They are the main item a Tibetan practicing Buddhist would own. Usually, they were held in the left hand whilst being used.
The set here is in an excellent, stable condition.
It has come from an old, private London collection acquired over decades.
Daalder, T., Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment: Australia, Oceania, Asia, Africa, Ethnic Art Press/Macmillan, 2009.
Henss, M., Buddhist Ritual Art of Tibet: A Handbook on Ceremonial Objects and Ritual Furnishings in the Tibetan Temple, Arnoldsche, 2020.
Reynolds, V., Tibet: A Lost World: The Newark Museum Collection of Tibetan Art and Ethnology, The American Federation of Arts, 1978.
Sherr Dubin, L., The Worldwide History of Beads, Thames & Hudson, 2009.