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    Superb Tibetan Rosary or Mala of Inlaid Human Bone Beads (Mi Mgo’i Phreng Ba) & a Sheep’s Eye Dzi Marker

    18th-19th century

    circumference: 59cm, thickness of the bone beads: approximately 1.5cm, diameter of the goat's eye bead: 2.4cm, weight: 246g



    private collection, England

    – scroll down to see further images –

    This Tibetan Buddhist rosary (sin-‘phen) is unusual.  It is composed of large human bone beads. Tibetan rosary beads composed of human bone are rare and are known as Mi Mgo’i Phreng Ba. They were used for wrathful-deity rituals. The beads have been inlaid or inset with either small turquoise and coral coloured chips or silver. Sets of rosaries so inset were reserved for the highest dignitaries, (Henss, 2020, p. 152). In addition, there are several old glass trade beads, two strings of ten silver counter beads each.

    The central marker bead comprises a sheep’s eye dzi bead known as a lumik, which Tibetans used as a talisman for travel. Sheep’s eye dzis differ to the more conventional barrel-shaped dzi beads but genuine examples, such as the one here, are considered in the canon of ‘pure’ dzi beads.

    Each element has superb patina from age and wear.

    Buddhist rosaries evolved from ancient Hindu-Indian mala prayer beads. In Tibet, they were used by both laymen and monks. 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. Users typically held them in their left hands whilst chanting.

    The set here is in a fine, stable condition. It is a superb and rare example.

    It has come from an old, private UK collection acquired over decades.


    Allen, J., ‘Tibetan zi beads’, in Arts of Asia, July-August 2002.

    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.

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