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Tibetan Rosary of Human Bone & Beads (Sin-‘phen)

circa 1900

circumference: approx. 90cm, weight: 200g



UK art market

This Buddhist rosary (sin-‘phen) is unusual.  It is composed of what is likely to be human bone disks. Each of the disks is inset with alternating light blue or red beads or with copper or brass pearled wire.

A related example of a rosary that comprises human bone disks is illustrated in Daalder (2009, p. 296).

The rosary comprises the bone disks, plus two strands of ten brass beads that served as counters. These terminate with a cast brass dorje motif and a handbell (shang) motif. Two beads at the bottom hold the rosary together. The beads are strung on old cotton twine. It might have been restrung but the twine that is in place has age itself.

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. 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.

Tibetan rosary beads made of human bone are relatively rare.

The set here is in a fine, stable condition.


Daalder, T., Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment: Australia, Oceania, Asia, Africa, Ethnic Art Press/Macmillan, 2009.

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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