KOMBOLOY - GREEK WORRY BEADS

 

It is believed that monks on Mount Athos in Northern Greece, began using 'komboloy' by making strands of beads made of knots tied on a string at regular intervals. These knotted prayer strings are called 'komboskini' (from the Greek for knot and rope) and are fine examples of  workmanship. 'Komboloy' or 'komboskini' have been in use ever since. 

 

Monks from other areas started to make their 'komboloy' out of handy, inexpensive materials such as wood, shells, hazelnuts and olive pips. Today there still are 'komboloy' lovers who claim that true 'komboloy' must only be made of organic materials like amber, coral, bone, horn, mother-of-pearl, seeds, jet (black amber) etc. as they are thought to be more pleasant to handle than non-organic materials such as metal or minerals. The Greek word for worry beads, 'komboloy',  comes from the word 'kombos' (knot) and the verb 'leo' (to say), meaning, "in each knot, I say a prayer".

 
Modern Greek worry beads generally have 19-23 beads, although much larger and smaller versions exist as well, depending on the size of the beads. 
 

A variation comes with an exceptionally long string often with only a few beads called 'begleri'  these have also become very common. An exact number of beads is not needed, since they are not used to count anything specific and usually have a 'head' composed of a fixed bead 'papas' (priest). In Greece, where modern 'komboloy' are designed not for use in prayer but for fun and relaxation and are more commonly known as worry beads, there is an important difference in their design, the cord provides enough space for the beads to move. This freedom offers pleasure through the sound the beads make, their feel and the performance of endless variations of flips and tricks.

  

Christian prayer beads (rosaries)

Christians, especially members of the Orthodox Church, use a 33-bead strand.  There are also a number of Christian 'rosaries' or 'strings of roses' that were most likely first used in the 11-12th century during the crusades by knights who had no time to visit distant temples. These rosaries had 54 beads or half of 108 which is standard for a Buddhist 'malas' (see below) used to track the prescribed daily recitations of the 'Lord's Prayer'.

   

Buddhist worry beads (malas)

The purpose of a 'mala' is to recite a mantra or prayer. These beads are similar to a rosary or worry beads and can be carried in the pocket.  Most 'malas' contain 108 beads and a bigger bead at the top, called the 'guru bead'. The sacred number 108 represents the number of names attributed to Hindu Gods from which Buddhism evolved. In ancient India, there was a story about a devoted student around 500 B.C. who had to say the 'Mantram' (prayer) 108 times. However, he didn't know how to count. His solution to the problem came by connecting 108 pierced cores with a cord and tying up the two ends. This story is also believed to have perhaps been how the first worry beads came about. 

 
 

 

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