21 • A Mala of Human Bone

21 • A Mala of Human Bone

Tibet; probably 19th century
42 cm long; Human bone, fossilized shell & coral, yak hair

Most religions have a tradition of prayer beads, though the number of beads for each differs, as does the material they are produced from. These vary according to tradition, local materials and custom, as well as the preference of the owner and their wealth.

In Tibet they number 108 beads which correspond to the number of sinful desires to be overcome through recitation. In the past they were often made using the bones – quite often the skull – of their deceased, such as this example, in order to remind the user of the transience of human existence. The most highly prized were those produced from the remains of a lama, or holy man.

For a related object see number 47, a kangling trumpet.