Tibet, early 19th century; mother of pearl, coral, ivory, silver alloy, copper alloy; 21 3/4 x 2 1/8 x 1/2 in.; The Rubin Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Anne Breckenridge Dorsey, C2012.49.
The Catholic rosary and Buddhist mala are two examples of beaded strings or knotted rope used as counters for repetitive devotions, but the mala predates the rosary by a millennium. All of the beads in the Tibetan mala are the same size, except for a single, large “guru bead” to mark a complete loop. This indicates that all the repetitions are of the same mantra, while the rosary has larger beads at set intervals to mark where the user should begin a different prayer. Both are made of precious materials, such as mother of pearl; the expense is a gesture of faith and devotion. LK