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    x0x MYSTIC SYMBOLS PASSING THROUGH THE FINGERS: PRAYER BEADS By Mustafa Calik Not only in Islam, but in many other religions prayer beads have played an
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 28, 2003
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      By Mustafa Calik

      Not only in Islam, but in many other religions prayer beads have played an
      important role. In the past the loveliest tespih, as Muslim rosaries are
      called were made by Istanbul craftsmen and sold to buyers throughout the
      Islamic world. They were made from gold, silver, ivory, tortoiseshell,
      mother-of-pearl, amber, meerschaum, ebony, agalloch wood, and scores of
      other materials, some brought from as far afield as Africa, the Far East
      and South America.

      In an old three-storey house on Dogancilar Caddesi in Uskudar - Scutari -
      lives Ahmet Duzgunman, a former herbalist, binder and marbling artist, and
      a collector of antique clocks and prayer beads.

      He has lived in Uskudar since 1917. He welcomed me at the door of his
      flat, and as I entered scores of clocks ticked and chimed their own chorus
      of welcome. I sank slowly into an armchair, feeling as if the clocks might
      stop in surprise if I moved too quickly. I wondered if the sound made by
      prayer beads being counted and the ticking of the clocks were what
      attracted Duzgunman to both.

      He began to tell me about his hobby, starting with how his interest was
      fired by his brother Mustafa, who had a prayer bead collection when they
      were running their herbal shop together. Ahmet decided to try his own hand
      at making prayer beads, using the lathe which he used to repair clocks. He
      learnt the necessary techniques from his uncle, the calligrapher and
      marbler Necmeddin Okyay and the famous prayer bead maker Galip Bassaka. As
      well as making prayer beads for himself, he gave away many to friends, and
      at the same time started his own collection. He no longer makes them
      today, however, because his hands and eyes cannot manage the precision
      work involved. 'Making prayer beads admits of no mistakes,' he explains.

      Diverse types of materials are used to make prayer beads. Precious stones
      and minerals include emeralds, rubies, emeralds, rock crystal, turquoise,
      lapis lazuli, chrysolite, jade, agate, jet, meerschaum, and amber - which
      is actually a fossil.

      Then there are metals like gold and silver, and organic materials such as
      elephant ivory, walrus ivory, whale tooth, tortoiseshell, horn, camel
      bone, pearls, coral and mother-of-pearl. There are countless types of
      wood, including snakewood, ebony, agalloch wood, sandalwood, bloodwood,
      olive, rosewood, m'kunguni, tamarind, tulip wood, satinwood, sugar maple,
      teak, and Burmese sandalwood. These woods come from many parts of the
      world, including India, Egypt, Madagaskar and South America. Another
      category encompasses seeds and nuts like coconut, including a variety with
      a wavy grain called sircali kuka, olive stones and date stones.

      The best tespih makers became famous for their skill at carving the beads.
      Drilling the holes through them is one of the most difficult parts, the
      finer the hole, the more skill being required. A late 19th or early 20th
      century tespih maker named Horozun Salih was one of the most renowned, and
      Duzgunman related that his customers used to joke that if two threads
      would fit through the holes they would not buy his beads.

      According to Necip Sarici in a book on prayer beads published by Yapi
      Kredi, tespih beads are made using a small lathe, simple but capable of
      the extremely fine adjustments required for such tiny objects.

      These lathes are generally made by the craftsmen themselves. Each piece of
      the chosen material is first pierced and then cut into the desired shape:
      spherical, pyriform, oval, flattened spheres, or faceted. For a 99-bead
      tespih the craftsmen makes 110-120 beads, and then chooses those that
      match best, saving the remainder for making 33-bead tespihs. Then he makes
      the other parts: the nisane, a disc which marks each 33 beads, the pul, a
      tiny bead marking the seventh position, the imame, which is a long piece
      marking the beginning of the string, and the tepelik at the extremity of
      the imame. A small socket is gouged in the imame to conceal the knot of
      the string. All these pieces must also match. Although the best tespih
      have beads of equal size, some have beads graduated in size, threaded from
      largest to smallest. In the past they were always strung on silk thread,
      but today nylon thread dyed to the correct colour is sometimes used

      Finally the beads may be fitted with bands, engraved with inscriptions,
      and otherwise decorated, before being strung together, and a tassel
      attached. Tespih made of fragrant woods are kept in closed boxes to retain
      the fragrance. In Ottoman times rock crystal beads were preferred in
      summer for their coolness to the touch, and for the play of light
      diffracted by the facets. These had silver tassels.

      Not only Muslims, but Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Jews,
      Buddhists, and Hindu Brahmanists use prayer beads. Catholic rosaries with
      64 beads and a crucifix are part of the clerical garb. Although Islamic
      prayer beads usually have either 99 or 33 beads, mystic sects sometimes
      used 500 or 1000 bead tespih with very large beads. Today only a few
      amateurs continue to make handmade tespihs. Most of those sold are made of
      mass produced synthetic beads of no real value. Antique tespih, on the
      other hand, were often works of art which took craftsmen months to make.

      * Mustafa Calik is a journalist.
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