Buddhist Chank Shell Rosary
I uncovered this marvelous Chank Shell Rosary at Swayambhu, an ancient religious complex in the Kathmandu Valley, while working in Kathmandu in the 1980's.
Known as malas, these auspicious prayer beads are a traditional tool in Buddhism and are especially common among Tibetan Buddhists.
A mala typically features 108 beads, which are said to represent humanity's mortal desires, and often ends in a tassel or amulet. The number 108 is also described as the numerical equivalent of “Om,” one of the most important spiritual sounds in meditation.
The number 108 represents the number of mortal desires of mankind which one must overcome to achieve Nirvana. Chank shell beads are often used as a meditation tool. For this purpose, there are 108 beads so that a mantra can be recited 100 times as you move your fingers along the beads.
This magnificant rosary comprises 108 chank beads, 40 inches long, anchored with two beautiful yellow resin beads, thought to be Baltic amber (known to emit positive energy) all set on native cotton twine. Each of the beads is largely spherical, made from chank shell (Turbinella pyrum) from the waters around India and or Pakistan.
Possibly early 19th century, as the patina and wear indicate years of usage. Chank shell beads in general are the oldest form of jewelry known, dating back over 100,000 years.
This is a phenomally dramatic and auspicious piece of wearable art.
Allen, J.D., ‘Chank shell – Ritual objects and beads’, in The Bead Museum Quarterly, Vol. 13, No 2., June 2003. Allen, Jamey D., pers. comm., December 2019. Jacobs, J.,
The Bead Museum, Washington, 2003. Untracht, O., Traditional Jewelry of India, Thames & Hudson, 1997.
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.
Untracht, O., Traditional Jewelry of India, Thames & Hudson, 1997.