India has a long history of the use of beads made from a variety of substances. With India's long history of Vedic religious tradition, many Indian beads are made from seeds of plants that have deep, ancient historic symbolism. Indian beads made from seeds are common both in India and as an export product.
Beads have been used since paleolithic times, and possibly earlier, as clothing and hair decorations and in religious rituals. Although beads have been known and used in India since prehistoric times, some early western references appear around the ninth Christian century. At that time, the Hindu and Buddhist practice of using malas, or strings of beads to help count during religious practice, was transferred from the Vedic traditions to the Abrahamic traditions. Although many beads were made from glass or clay, natural, round seeds were often drilled and used as beads.
Types of seed beads in India include a number of seeds from sacred plants. Seeds that are often processed into beads in India include rudraksha seeds, lotus seeds and bodhi seeds. Although these are sometimes simply drilled and used, at other times they are smoothed, bleached or altered to create a different look from simple, natural seeds.
Although these seeds are commonly used in strands of 108 beads, called malas, for use in religious rituals, in some cases the beads may be added to clothing or other household items. The use of malas originated in Hinduism and was adopted by Buddhists as a way of keeping track of repeated phrases. Because the seeds used for beads in India are highly symbolic, they are often used to remind people of certain noble events or characteristics.
The lotus is sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists. In both faiths, the flower is symbolic of beauty and non-attachment. It grows from the mud of the earth and rises above the muck to create beauty and purity. As such, its seeds are symbolic of these properties. The rudaksha tree is sacred to Hindus. Its seeds symbolize the eyes of Shiva. The Buddha Shakyamuni is said to have gained enlightenment under the bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya. As such, the seeds of bodhi trees are symbolic of enlightenment and other Buddhist ideals.
Indian beads made from seeds, and other natural beads made from wood or seeds, are often susceptible to water damage. When using or wearing strings of these beads or using them as decorations on clothing, be cautious of long-term exposure to water. In some cases, the beads are sealed with a synthetic coating like polyurethane and can be more water resistant. However, over time that coating may flake off, allowing the seeds to discolor or swell when exposed to water for a long period of time.
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