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The most popular Bodhi beads and their potential cultural significance

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    The occurrence frequencies of four types of Bodhi beads reached at least 50%, including ‘King Kong’, ‘Moon and star’, ‘Bodhi root’, and ‘Phoenix eye’. These were the most popular Bodhi beads in the markets.

     The most common Bodhi bead, ‘King Kong’, is made from the fruit of Elaeocarpus angustifolius. ‘Two-furrowed King Kong’ is made from the fruit of Elaeocarpus hainanensis. Elaeocarpus plants are distributed in Hainan, Yunnan, Guangxi, Tibet of China, and other parts of Asia, including Nepal, Bhutan, India, Indonesia, and the lowlands of the Himalayas. ‘King Kong’ may have been the earliest form of prayer bead in India, named ‘Rudraksha’ in the local language, meaning ‘eye of Shiva’ . The furrows of the hard and rugulose endocarp of fruits are important to the rudraksha. Different numbers of furrows represent different meanings. The rough surface symbolizes the austere life expected of worshippers. Five furrows and up to 14 furrows are usual, while others are very rare. Normally, a string of prayer beads is made with 32, 108, or 112 beads of similar size and the same number of furrowed rudraksha seeds. The standard ‘King Kong’ string has 108 Bodhi beads, and this string of prayer beads is widely used by Tibetan Buddhists.

    ‘Moon and stars’ is a very popular and traditional Bodhi bead in Chinese Buddhism and is the hard and dense seed of Daemonorops jenkinsiana. The ‘Moon and stars’ name reflects the small holes (moon) and tiny black dots (stars) covering the seed’s surface. This species is mainly distributed in the south of China, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. There was no record of the history of this type of Bodhi bead, but we found many old ‘Moon and stars’ beads in Tibet; we therefore speculated that Tibetan Buddhism was influenced by mainland China’s Buddhism.

    Seeds of Corypha umbraculifera are used to make ‘Bodhi root’ beads. This species is native to India and Sri Lanka. In India, it is also called ‘vegetable ivory’ and is a traditional tool for carving Buddhist Sutras, such as the famous ‘tale palm’ or ‘tad-patri’ because the leaves are flexible and soft when dry

   ‘Phoenix eye’ and ‘Small phoenix eye’ are made from the fruits of Ziziphus abyssinica and Ziziphus jujuba var. spinosa, respectively. The name ‘Phoenix eye’ refers to the eye-like shape that appears on the hard endocarp. Z. abyssinica is native to India and is not cultivated in China. Both were used to make adornments in India. Ziziphus has been mentioned more than one time in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The tree and fruit of this genus have great significance in Indian traditional culture. Jujube trees are one of the few sacred trees of the Sikhs in India. The species of jujube tree named Christ’s Thorn Jujube (Z. spina-christi) is the only tree that could be regarded as a holy tree in Islam. Species of Ziziphus are also held sacred by many other religious persons, such as some Druze, Muslims, and Christians.


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