Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Komboloi

The Komboloi is one of the most famous features of Greek life. When one has a coffee, walks about or is bored, the komboloi is used in order to play around with and be kept occupied. However, this every day object has a magnificent history.
Countless cultures have wanted to create objects which would give them the opportunity to pray, in a better manner, to God or any of their respected deities. The beads are one of these objects. First the Chinese created the beads. However, it was the Indians who formed the beads for prayer around 500 BC. The first praying beads were made from pits from the local trees, which they pierced, passing a string through them. These beads were called ‘Mala’ and had 108 beads. This number is believed to symbolise the names given to the Gods. Later, with the emergence of Buddhism, it became part of this religion. The strings of beads, handled methodically, are thought to calm the mind and the spirit. 

The praying beads were introduced into Islam from Buddhism. The Islamic praying bead had 99 beads –according to the qualities of Allah. They were all created in the East and were sold all around the Islamic world. They used various materials, according to the epoch and needs.
The Catholics, on the other hand, began using what they called the ‘rosemary’, which means rose garden; they were used as areas of prayer. It is believed that the Templar Knights introduced them to the Christian world, since they needed a way to pray, being so far from home and far from their churches.
In Greece, Orthodox monks from Mount Athos they created prayer beads (komposkini) with cotton knots, which were knotted in order. This order helped the monks in counting their prayers and that is why they gave them the name ‘komboloi’, which means a line of knots, of beads. Nevertheless, it is more likely that the komboloi came to Greece via the Ottoman Empire, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The Greeks took the Ottoman praying beads, which the latter threw away if a bead broke, and they used to form the Greek komboloi.

In the beginning only high class Greeks had the komboloi, showing thus a certain prestige; however, this was later introduced in all classes of society in Greece. During the 1950s, 60s and 70s this was considered a ‘cool’ thing to play with. Today, the komboloi helps people cut down on smoking, since the hand is kept occupied when having a coffee, or when walking around. The Greek komboloi are small strings, like bracelets, with stones. Unlike rosaries, though, they have no religious connotation; they are used to relieve stress. It is also considered an accessory for women.
The Komboloi is made from various materials. Lately there has been an interest in collectable, unique and expensive komboloia, such as camel bones, cow, bones, corals, buffalo horns, amber and many more. The Greek komboloi are always odd numbered, having 17, 21 or 33 beads, the latter coinciding with Jesus Christ’s years on earth, although the komboloi holds no religious purpose.

The city in Greece most known for the Komboloi is Nafplio, in the Peloponnese (Southern Greece). Countless komboloi shops are scattered all around the old city. In 1963, Mr. and Mrs. Evangelinos became interested in komboloi and in 1998 finally opened a museum dedicated to their passion. On the first floor, a workshop makes new komboloi from older patterns and refurbishes crumbling komboloi. The second floor features worry beads from many different religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity) and traces the circuitous history of the beads. The largest collection, though, is of Greek komboloi.

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