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History of komboloi and its historical evolution


After many years of research I realized that the chaplet which was made by a Hindu spiritual teacher in about 800 BC, consisted of 108 kernels, and was called TSAPMALA was something like a living organism that “wandered” through  time, countries and people and as a chameleon  changed form, structure, materials, names and usage patterns. Νamely each person depending to their personality, perceived, manufactured, selected and used the chaplet. So, religious people use chaplets to make a certain number of prayers without counting. In all the countries I researched about the chaplet, their people used it only as a prayers’ tool. Only the Greek people with the specific features that characterize them were inspired and created other chaplets for different uses.

Τasos Thomaidis

Religious Chaplet (Kompoloi) and Desbih

About the year 1000, the monks of Mount Athos got a black woollen knit with fifty four knots cordon and braided its two ends to a cross. They called it praying chaplet of Virgin Mary because they did prayers to the Virgin. Some called it chaplet because they used it as a prayers’ tool. Those who disdained this chaplet they called it komboskini (i.e. knit with knots cordon). But most called it komvoloi because the believer touches each knot (komvos in greek) and says (legei in greek) a prayer. The composition of the words komvo+legei spawned the name komvologion – kompoloi in  demotic.

During the period of Ottoman occupation in Greece, Turkish officials were holding garlands with amber beads and thick silky tassels. Their name was desbih. They used it to relax their nervous system, to show off their wealth and as a scepter of power. Also similar scepter came to the hands of the Greek  associates of the Turks, notables, lords and guerrillas. They named it  tesbihi. Over the years,  tesbihi disseminated across all social strata. These scepters of power in the hands of their holders, functioned as a proof of love, of  friendship, an oath, as a contract, as a building permit and a stamp! It also functioned as a medium to show off  Ego, as a peculiar kind of masculinity, “crafty” and power. Every person perceived  this garland in terms of aesthetics, materials, structure and use, depending on his personality. So some people created  garlands of high aesthetics while others held tasteless garlands ! They used either exquisite materials or worthless ones. So, some made them  luxurious and sophisticated (with thick silky tassel,  escutcheon,  imami, amulets …) or just a passing beads cordon that tied both ends to a knot.

At those years, kompoloi was widely spread, because religious Greeks prayed using it so that “God and Virgin Mary would release them”  from the bondage of the Turks and their collaborators.

The co-existence of kompoloi with desbih for many years, led kompoloi to slowly transform into tesbihi and tesbihi  to be renamed kompoloi. That is, many of those who held the knit with knots cordon, kompoloi, replaced it with a passing beads cordon. The transformation of kompoloi to tesbihi, was done easily, since the knots of a chaplet in relation to the beads of a desbih are lacking in weight, texture, color, sound and sometimes in perfumes.

Tesbihi was renamed to kompoloi on the outbreak of the Greek  revolution in 1821. This happened because anyone at that time who used the name tesbihi for the garland, would have to deal with bad consequences from their rebellious compatriots, since tesbihi referred to a Turkish scepter of power.

Begleri beads

When the underworld and the non-aligned in society people, “met” tesbihi, they were affected by it and inspired their own garland. They put 16 beads in a strand, tied it at both ends and hung there anything someone desired. Some used one bead, others put two beads or a cross or a charm. The beads were from casual materials. They twirled this garland in their hand like an airplane’s propeller. Once clockwise and once counter-clockwise. Then they would stop the  rotations and knock  some of the beads on the other. This garland was named begleri beads because they did it with raffish gesture like the gamers of tavli shake the dice in their hands (verb beglerao). Today it is called kompoloi. The Greek youngsters of the 80’s created their own object to keep their hands busy. It was a strand about 15 cm long, that they had put two beads. They would put it between their fingers, shook their hand and thus forced the beads to knock on each other and heard the sounds of the collision. It was named Taka-Taka after the sound. Today it is called begleri beads. Each garland we hold either to make prayers, or to keep our hands busy, for meditation, for showing off, for prestige we call them all kombolois, while kombolois are just prayer beads  (rosaries)! This confusion occured because there had never been any relevant research or study about komboloi in tradition that would help us understand the circumstances that led to the mixing and confusion of the names.

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