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Prayer beads and tesbih

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.

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