World Bulletin / News Desk
One of the everyday sights to strike a first-time visitor to Turkey are the ubiquitous ‘tesbih’ – small strings of prayer beads carried by many Turks.
As Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, starts this week sales of these small companions increase and Anadolu Agency has spoken to the craftsmen and women for whom these small items of faith are a passion.
Forty-four-year-old Necip Fazil Karadag, who has been making hand-made prayer and worry beads for around 30 years in Istanbul, describes tesbih as an "endless love".
In a small workshop in the Basaksehir district, he beavers away making every kind of worry and prayer bead for special orders.
“They may look lifeless but they witness your every moment and live your life with you. So, they are so special, aside from their holy mission," an enthusiastic Karadag says.
Many religions — including Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Sikhism — have a tradition of prayer beads – from ‘mala’ for Buddhists to rosaries for Catholics.
Religiously, they are used to mark repetitions of prayers or other ritual recitations. But just like the larger Greek ‘komboloi’ – popularized by Canadian singer Leonard Cohen – they can also be used for relaxation, cutting down on smoking, doing tricks, keeping your hands busy or can serve as an expensive status symbol.
Muslims generally use tesbih with 99 beads, which symbolize the 99 names of Allah, while Buddhists’ mala has 108 beads. “Efe tesbihi,” often sported by Turkish tough guys, have 17.
It is not difficult to find them in many stores, or being sold cheaply on Istanbul’s streets, but when investigated, the skills and craft behind a good tesbih reveal a complex piece of art.
Karadag – one of the decreasing number of tesbih makers in the city – underlines the importance of every step in the production process.
"Briefly, we first turn the raw material into cubes, drill the middle of them and transform them into round beads by filing. Then, we shape them as we wish.
"During this process, your psychology or mood is crucial. If you are demoralized, you cannot get the result that you want. Users or collectors can understand your state of mind when they hold them."
Materials used to make prayer beads vary. They can be crafted from wood, bone, amber, gold, silver or many kinds of precious stones.
“Actually, tesbih can be made of anything in nature that can be shaped," Karadag says. “A walking stick belonging to your grandfather or an old vase belonging to your loved ones; anything can be turned into tesbih."
According to craftsmen, amber – fossilized tree resin – is one of the preferred materials as it has healing properties and people warm to its orange color and soft surface.
If users want to relieve stress, it is recommended to use a tesbih made of ebony wood. Beads made of agarwood are also popular because of its pleasant odor.
According to the makers, calculations during the production process are important.
"There are some golden rules and a geometric system. They look flawless thanks to this calculation," Karadag says.
To complete one hand-made tesbih takes at least three days. “It may take months to finish some models,” he adds.
As the process demands so much patience, the number of craftsmen is less compared to 50 years ago, but many continue to maintain the business, eschewing the cheap plastic versions on sale for around 5 Turkish liras ($1.80).
“The number of tesbih makers has been decreasing every day because the new generation does not want to do this job since they are made by machines," says 40-year-old Ayhan Kefa who has been selling tesbih for 10 years in Istanbul’s Besiktas district.
However, enthusiasts maintain that the difference between hand-made and machine-made tesbih is important.
“When you hold them, you can easily understand which one is hand-made. Hand-made tesbih are more special and flawless," Kefa says.
The thing that makes them special is also their makers’ love and the importance that they put into them.
No business has given me the same feeling, says Karadag, who also moonlights as a musician singing songs based on Islamic mysticism.
“For example, when you sing a song, it finishes there, but when you produce a tesbih, it can live with you until the end of your life."
Some tesbih enthusiasts agree:
Mualla Cakir, 67, a retired businesswoman, has been interested in prayer beads for over 15 years. “I do not go anywhere without tesbih. They make me feel good. I love carrying them physically and spiritually,” Cakir says.
Forty-five year-old Aydin Tezgiden is also glued to his prayer beads. “There must be always a tesbih just near me; in my pocket, in my bag, car or on my table.”
Tezgiden says his favorite is tesbih made of agarwood. "When you use it, it smells very good,” he says.
Like people, tesbih come in all shapes and sizes. So, every type of hand should have a type of specific worry bead. "If you do not use the right model, the beads will make you stressful,” Karadag claims.
Prices for hand-made beads range from 500 Turkish liras ($180) to over 45,000 liras ($16,000), depending on their raw material and model.
Their prices vary but they are actually priceless and their job is unique, according to their makers.
"When I am making tesbih, I do not understand how the time and days pass. I love this work so much and thank Allah every day as he gave me this kind of ability," says Hatice Uckun, 26, Turkey's one of the first women tesbih makers.
“I think it is one of the most meaningful gifts that can be presented to loved ones,” Uckun says. “As I enjoy it very much, I am trying to direct other women to this job.”
Karadag adds: “Many people remind me about these tesbih and contributing in making them relieved and peaceful, makes me very happy.
“I win many people’s heart through this business. It is the most important thing for me while doing this job.”
Güncelleme Tarihi: 17 Haziran 2015, 10:53