One of the religiously oriented arts developed by the Turks after the art of calligraphy is prayer beads (Tasbih). It consists of a certain number of beads made of various materials, arranged on a string. The prayer beads are actually an object of worship. Ninety-nine of the prayer beads is the count of ninety-nine names of Allah called Esma-ul Husna. The prayer beads, which is a requirement of prayer in Islam, developed as a branch of art at the same time with the thirty-three and ninety-nine sequences, and workshops making tasbih were opened. Prayer beads, which are generally seen as a part of worship and made of very precious materials, have also developed as an art branch with their 33 and 99 series. At first glance, tasbih making, which appears as “stringing beads side by side”, is an art field that can take days or even weeks and requires a delicate workmanship based on the intense labor force of the master who made it.
During the Ottoman period, the religious line that was evident in almost all handicrafts shows itself in the art of tasbih. Following handicrafts such as marbling and calligraphy, the art in which this line stands out is tasbih making.
The art of tasbih making reached its peak with the works given during the Ottoman Empire and especially in the 19th century. Especially the prayer beads made in Istanbul in these years have gained worldwide fame; The prayer beads made by the Ottoman masters were taken to the Hejaz during the pilgrimage and distributed as gifts. It is also known that many merchants from various parts of the world came to the Grand Bazaar to trade these prayer beads, which are known as “Eser-i Istanbul”. Undoubtedly, the art ethics and understanding of the period are of great importance behind the fact that these dates point to the brightest years of the tasbih art. Because, in this period, a model produced by any master is accepted as his signature; no master would model another. The work, created with great delicacy by every master, naturally demonstrated the feature of being “unique” within the framework of this understanding. Besides, “the prayer beads are not shaken in the hand, they are to be practiced correctly. “While telling one’s beads, the effort given to it is respected ”is one of the understandings that reveals the importance and dignity of the tasbih art.
The best prayer beads were made in Istanbul during the Ottoman period, and hundreds of tasbih workshops were opened in Istanbul. The very small prayer beads are called zenne, or women’s beads. There are also dhikr prayer beads made of walnut and lime wood, the largest of which is 999.
In the Ottoman Empire, the art of tasbih developed especially from the 17th century. The prayer beads’ sales center has been in Uzun Bazaar in Istanbul. Uzun Bazaar is a bazaar that stretches along the Mercan Slope in Tahtakale. The caravans coming from all corners of the empire before the month of Ramadan emptied the stocks of prayer beads shops in this bazaar. At the end of the century, around 300 looms were working around the Grand Bazaar, and many skilled masters were undoubtedly trying to make the most beautiful prayer beads. Tasbih is used not only for religious purposes but also for psychological benefits. It is said that the prayer beads made of amber, in particular, takes away the excess electricity from the human body, and those who quit smoking are relieved with tasbih. The belief that the tasbih is good for depression and has a relaxing and mind-opening effect was the basis of the prayer beads fashion that surrounded the whole world in 1999.
Tasbih, which has a deep-rooted history in the life of human beings, has been handled not only in worship and handicrafts but also in the field of literature. Tasbih, about which hundreds of works are given has been the subject of books with its religious, cultural, artistic and social dimensions.
The prayer beads are respected not only in Islam, but also in other religions. Commonly seen in Buddhist and Hindu cultures, and even in older Far Eastern religions such as Brahmanism, the 100-bead prayer beads is complementary to the religious attire with 64 of the priests and nuns of the European Catholics and the crucifixion of Christ. There are also prayer beads in Orthodoxy, Protestantism and Judaism. Wood tasbih work, which requires great dedication and patience and is made of black hard ebony, rose, gum and sandalwood, and dark brown tamarind, is an ancient art.
The small hand lathe on which the beads are processed is made of wood and the person who made the prayer beads produced this tool in the shape and size he wanted. Although more advanced tools are used today, a great deal of patience and dexterity is still required to make a beautiful, elegant prayer beads. Although their numbers are not as many as in the past, there are very valuable masters today. Veysel Karanî is considered to be the master of tasbih.
The tasbih, one of the indispensable accessories of Turkish men for centuries, have now become a favorite of collectors with its fine workmanship and expensive materials. We can say without hesitation and with praise that the most beautiful prayer beads of the Islamic world were made in Istanbul. From here, it was sent to all parts of the empire and especially to Mecca every year during the Hajj season. Although prayer beads work has developed almost everywhere in the Islamic world, for example in Samarkand, Bukhara and Iran, they are mostly famous for the materials they use. The statement that not everyone can pray a prayer beads comes from here. All prayer beads must be prayed from time to time, the prayer beads that are not prayed become dull, in other words, they are offended by their owner.
Prayer beads are resurrected in the last 30 years. The tasbihs of the Turkish masters which find buyers for thousands of Turkish Liras are an indication of the promise of the sector. We discussed the material and spiritual aspects of prayer beads with today’s masters. Sultan Ahmed I, the sultan of the era, wants to know how many people attend the first Friday prayer in the mosque built in his name. Prayer beads are given to everyone who steps into the temple. Learning that 86 thousand prayer beads were distributed, the sultan repeats the same procedure at the exit of the mosque to confirm the number. Thus, 172 thousand prayer beads reach their new owners that day. According to most historians, this anecdote shows how widespread prayer beads were in Istanbul at the time. As a matter of fact, it is stated in historical sources that nearly 300 masters were working only around the Grand Bazaar; Besides, the information that the masters had a place around the Süleymaniye Mosque also exists.
The golden age of tasbih ends with the 1920s. After the foundation of the Republic, the historical Turkish prayer beads face the danger of extinction since new masters were not trained. In the 1970s, the number of people dealing with tasbih across Istanbul does not exceed the fingers of one hand. There is a dynamism with Yusuf Özgen Usta from Elazig. This works and new masters begin to grow.
Today, the use of tasbih has become different compared to the past. Nowadays, the use of the tasbih is also used for personal use with its healing feature. Tasbihs were given as a gift during the Ottoman period. Therefore, they were not only gathered in palaces, but also dispersed to the whole public.