Turkish masters transform prayer beads into artistic works of art


Tesbihs, small prayer chains, are very important to various faith communities around the world. These cords are created as an accessory, but also serve as a symbol of faith in Turkey and can be viewed as independent works of art due to their elaborate workmanship.

Elaborate tesbihs were common throughout Ottoman geography by the 17th century and still have their place in today’s culture. What makes them so valuable are the masters who build them with magnificent decorations. Collectors and enthusiasts show the greatest interest in colorful tesbihs, which have large and small pearls and are made from different precious stones.

Tesbihs are considered an indispensable part of daily life by the public, and some enthusiasts even commission tesbihs from masters with stones they consider lucky or unique.

An exhibition of Tesbihs from the workshop of Feyzullah Kalaycı in Istanbul, Turkey, June 21, 2021. (AA Photo)

Tesbihs were made by famous masters of the Ottoman era, including Topuzun Halil Usta, Beylerbeyli Galip Başşaka and Tophaneli Ismet, as well as contemporary masters such as Zekai Şenyurt, Imdat Kalaycı, Feyzullah Kalaycı, Hüseyin Çelik, Yüseyin Çelik, Ibrahim Bülbülbül, and Bahri Bülbülbül, and.

Feyzullah Kalaycı, who like his brother Imdat Kalaycı has made a name for himself in this profession, told the Anadolu (AA) agency that he has been making Tesbihs in Istanbul for 26 years. According to him, the Kalaycı brothers inherited this profession from their father.

He stated that at the beginning of his career many different prayer bead materials were not known in Turkey, noting that “antlers, mammoth tusks or amber, for example, were not well known”.

Imdat Kalaycı is working on Tesbihs in his workshop in Istanbul, Turkey on June 21, 2021.  (AA Photo)

Feyzullah Kalaycı shows an elaborate Tesbih in his workshop in Istanbul, Turkey on June 21, 2021.  (AA Photo)

Kalaycı stated that he would travel from country to country to buy various materials, noting that they would use shells from dead animals and trees, among other things. Master emphasized that they did not harm any living being to make prayer bead materials: “For example, we have not been making prayer beads from elephant tusks recently. This is because we don’t want any animal to be slaughtered. But if the material is an old object, we take it and make prayer beads out of it. “

According to the master, the number of prayer pearl masters and collectors in Turkey has increased over time. Collectors have recently shown more interest in teardrop-shaped amber tesbihs, Kalaycı said, adding that both women and men like to wear the prayer beads as necklaces and bracelets.

Kalaycı added that they created Tesbih for many politicians and bureaucrats, including President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan. He indicated that the elaborate Tesbihs can be quite expensive, he said: “You can buy apartments in different suburbs of Istanbul for the price of three or five very good prayer beads.”

An elaborate Tesbih in Feyzullah Kalaycı

An elaborate Tesbih from Feyzullah Kalaycı's workshop in Istanbul, Turkey, June 21, 2021. (AA Photo)

Collector Mehmet Çebi said his passion for Tesbih collecting began 35 years ago when he bought his first prayer beads, which can be considered a work of art, at an auction in Beyazıt Square in Istanbul in 1986.

Çebi explained that over time he also developed an interest in calligraphy, which inspired him to open the Hilye-i Şerif (the noble description of the Prophet Mohammed) and the Tesbih Museum in Istanbul.

Çebi emphasized the great interest in Tesbihs in Turkey: “There is such a thing as a Tesbih culture in our tradition. This is a culture that has been passed on from generation to generation. When a child sees prayer beads in their father’s hand, they develop sympathy for them. “

Çebi has amassed a collection of 7,000 to 8,000 Tesbihs, some of which were acquired at auctions abroad. Around 500 pieces from his collection can be seen in the collector’s museum.


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