朝珠

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1993 / 7月

文‧謝淑芬 圖‧黃麗梨


去年台灣消費了約新台幣三億元的琥珀和蜜臘,它們大部分被製成念珠和手串等佛教用品。

念珠可以隨時做出來,念珠的「皇親」—朝珠,卻已隨著大清王朝走入博物館。


在佛經《木i子經》中曾記載,為了消除煩惱,佛家弟子可用一百零八顆木i子(菩提樹的果實)串成念珠,隨身攜帶,行住坐臥都專心一意地誦經、稱佛,每唸一遍,就撥一顆珠子,依次數去,亦即定心修行的作用。

也許因為這個原因,近來在台灣一片宗教熱下,念珠就復古成為當紅的飾物,在街頭、市面上隨處可見,不管信不信佛,常見人手一串。前些時候,由於一些執法憲警人員也盛行配掛念珠手串,還讓相關單位擔心會破壞執法人員的形象。

清朝的制服?

其實我們戴念珠的風氣,比起前人,只怕是小巫見大巫,只要看清朝的服飾就會知道。當時王公大臣的朝服必備品除了箭袖、蟒服、披肩、翎頂之外,當胸一長串朝珠更是馬虎不得。

這朝珠便是自念珠演變而來的。

念珠初期為盛行於蒙古與西藏的密宗喇嘛教徒使用,後才擴及其他佛教徒。故宮博物院器物處編輯嵇若昕指出,清朝的滿洲人篤信喇嘛教,當蒙古與西藏地區的達賴、班禪等宗教領袖圓寂,或清帝、后生日時,會進貢以蜜臘、琥珀、珊瑚為材質串成的念珠,以示祝福。

清朝皇室貴族非常喜歡這些經高僧作法祈福過的念珠,隨身配掛當做護身的吉祥物。後來形成風氣,便由簡為繁,定制為朝廷制服的配件,即是朝珠,而朝珠也因此成為清朝特有的服飾。

從佛家僧尼、弟子誦經念佛時,用以計算誦讀次數的念珠,演變成晉見君王、議論國事,或待客接物時制服配件的朝珠,二者的用途和意義自然大異其趣。

在外型上,兩者雖極為相似,都由一百零八粒珠子貫串而成,「但朝珠比較複雜,多了佛頭、記捻和背雲」,國立故宮博物院器物處編纂陳夏生解釋。朝珠的珠串每廿七粒必間隔一粒不同材質的珠子,稱做「佛頭」(有的念珠也有)。「記捻」和「背雲」則是從珠串本身分支出的珠子或絲絡,一串朝珠有三條記捻,一條背雲。

至於朝珠的形制是如何演成的?由於缺乏文獻紀錄,如今尚不得而知。只是對服裝、道具不太考究的戲劇,往往便在演員身上掛一串沒有記捻、背雲的珠串,朝珠也就成了念珠。

品級、地位的象徵

朝珠還是區分官員地位品級,或晉爵榮寵的象徵。根據清朝制度,皇室貴族,以及文職五品,武職四品以上的官員和夫人,才可以掛朝珠。換句話說,若非天生命好,生在帝王、皇家,「一般百姓從中舉後,如果官路平坦,級級升遷,起碼也得廿多年才能升得到五品,才夠資格掛朝珠」,嵇若昕說。

此外,為皇帝掌管禮儀、撰擬文稿,以及貼身護衛或一些官位不夠高、但常接近皇帝的官員,為示榮寵,也得以破格配掛朝珠。

朝珠在材質上的使用也要看場合和品級。以皇帝為例,在大典禮時要用東珠(大顆珍珠)朝珠;祭天時用青金石朝珠;祭地要配掛蜜臘或琥珀朝珠。

至於官員和官夫人掛的朝珠,材質的限制就不若皇室這麼嚴謹。嵇若昕認為,這可能是因為定制的時間晚,不及一一規定。而且朝珠是要由官員自備的,以致這些朝廷的制服配件,後來競相講究珠子質材、色澤或雕工。

流入尋常百姓家

到了戰亂動盪的清末,朝珠的作用逐漸紊亂。只要有錢,連平民百姓都可私自搜購珠粒串成。清光緒年間就有一位住在頤和園旁的李姓人家,因家藏一串價值萬金的碧璽朝珠,遭當時權傾一時的太監李蓮英覬覦,差點惹來抄家、殺身之禍。

改制民國後,朝珠在用不著的情況下,自然更被遺忘,不少朝珠因此被改串成其他飾物,或流落古董鋪子、坊肆之間,只留下朝珠「見過皇帝、天子,可以驅邪、避凶」的迷信傳說。

直到近年因念珠風行,朝珠連帶被憶及,才得以「正名」,重現江湖。來來飯店董事長張秀政的夫人,就在蒐集珠串的興趣下,偶爾得到幾串朝珠,進而了解朝珠的源流。她有感於朝珠的形制之美,還親自動手,配珠子組合、重串,最近她把收藏和作品整理出來,在鴻禧美術館展出中國的珠串藝術。

祖父曾在清朝為官的當代作家夏元瑜即因參觀此展,想起小時候家中也有幾掛朝珠,但卻沒人識得,也不知其用途,最後給女眷拆散,當成配飾。

一位先祖在清朝任過高官,嫁妝中曾有兩串朝珠的前大使夫人,也沒有特別寶貝這兩串「太長了,戴不出門」的「首飾」。最近她將朝珠上的瑪瑙及翡翠記捻拆成項鍊,傳給女兒,沒想到女兒知道了它們的來歷直呼可惜。

煩惱一手捻

倒是用途、形制較自由的念珠歷久不衰。除了一般常見的一百零八顆珠子的之外,「也有串五十四、四十二、廿一顆珠子,甚至一千零八十顆珠子的」,鴻禧美術館副館長廖桂英解釋,像目前最常見、只有十八顆珠子,戴在腕上的「手串」,也是念珠一種。

「珠子數目多少,可能得依珠子顆粒大小而定,若是大顆的珠子,一百零八粒串起來,長可及膝,使用起來,恐怕不大方便」,她說。

至於珠子的材質,也不限於瑪瑙、蜜臘和琥珀,像珊瑚、水晶、青金石、松綠石等玉材寶石,以及獸骨、人骨、木材和樹木的種子,都是常見的材料。

這次展出的念珠中,就有不少用核桃殼和果核雕刻成的珠粒,圖案不外十八羅漢等佛教故事,充分展現當時工匠精湛的技藝。

求財增壽

然而,在這些材質中,近來國人卻偏好琥珀和蜜臘。一位業者曾非正式地估計,去年台灣的琥珀和蜜臘消費額度高達三億台幣,成為全球最大的市場。這恐怕與琥珀、蜜臘主修財富和增益的密宗說法有關。據他觀察,今年求長壽、健康的珊瑚將大行其道,這不也多少反映了台灣社會的心理嗎?

不過,修行在乎人心,從朝珠的例子來看,它不也無法保證清朝國祚綿長不絕?

〔圖片說明〕

P.125

清朝的皇后、嬪妃和官員夫人穿朝服時,要配掛三串朝珠,看起來雍容華貴。(圖為乾隆皇帝的皇后畫像)

P.126

朝珠源自念珠,西藏、蒙古的密宗喇嘛教徒最早盛行配戴,後才傳至中原。(李淑玲繪)

P.128

念珠近來成為流行飾物,大街小巷都有人販賣,顧客還可以買來珠子,自己配串。

相關文章

近期文章

EN

Court Beads

Hsieh Shu-fen /photos courtesy of Huang Li-li /tr. by Robert Taylor

Last year Taiwan consumed some NT$300 million worth of amber, most of which was made into Buddhist articles such as prayer beads and bead bracelets.

Prayer beads can be made at any time, but since the passing of the Ching dynasty, their blue- blooded cousins the "court beads" have been consigned to the museums.


The Buddhist Sutra of Sapindus Mukorossi relates that to free their minds from discontent, Buddhist disciples could carry with them 108 bodhi tree seeds strung together into prayer beads, so that whether walking or at rest, by chanting the sutras and intoning the names of the Buddha, moving one seed along the string for each recitation, they might put their minds at peace and better practice their faith.

Perhaps this is why, with the recent upsurge in religious fervor in Taiwan, prayer beads have come back as an evergreen accessory, and can be seen being worn or on sale everywhere. Many people wear bracelets of prayer beads regardless of whether they are Buddhist believers. Recently, even some civilian and military police officers have taken to wearing prayer-bead bracelets, making their superiors worry that these will detract from the overall appearance of the law enforcers' uniforms.

Ching Dynasty uniform?

In fact, the extent of our modern fashion for wearing prayer beads is nothing compared to our ancestors. One need only look at the court dress of the Ching Dynasty to know this. As well as the inevitable archers' sleeves, four-crawed-dragon robe, epauliere and peacock-feather hat, a long string of "court beads" across the chest was generally de rigueur for the princes and high-ranking ministers of the time.

These court beads developed from prayer beads. Prayer beads were first commonly used among the devotees of Mongolian and Tibetan esoteric lamaist sects, and only later spread to other Buddhists. Chi Juo-hsin, a writer at the National Palace Museum's Department of Antiquities, notes that the Manchurians of the Ching Dynasty were devout followers of Lamaism, and the death of a Dalai Lama, Panchen Lama or other religious leader from the Tibetan and Mongolian regions, and the birthdays of Ching emperors and empresses, would be marked by presenting strings of prayer beads in amber or coral.

The Ching royal family and nobles were tremendously fond of these prayer beads which had been blessed by high-ranking lamas, and would wear them as lucky charms to protect themselves from harm. Later this developed into a fashion, the beads' simple form became more complex, and they were officially defined as an accessory to court dress. Thus "court beads" were born, as an item of dress peculiar to the Ching court.

Naturally court beads, worn as an accessory to official court uniforms when in audience with the sovereign, discussing affairs of state, entertaining guests or meeting other officials, are a far cry in with their use and significance from the prayer beads originally used by Buddhist monks, nuns and disciples to count the number of recitations when chanting the sutras.

In their external form the two are very similar, both comprising a string of 108 beads, "but court beads were more complicated, with the addition of 'Buddha's heads' and pendants," explains Chen Hsia-sheng, another writer at the Palace Museum's Department of Antiquities. Every 27th bead in a string of court beads had to be of a different material from the rest, and was known as a "Buddha's head" (some prayer beads also had these). The pendants were groups of beads or silk tassels which branched off from the main string, each string of court beads having three pendants at the front and one at the back (see illustration).

What was the origin of these special features of court beads? For want of historical records, we do not know. But in some Chinese operatic productions where not much attention is paid to the costume and props, one can often see performers wearing strings of beads without pendants, thus turning the court beads back into prayer beads.

Symbols of rank and status:

Court beads were symbols of official rank and status, or of promotion and imperial favor. Under the Ching rules of dress, the only people entitled to wear court beads were nobles of the imperial house, civil officials of the fifth rank and upwards, military officials of the fourth rank and up, and such officials' wives. In other words, if they were not lucky enough to be born into the imperial family, "common people who managed to pass the imperial examinations and were promoted up through the ranks in the ordinary way would generally take at least twenty years, even if their careers ran smoothly, before they could rise to the fifth rank and gain the right to wear court beads," explains Chi Juo-hsin.

As well as the categories just mentioned, some officials charged with managing official ceremonies and protocol or with drafting documents for the emperor, along with close imperial bodyguards, and some other officials who were of insufficient rank but were frequently in the presence of the emperor, were exceptionally allowed to wear court beads as a sign of imperial favor.

The materials used for court beads also differed according to occasion and rank. For example, the emperor himself would wear court beads of large Sunghua River pearls for great state occasions; when offering sacrifices to Heaven he would wear beads of lapis lazuli, and when sacrificing to the Earth, beads of yellow or russet amber.

The materials for the court beads worn by officials and their wives were less strictly defined than the emperor's beads. Chi Juo-hsin believes that this may have been because rules for the wearing of court beads were only incorporated into the system at a late date, so that there was not time for all aspects to be regulated. Furthermore, the beads had to be provided by the officials themselves, so that these accessories to court dress became objects of competition in terms of material, color, lustre and carving.

Finding their way into common people's homes:

In the years of war and disorder towards the end of the Ching Dynasty, the rules on wearing court beads gradually fell into disarray. If only they had the money, even the common people were able to secretly buy and collect beads and string them together. During the reign of the Ching emperor Kuanghsu (1875-1909), a man named Li who lived close by the Summer Palace narrowly escaped confiscation of his property and execution when a string of tourmaline court beads worth a king's ransom, which he kept hidden in his house, aroused the envy of the court eunuch Li Lien-ying, who was all-powerful for a time.

After the change to the Republic, court beads were no longer needed and were naturally forgotten, so that many sets of beads were reworked into other pieces of jewelry, or found their way into antique and curio shops. All that remained was the superstition that as they had "seen the emperor, the Son of Heaven," they could drive away evil and protect one from harm.

It has only been in recent years with the fashion for prayer beads that court beads have also been remembered and their status has been restored. The wife of Chang Hsiu-cheng, chairman of Taipei's Lai Lai Sheraton Hotel, due to her interest in collecting strings of pearls and beads, occasionally came by a few strings of court beads, and she became interested in their origins and development. Attracted by their beauty, she began assembling and restringing sets of beads herself, and recently she selected items from her collection and works of her own for an exhibition of Chinese bead art at Taipei's Chang Foundation gallery.

The exhibition reminded author Hsia Yuen-yu, whose grandfather was a Ching official, that when he was a child his family had several strings of court beads, but no one knew what they were or what they were for, and they were finally given to the girls of the family to break up and make into other jewelry.

A former ambassador's wife whose ancestor was a high-ranking Ching official had two strings of court beads in her trousseau, but she too never set much store by these pieces of "headgear" which were "just too long to wear to go out." Recently she had the agate and green jade beads of the pendants restrung as a necklace to give to her daughter, but was surprised to find that her daughter, when she learned their origin, was filled with dismay that the pieces had been broken up.

Count away your troubles:

Unlike court beads, prayer beads, their use and appearance untrammeled by rules and regulations, have never been forgotten. Apart from the 108 beads of a normal string, "they also come in sets of 54,42, 21 and even 1080 beads," explains Liao Kuei-Ying, Executive Curator at the Chang Foundation, adding that the "bracelets" of only 18 beads which are most commonly seen today are also a kind of prayer beads.

"Perhaps the number of beads should be decided according to their size. If large beads are used, then a string of 108 would hang down to one's knees, and wouldn't be very convenient to use either," she says.

Nor is the material for prayer beads limited to agate and amber. Jades and semi-precious stones such as coral, quartz, lapis lazuli and turquoise, along with animal and human bones, wood and the seeds of various trees, are all commonly seen materials.

The prayer beads in the Chang Foundation exhibition included quite a number with beads carved from walnut shells or fruit stones, with designs such as the 18 arhats and stories from buddhist scriptures, displaying to the full the artistic skill of the artisans of the time.

Healthy, wealthy and wise:

However, of all these materials, recently local people's preference has been for amber and beeswax. A guesstimate by a trade source puts Taiwan's consumption last year of amber and beeswax at NT$300 million, which would make it the world's biggest market. This is probably connected with the fact that esoteric Buddhist sects ascribe to amber and beeswax prayer beads the power to attract wealth and good fortune. Based on his observations, the same source expects coral, which is thought to promote health and longevity, to be very popular this year. Doesn't this also to some degree reflect the psychology of society in Taiwan?

Be that as it may, the real test of faith is in people's hearts; after all, court beads were not able to save the Ching Dynasty from its downfall.

[Picture Caption]

p.125

When Ching Dynasty empresses, imperial concubines and high officials' wives wore court dress, they would add three strings of court beads, making their appearance even more splendid (the picture shows a painting of the Ching emperor Chien Lung's empress).

p.126

Court beads were originally derived from prayer beads. These were first worn by followers of Tibetan and Mongolian esoteric lamaist sects and only later spread to China proper. (drawing by Lee Su-ling)

p.128

Recently prayer beads have become a popular fashion accessory, and can be seen on sale everywhere. If they prefer, customers can buy the beads and string them together themselves.

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