They’re Tulasi kanthi mala. Okay. I’ll translate. Tulasi neck beads. Understand? All right, then, I’ll explain.
There are different kinds of beads in India. Various sects use different kinds of wood, which are sacred to them. Those little darlings on Julia’s neck are tulasi — I’m as sure as I can be by only seeing a picture.
Tulasi is the Sanskrit name for holy basil. Its wood and leaves are sacred for devotees of Krishna (Vaishnavas). Krishna says tulasi is most dear to him. In the spiritual realm, Tulasi is a maiden and she arranges rendezvous between the supreme goddess, Radha, and her beloved, Krishna (God). Well, that’s getting really esoteric. Let’s touch ground.
Vaishnavas use tulasi beads in two ways: around the neck and as prayer beads. Worn around the neck, tulasi sanctifies the mortal frame and is meant to remind the wearers of their subservience to God. Now this isn’t to say I know why Julia is wearing those beads. I’m just telling you the facts of tradition. Ancient tradition.
Honesty, though, I do wonder if she’s wearing neck beads. I’m going to venture a guess here and say Julia is not wearing neck beads, but japa beads. Anyone who’s read Eat Pray Love will be familiar with the word “japa.”Elizabeth Gilbert describes japa prayer beads and how she discovered them in India in the Introduction of Eat Pray Love. Japa is a string of 108 beads with a head bead.
Look closely at that beautiful two-strand, 22K gold capped necklace she has on. See? At the center. There’s one bead that has gold dangling down. That’s the head bead. Are there 108 beads? Gosh. How am I supposed to know? But I bet there are.
It’s uncommon for the devoted in India to wear their japa beads around their neck like this. But as a Westerner going undercover in America, I have. I needed to hide my spirituality while doing business. So many people shy away from the foreign and worse, they can judge — negatively. So I concealed my identity as a Bhakti yogi by wearing my beads like Julia’s wearing hers.
Perhaps most of you are familiar with the news where Julia says she’s a Hindu. Go Julia! You do live large, as O proclaimed in the October 2010 issue where this photo appears on page 201.