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Counting Numbers with Fingers
("Kanakku Pitikkal")

While chanting Manthrams (Japam), keeping count using a rosary [string of beads made of Rudraaksham (seeds of Eloeocarpus ganitrus), Thulasi (basil) stem, etc.] was a common practice, especially for large numbers. But if the numbers were smaller, say in the hundreds, for instance, 108 Gaayathri, Namboothiris used a very simple finger-count. This helped to concentrate more on the Japam, than on the counting itself.

Fingers of the right hand count single digits (1 to 9), while those on the left indicate the 10th place (10 to 99), and together one can easily count from 1 to 99 or say, 100.

We begin with the right (and left) hand fingers fully open (zero). Fold in only the little finger of the right hand to get "one", tuck in the ring finger also (keeping the little finger still tucked in) for "two", and so on sequentially till the thumb is also folded in, to give "five". From this position, open just the little finger alone to get "six" and continue sequentially till the thumb is also opened out, for 10. At this point, the little finger of the left hand is folded in and kept that way, while the right hand was already back to the initial position.

The right hand count is repeated till we get 20, at which time the left ring finger is folded in (the left little finger was already in the folded position). This process is repeated till the count is 100 (99, to be precise!).

Thus, as an example, if only the little and ring fingers of the left hand are folded, while only the little and ring fingers of the right hand are opened out, then the count is ? .... ; you are right, 27.

Source : "Ente Smaranakal" - Vol. I. Kanippayyur Sankaran Nambudiripad, 2nd ed. 1171
Publishers : Panchaamgam Pusthakasaala, Kunnamkulam - 680 503
English Translation : K D Nambudripad


Chanting/reciting “Gaayahtri” without reckoning or tallying renders the “Japam” pointless. The digital tallying alone gives the observance its legitimacy, clarity and rigour. Namboothiris observe tallying of a particular type – by lining up the tip of the thumb with the digital joints of the phalanges. This is similar to what is done while chanting the Vedams, as Gaayathri is supposed to relate to the Vedams in a parental role.

Count 1 starting from the middle joint of the ring finger, go down for 2, switch left to the bottom joint of the little finger for 3, over to the middle joint of the little finger for 4. Move clockwise over the upper joints of the fingers and then down the two joints of the index finger to fetch you to 10. This will mean that you leave out the middle and lower joints of the middle finger, referred to as the inviolable Meru. This process applies to Gaayathri and the Vedams (by the authority of the saying Gaathryaa veda beeja thwaath. Other chantings could be tallied by folded finger counting or by rosaries, etc., but not Gaayathri.

Source : "Thrai Vedika Sandhya Padhathi" - "Vaiyasaki" (Vol. I)
Publishers : Kerala Vaidika Parishad, Guruvayoor. Feb. 2005

English Translation : Prof: P Bhaskaran Nayar, Lincoln University, UK

| Article No:9.10.1 | Last update of this article:21st July 2009 |
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