Malas (meaning “garland”) are a strand of 108 beads (plus a “guru” bead) that are traditionally used to count the number of times a mantra is recited during meditation. This process is known as japa or “mantra meditation”. While originally used within Hinduism and Buddhism, the use of malas are can be found increasing beyond these spiritual practices and are becoming used as decorations, jewellery, or during seated meditation. Today it is not uncommon to see malas adorning the wrists, necks, and altars of meditation devotees, as well as at the top of mats of yoga practitioners.
Traditionally the reddish brown wrinkle rudraskha seeds are used in a mala. These seeds are considered sacred and connected with the Hindu Lord Shiva – the word rudraksha literally means “The Eye of Lord Shiva”. However, other beads, especially crystals (which have their own added metaphysical properties) can also be included.
Being a number of spiritual significance, the reasons as to why there are 108 beads on a mala are many:
Sun and Earth: The diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of the earth. The distance from the Sun to the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Sun.
Moon and Earth: The average distance of the Moon from the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the moon.
Heart Chakra: The chakras (body’s energy centres) are the intersections of energy lines, and there are said to be a total of 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra. One of them, sushumna leads to the crown chakra and is said to be the path to self realization.
Sanskrit Alphabet: There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine, Shiva and Shakti. 54 x 2 = 108
Upanishads: There are 108 Muktikā Upanishads, texts of wisdom of the ancient sages.
1, 0 and 8: The number “1” stands for God or higher Truth, “0” stands for emptiness or completeness in spiritual practice, and “8” stands for infinity or eternity.
Goddess: There are some 108 Indian Goddess names.
Astrology: In astrology there are 12 houses and nine planets. 12 x 9 = 108
Finishing the mala is usually a larger bead known as a “guru” which is said to represent the wearer’s guru, teacher, deity or their own higher self. These days the guru bead can be anything from a tassel to a crystal signifying different things. When performing a japa, the guru bead indicates a place to start as well as to end. Once the round of mantras is recited, the guru bead is then used to say a prayer for one’s guru or setting personal intentions.
The repetitive recitation of a single sound (ie, “om”), a few words (ie, “om mani padme hum”) or a longer mantra (ie, the Gayatri Mantra) can be calming and transformative. Regardless of whether you are chanting out loud, whispering, or repeating a phrase silently, tracing the beads of the mala with your fingers can help you keep track of the japa.
Similar to praying with rosary beads, meditating with a japa mala has been proven to help slow respiration and encourage well-being. Repeating the mantra helps to redirect the mind from daily obsessions and introduces positive thought patterns.
As mantras are included on Monday Night Meditations, some participants find the use of malas beneficial to assist in the reciting of the mantras. As such, through my etsy on-line store, LunaNoire Creations, I have available a variety of both crystal beaded as well as the more traditional rudraskha seed malas. Custom orders are also available, and I post all around the world.