What is mala?
Mala is a Sanskrit word meaning garland. A mala is a string of beads used in meditation to count mantras, prayers or intentions. Mantra means to “overcome the mind” and your mantra can be in Sanskrit, such as Om mani padme om (which is said to invoke the blessings of compassion). It can also just be a repetition of sound, such as A EE, EYE, O, OO. Or it can be the repetition of an intention or a prayer such as, I am peaceful and at ease; I am healthy and happy; I am the embodiment of love. It can be any combination of words or sounds that are meaningful to you.
Mala beads are an ancient tool that were developed to keep the mind focused. When we practice meditation, we are practicing increasing the length of time that we can focus the mind. Having something, like a mala, helps us to focus. A full mala contains 108 counting beads plus one guru or meru bead. Usually, a 108 bead mala is long enough to wear as a necklace. A mala can also be strung as a half mala containing 54 beads, or as a wrist mala with 27 counting beads to be worn as a bracelet. The guru (teacher) or meru (mountain) bead is often larger than the other counting mantra beads and it provides a starting and ending point for counting the repetitions of the mantra. A tassel or pendant is connected to the end of the guru/meru bead to finish the mala with a final knot.
Mala beads are also referred to as mantra beads, meditation beads or prayer beads.
Why do malas have 108 beads?
The number 108 has a very powerful significance in the science and spirituality of India. There are 108 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet! Vedic mathematicians measured the Sun’s diameter to be 108 times larger than the diameter of the Earth, measured the distance between the Sun and Earth to be 108 times the Sun’s diameter. In the yogic tradition, we find 108 sacred texts of the Upanishads, 108 sacred holy sites in India, and 108 marma (acupressure-like) points on the body. In the bhakti yoga tradition stories are told of 108 gopis dancing with Krishna in Vrindavan, and there are 108 names of the goddess. In tantric yoga, 108 energy lines are described throughout the body and they all converge and connect at the heart chakra.
What are malas made from?
Malas can be made out of many different materials. The most common and traditional types of beads used in a mala are made from wood, seeds, or semi-precious gemstones. Depending on the material used, the properties of the beads will have certain energetic effects. Different spiritual practices and religious traditions historically have used beads of a specific material. In India, malas are primarily made from sandalwood, tulsi, and rudraksha seeds. In Nepal and Tibet, most malas are made from bodhi seeds, lotus seeds, and bone.
History of mala beads
Mala beads are used in other cultures and religions but are known by different names, such as prayer beads, rosary beads, and worry beads. Over two-thirds of the world’s population employ some type of counting beads as part of their spiritual practice. The use of beads in prayer appears to have originated around the 8th century B.C.E. in India.
Beads by themselves have had a powerful influence and importance in human history. The oldest beads found to date are approximately 42,0000 years old. Beads have been used throughout our history as talismans for protection, amulets for luck, status symbols for wealth and authority, spiritual and religious tools, and as a form of barter. The meanings and use of beads have changed significantly over time—they have been used to symbolize personal and cultural relationships, physical, magical and supernatural power, and common cultural world-views.
Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism all use some form of prayer beads. Around the 17th-century Muslims began using of prayer beads, called subha, misbaha or tespih. These prayer beads usually have 99 counting beads and one elongated terminal bead. Subha beads are used for the practice of zikr, the recitation of the 99 attributes or names of God.
Ireland is known as the origin for the Christian rosary in the 9th Century. The use and practice of the rosary was not officially approved by the church until the 16th Century when Pope Leo X gave the rosary approbation. Rosaries usually contain 59 beads and are used to count the prayers recited in honor of the Virgin Mary.
Kompoloi or worry beads have been used in Greek and Cypriot culture since the middle of the 20th century. The kompoloi have an odd number of beads between 17-23 and are not designed for spiritual purposes—they are used as an talisman or amulet to guard against bad luck and for relaxation and stress reduction.
Why would I want to use a mala?
Mala beads have been used in so many different spiritual traditions for so long because these beads have many powerful benefits for the body, mind and spirit. Below are some of the benefits that are universal for all types of prayer or counting beads. Also, your meditation does not need to be spiritual in nature to be able to use a mala.
Science tells us that meditation is good for our body, mind and spirit and a mala is an easy way to begin a regular meditation practice.
1. Increases focus during meditation.
2. An efficient and practical tool to count mantras, prayers, or intentions.
3. An easy way to keep track of the number of mantras recited.
4. Physical contact with particular gemstones transmits their particular inherent energetic properties.
5. Once mala is empowered (by utilizing it) it can be used for even more powerful healing self and others.
6. Using a mala can help in process of determining goals and intentions and spiritual pursuits.
7. Seeing or wearing a mala can serve as a reminder of one’s intention and goals. It can also be used as a reward or symbol for accomplishing a difficult task.
8. Repetition of sound (prayer, intention or mantra) and touching the beads is known to induce the Relaxation Response which helps to reduce stress.