What Are Mala Beads?


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Many ask, really, what are mala beads? The word mala was derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Garland’ which is a set of beads used by Buddhists and Hindus. Traditional mala beads consist of 108 beads strung on durable material, finished with a tassel or knotted ends. Malas are used during meditation, where the practitioner has to count the number of times he or she repeats a chant, mantra or intention. Mala beads are made up of different materials such as wood, seed, precious or semi precious stones. These are worn around the neck or wrist. A mantra can be repeated hundreds or thousands of times depending upon the type of prayer, meditation or intention.

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Buddhist mala prayer beads, also known as Buddhist prayer beads or simply Buddhist malas, are a string of beads traditionally used in Buddhist practice for counting mantras or prayers. The mala typically consists of 108 beads, though sometimes there may be a different number of beads, and a guru bead or tassel at the end. The guru bead or tassel represents the connection to the teacher or guide.

In Buddhist practice, the mala is used to help focus the mind during meditation and to recite mantras or prayers. The practitioner holds the mala in one hand and recites a mantra or prayer while moving their fingers along the beads, one bead at a time. This practice helps the mind to stay focused on the mantra or prayer and can deepen the meditative experience.

Buddhist malas can be made from a variety of materials, including wood, seeds, gemstones, and bone. Each material has its own significance and is believed to have specific properties that can enhance the practice. The color and design of the mala can also hold significance and may be chosen for their symbolic meaning.

Thousands of years ago, around the 8th century BC, the ancient seers of India were seeking solutions to the questions of how to sit still enough to watch the mind, separate from its reactivity, and attain a peaceful and enlightened state of consciousness and being.To aid them in this practice, they developed tools to help keep their focus on the breath. The first mala beads may have been nothing more than rocks on a string, but they served the same purpose that the gorgeous rudraksha beads do today.

On an even larger scale, the Vedics calculated the Sun’s diameter to be precisely 108 times that of the Earth’s diameter, expanding the sacredness of this number vastly into the universal realm. And it wasn’t just the Vedics who identified this sacred number; in Islam, the number 108 refers to God, and in Judaism, 108 is related to the word “chai”, meaning “life”.

So the next time you meditate with your 108 mala beads, keep in mind the universally sacred origins of this number, and allow that to infuse into the power of your mindful experience.

Everything from A-Z about the history of prayer beads in different cultures.

How to Use a Mala for Meditation


Using beads mala for your meditation is an invaluable tool in meditation, yoga and a deep meditative practice. The mala is used by holding it with either hand even though traditionally it is held using the left hand. You start just after the Guru bead and do your mantra meditations while holding every single bead between your thumb and the index finger. Drape the mala over your finger after you have recited a mantra; this allows the bead to pass over the finger towards you. When you are through with a complete circle of the mala you come back to the Guru bead. You continue over the Guru Bead as it’s not counted, nor are the markers. The use of a mala helps to ground and stabilize attention.

108 Bead Tassel Malas


So why are there 108 beads specifically on a mala? In ancient Vedic tradition, 108 was the number of existence itself. This sacred number is seen all over Indian culture, from 108 sacred yogic texts to 108 sacred sites throughout the country, and 108 marma points (or sacred sites within the body). Highly attuned to the chakra system, the ancient Vedics also identified 108 lines of energy converging into the heart chakra. The Vedics calculated the Sun’s diameter to be precisely 108 times that of the Earth’s diameter. So the next time you meditate with your 108 mala beads, keep in mind the universally sacred origins of this number, and allow that to infuse into the power of your mindful experience.


expert craftsmanship


Malas made here in Boulder Colorado are different than the mass produced imports. Every bead is checked and we use high quality state of the art stringing materials as well as natural gemstones and quality findings.

These traditional 108 bead tassel malas are also made by Sakura Designs, in the USA, unless otherwise noted. We use select natural gemstone materials, the sturdiest bead cord, real three holed “guru, parent or mother bead” finished with a well crafted cotton tassel.

These Full sized malas, made by Sakura Designs, are offered a complimentary silk pouch and 30 day craftsmanship guarantee.

mala-necklace-size MORE ABOUT LENGTH

These traditional 108 bead Tassel Mala Prayer Beads are also made with care and attention by Sakura Designs, unless imported. We select strong bead cords, natural precious and semi precious gemstones, three holed guru bead finished with a beautifully crafted cotton tassel. See Tassels Close up We offer a 30 day craftsmanship guarantee plus a complimentary silk pouch with these malas.


Natural Bead Malas

All Bodhi, Lotus and Sandalwood mala beads are handcrafted by Sakura Designs in the US, unless stated otherwise. Japa and Tibetan Malas have been used by Buddhist and Hindu yogis for centuries, these Tibetan Malas are can be used by people of any faith, and are made from natural materials such as seeds and Sandalwood.

Wrist Mala Bracelets

Sakura Designs creates and imports these beautiful mala bracelets. The most common wrist malas are known as “mala bracelets” and have approx. 21 beads on stretchy cord. The more formal hand malas or travel malas are imported from Japan, and are gift boxed. We are pleased to offer these select imported malas, directly crafted from Fair Trade artisans in Tibet, Nepal, Hong Kong and India. Please remember to include a mala bag to store your beads in when not in use. These smaller, handheld malas are often used for daily wear or travel. These recently entered popular culture and were known as power beads or wrist malas. These are usually made from semi-precious stone or wood and have about 21 beads, strung on a stretchy cord to be worn around the wrist.

Imported Malas

We are please to offer select Fair Trade, imported Mala Beads. Imports are not as fine as Sakura Designs, but they are economical and well crafted, imported from selected designers based in India, Hong Kong, Nepal and Fair Trade Artisans in Tibet. The proceeds are use to support developing countries and we are more than happy to help. Please use a mala bag when you are not wearing or using your mala beads.

Mala Bags

Bags: Protect your precious mala with a silk satin brocade mala bag! We offer exquisite Rayon Satin and Silk pouches, and ceremonial Japanese Obi fabric pouches, protect and keep your mala beads in these pouches. Counters: recite your chant or affirmation on your mala and record the number of times you complete the mala with ‘counters.’ Counters record one full mala completion, and when you complete ten mantras, use the second strand of the counter.


Malas beads are known as prayer or rosary beads, they have been used for meditation and recitation of chants for thousands of years in the Chinese, Buddhist, Hindu, Indian and Tibetan culture. Different designs of prayers beads are also used in Christianity and Islam, Muslims refer to prayer beads as ‘tasbih.’ The use and making of prayer beads can be dated back to the 8th century in India, Buddhist prayer beads also originated from this region. Buddhism started as a sect of Hindu culture, and as it spread across China, Tibet, Japan and Korea, so did the use of mala beads.

What is a Mala?

A traditional mala has 108 beads with a ‘guru bead’ with three holes, there are marker beads that are not counted and only divide the mala into quadrants, some traditional malas also have tassels. At Sakura Designs we use 108 beads with three marker beads, one marker after the 54th bead, and two markers are placed after the 21st bead from both side, then we use a guru bead to tie the whole mala together, at the top of the guru bead we use a beautiful tassel with different styles and knots. How to Use a Mala

Care for Your Beads

Recitation of Mantra Prayers

Mantra are words, prayers or syllables that are chanted every time a bead is moved on the mala, the most common mantra is ‘Om.’ One 108 mala bead signifies 100 recitations of a mantra, the additional 8 beads are there in case of a miscount and also to ensure better concentration. Mala beads are held in left or right hand, counting starts right after the guru bead until the guru bead is reached again, hence completing the whole mala.

Mantra Counters

Once one has completed one entire mala, a 10 bead mantra counting beads called counters are used. One bead is moved to equate to 100 recitations. When one stand of counters is complete, another strand of counters is used, and one bead is the moved to account for 1000 recitations. Many mantra recitations can be counted, using mala counter or “jupshe.”


Islamic Tasbih or Worry Beads

Mala beads are widely used in the Islamic culture with slight variations. They are used in daily prayers and are called ‘Tasbih’. The Tasbih has 99 beads, and is divided into thirds by placing a marker after each 33rd bead. They mostly have a cylindrical shaped top bead, and tassel. Tasbihs are believed to bring good luck and are also known as ‘worry beads.’

Hand or Prostration Malas

Hand mala beads are commonly used in Tibetan Buddhism for prostrations, in Chinese Buddhism 27 or 36 mala beads known as ‘Juzu’ are commonly used. Similarly in Japan, 27 or 36 hand-held mala beads are used during prayers, they are wrapped around the hands during bowing, this type of bowing is called ‘Gassho’, where the practitioner while sitting or standing bows forward with hand closed in a praying manner held close to the heart.

Jodo Shin Shu

The Jodo Shin Shu mala beads have 27 or 36 beads with two markers and a ‘Buddha Bead.’ During prayers, hands are held in ‘Gassho’ style while the beads are placed between the thumbs and fingers.

Juzu or Ojuzu

The traditional Ojuzu or Juzu mala has 108 beads, with two parent beads, marker beads are places after the 7th and 21st bead from each side of the mala, the two parent beads have beautiful tassels, in addition, one of the tassels has five additional beads. These mala beads are held in the traditional ‘Gassho’ manner.

Why 108 Beads?

The traditional Buddist malas have 108 beads, the number of beads can vary depending upon the particular sect of Buddhism, the guru beads and markers are not included in the 108 beads. People often ask why 108? Well the most commonly stated and accepted reason is as follows: 1 represents the Source, the higher truth or the universe, 0 stands for humbleness, emptiness, and the willingness to learn. Finally the number 8 is related with infinity, eternity and timelessness.

108 beads is said to represent the following formula: 6 x 3 x 2 x3 = 108 6 senses of a human being: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, thought 3 times: past, present, future 2 conditions of heart, mind or intention: pure or impure 3 disturbing emotional states or “kleshia”: like, dislike, indifference.

Zen Shu, or Zen Buddhist Prayer Beads – 108 Beads In Zen

Number of beads- 108 plus 4 plus 1. The formal Juzu has 108 koshu ‘children’ or main counting beads, plus either one or two larger boshu ‘parent’ beads at the beginning or end. There are markers after #7 and #21 on either side. The 108 koshu represent the 108 earthly desires, worldly & or confused passions which the follower of the Dharma seeks to overcome.

Soto & Rinzai Zen use a Juzu with a single loop of 108 children beads and one boshu parent bead, from which hangs a single or double tassle. It also has 4 ‘segment’ or ‘marker’ beads after #7 and #21. In prayer, the Juzu is placed in a double loop on the center hand.;


The Buddha himself is believed to have instructed followers to utilize mala. “There is a Sutra (Buddhist Text aka. “thread of knowledge”) in which a King prays to the Buddha for a simple practice to help ease his suffering from various difficulties and the Buddha responded by telling him to string 108 soapnut seeds and recite the three part refuge prayer upon them.”


The original phrase for mala is ‘Japa Mala’, it’s derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Garland’, which is a decorative cord used during festivals. In Christianity a mala is referred to as a rosary or prayer beads, rosary originated from the Latin word ‘rosarium’ that means crown of roses.

Yoga Japa Malas

The word mala was derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Garland’ which is a set of beads used by Buddhists and Hindus, traditional mala beads consist of 108 beads, but there are many other variations present and used. Malas are used during meditations, where the practitioner has to count the number of times he or she repeats a chant or mantra. Mala beads are made up of different materials such as wood, seed, precious or semi precious stones. These are worn around the neck or wrist, but a mala’s main purpose is that one can focus on the mantra itself instead of counting the repetitions or single chants. A mantra can be repeated hundreds or thousands of times depending upon the type of prayer or meditation. In Hinduism it is preferred to use the thumb for counting the beads, because the index finger represents pride and ego, which are the greatest hurdles in self realization and self improvement.



The mala necklace is made of a string of prayer beads often with the traditional 108 beads. 108 beads can be divisible by that number such as 27 or 54 beads. The beads are strung on a durable bead cable, or nylon thread, with enough space to slide beads for counting or knots in-between. There is also a larger bead that is known as the ‘guru bead’ that has a natural cotton or silk tassel at the bottom. The tassel is considered a symbol of one thousand lotus petals.

buddhist rosary