What is a Mala?

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.

Sona Japa Mala buy
Lotus Turquoise mala beads

Anatomy of a Mala

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.

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.

lapis 108 beads
ancient prayer beads

108 Beads in Vedic Culture

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.