What are Mala Beads?

 

Colourful mala necklaces displayed on round white wash deck table

Around the world, Mala beads have increased in popularity from fashionistas to yogis and spiritual enthusiasts. More than just beautiful jewellery, the ancient origins of Mala beads served as a sacred and powerful tool used in meditation. In modern times, they have evolved as reminders of our greatest intentions as well as being used in yoga and meditation practices.

What is a Mala?

A Mala, which is Sanskrit meaning garland, is a string of beads traditionally used to count mantra recitations or Japa during meditation by Buddhists, Hindus and yogis for thousands of years. They are ancient and symbolic tools that were developed to keep the mind focused and clear from thoughts. Customary, a Mala is comprised of 108 counting beads, a larger Guru bead and finished with a tassel, each piece carrying its own symbolic significance. The Guru bead provides a starting and ending point for counting 108 repetitions of the mantra.

What are Malas made from?

Mala beads can be made with many materials. The most common types of beads used are made from wood, seeds and/or gemstones. Depending on the material used, the properties of the beads will have certain energetic effects. These natural materials remind us of our connection to the Earth and the Universe as a whole. Our Malas are made from sustainably sourced Rudraksha seeds grown in Indonesia and authentic semi-precious gemstones.

Why 108 beads?

The number 108 has endless significance across various philosophical, scientific and religious beliefs.

  • Mathematicians from the Vedic tradition believed 108 as the number representing the wholeness of existence.
  • The Sanskrit alphabet has 54 letters, each with a masculine and feminine form, totalling 108.
  • In Astronomy, the diameter of the Sun is 108 times the diameter of Earth, the distance from the Sun to Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Sun and the distance from the Earth to Moon is 108 times the diameter of the moon.
  • In astrology, there are 27 constellations divided into 4 parts and there are 9 planets in each 12 zodiac signs, each when multiplied equals 108.
  • The subtle body has 108 energy channels, or Nadis, that converge to form the Heart Chakra, with one of those channels leading to the Crown Chakra and self-realization.
  • According to Ayurveda, there are 108 marma points (vital points of life forces) on the body.
  • The Upanishads, ancient text of Hindu teachings, has 108 chapters.
  • There are 108 sacred holy sites in India and 108 Indian goddess names.
  • The sacred River Ganga spans a longitude of 12 degrees and a latitude of 9 degrees and when multiplied equals 108.
  • In Buddhism 108 is said to represent the following formula: 6 x 3 x 2 x 3 = 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 emotional states: like, dislike, indifference.

The Anatomy of a Mala

The craftsmanship of a Mala is built in an intentional way, with each part having its own spiritual and significant representation.

The Knot - A Mala is typically strung with cotton or silk thread for strength and support. The thread is then knotted to maintain a consistent space between each bead and acts as a utility for Japa Meditation. The knot represents the Divine link between all beings, reminding us that all aspects of life are connected and supported in the universal sutra of life.

The Guru Bead - This 109th bead connects the counting beads to the tassel, signalling the end of one full cycle in Japa meditation - believed to represent state of consciousness, the central goal of meditation practice. The Guru bead symbolises the connection between the Guru, which is Sanskrit for teacher, from who the student has received their recited mantra and mentorship. The student would recite the mantra 108 times and when the Guru bead was reached, pause to express deep gratitude for the Guru who was sharing such wisdom. The Guru bead signifies gratitude and our connection to the Divine.

The Tassel - The tassel is the cluster of strings, each strand an extension of the string that binds the Mala together. The strands continually move and flow, reminding us that we are not separate but connected to the Divine and each other - oneness and unity, travelling together on this journey called life. The tassel also symbolises the thousand petals of Sahasrara, the Crown Chakra, transcending the energy created from meditation.

The History of Mala beads

The use of beads in prayer appears to have originated in India around the 8th century B.C.E. with roots in Hinduism and Buddhism. Originally, Mala beads, also called Japamala, evolved from a style of meditation called Japa. Japa is a Sanskrit word meaning "to recite, mutter” and is the repetition of mantras. Mala beads are used in other cultures and religions and are known as prayer beads, rosary beads, and worry beads. Over two-thirds of the world’s population employ some type of prayer beads as part of their spiritual practice.