What is a Mala?
A mala is string of beads used to keep count while practicing japa (chanting of a prayer). In many religious practices it is said that a prayer should be recited 27, 54 or 108 times. Similarly, Malas have 27, 54 or 108 beads with 1 bigger bead also known as the Sumeru or Guru bead. The Sumeru bead is the starting and ending point of each set of japa (recitation).
A mala is used so that one can focus on the meaning or sound of a mantra rather than having to focus on counting the number of repetitions. Each bead represents one recitation of a mantra.
One starts the practice of Japa with the first bead next to the sumeru bead and continues around the Mala pulling each bead through the ring or middle finger towards the heart. When one full rotation of the Mala is completed, one does not cross over the sumeru bead, one simply rotates the mala and continues to recite in the opposite direction. The sumeru bead is considered to be the goal you wish to achieve in your spiritual practice, and hence you are always striving towards it.
Generally one practices japa whilst sitting down cross legged on the floor, holding the Mala in the right hand above the heart. Holding the Mala above the heart helps in preventing one from falling asleep.
If you think that the act of chanting a mantra induces certain charged vibrations of energy, then by using a mala for japa, those energy vibrations are stored within the beads of a mala. It is therefore advisable to use a new mala – hindu prayer beads, when starting to use a new mantra.
Watch our little interview with the local priest at the Shiva Temple in Delhi, India.
Using a Mala for Japa
In the Indian tradition, malas with Rudraksha seed, Tulsi seed, Sandalwood or Quartz crystal are used for japa. Here at Maha Mala we have combined both the traditional wood and seeds with the beneficial properties of semi-precious stones to bring you a whole new range of malas that you can use for japa or for jewelry.
One generally practices japa in the early morning or before going to bed (although japa can be done at any time). Japa recitation is an aid in calming the mind, hence sitting cross-legged on the floor is advisable- similar to meditation.
1. Hold the Mala in your right hand with your thumb and two middle fingers (there are a few different ways to hold a mala, this is one of them).
2. Start at the bead next to the sumeru bead (the biggest bead at the end) and move each bead through your fingers towards your heart. Keep your hand at heart level.
3. One bead represents one recitation of your mantra, the recitation can be done out loud or internally- generally speaking your mantra out loud is easier than keeping your mantra internal. By reciting your mantra whilst using your mala, you ‘charge’ your mala with the energy of your mantra!
4. Once you have gone through all 108 beads of your mala- do not cross over the sumeru bead (this bead represents your goal you are trying to attain), simply turn the mala around and continue your recitation in the opposite direction. This can keep going on- some people practice 1 round, 108 rounds or even 1008 rounds of the mala!
Don’t worry if you are slow or fast, it all depends on your mantra! Over time your speed will increase as you get used to your mala and your mantra. One mala should be used for one mantra (remember that your mala becomes charged with energy from that particular mantra?)- therefore when changing mantra a new mala should be used.
Some simple mantras to recite are as follows:
- AUM. The sound of the universe, the universal sound.
- Aum Shivaayai Namaha! Salutations to the auspicious one (Shiva).
- Aum Saraswatyai Namaha! Salutations to Saraswati (the goddess of learning).
- Aum Sri Matre Namaha! Salutations to the Divine Mother.
- Aum Sri Ganeshaya Namaha! Salutations to Lord Ganesha (remover of obstacles).
- Aum Sri Lakshmyai Namaha! Salutation to Lakshmi (goddess of auspiciousness and abundance)
The Number 108
There are many differing explanations as to why 108 is a significant number in Hinduism, however they all lead back to ancient Indian numerology and astrology.
We have outlined a few of the relevant beliefs regarding the significance of the number 108.
- It is said that the diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth. The distance from the sun to the Earth is also 108 times the diameter of the Sun. It is also said that the average distance from the Earth to the moon is 108 times the diameter of the moon. Check the math here. [Considering this statement- it then makes sense to conclude that a full round of japa (recitation of mantra) on a Mala represents the symbolic journey from the earth to the sky!]
- The sanskrit alphabet has 54 character each with a Male (Shiva) and Female (Shakti) counterpart. Therefore in total there are 108 characters in the Sanskrit alphabet.
- In Indian Astrology there are 12 constellations, and 9 arc segments called ‘namshas’ or ‘chandrakalas’. The 12 constellations multiplied by the 9 arc segments equals 108.
- In Hinduism it is said that the soul or ‘Atman’ goes through 108 stages on the spiritual journey.
- There is said to be 108 names given to the Indian Goddesses.
- There are 108 forms of Indian dance.