The Meaning of Malas

Do you wear Mala beads?

I wear my malas everywhere… for me they are a constant reminder to stop, breathe, and to pay attention to the moment.

I’ve collected malas in my travels throughout India and Bali and each holds significant spiritual meaning for me.

Mala is a Sanskrit word which means garland, however it is much more than a beautiful adornment, a mala is a powerful and symbolic tool for meditation.

A mala is a simple string of beads used in japa meditation to count mantras, affirmations, breaths, or intentions. They were developed to keep the mind focused and clear from thoughts.

A full mala contains 108 counting beads plus one guru bead. The guru (teacher) is larger than the other counting mantra beads and it provides a starting and ending point for counting the repetitions of the mantra.

A tassel is connected to the end of the guru bead to finish the mala with a final knot.

In India, malas are primarily made from sandalwood, tulsi, and rudraksha seeds. Rudraksha means “Shiva teardrops” and this sacred seed is said to cleanse the body, in the same way the tears cleanse the soul.

Malas can also be made out of beads, crystals and semi-precious stones.

There are many theories behind the significance of the number 108, which has long been considered a sacred number in Hinduism. One explanation is that the number 1 stands for God or the universe, and 0 stands for emptiness and humility and 8 stands for infinity and timelessness.

The number 108 has many other powerful associations in the science and spirituality of India such as:

  • Vedic mathematicians measured the Sun’s diameter to be 108 times larger than the diameter of the Earth 
  • They measured the distance between the Sun and Earth to be 108 times the Sun’s diameter
  • There are 108 sacred texts of the Upanishads
  • 108 sacred holy sites in India
  • 108 marma points in the body
  • 108 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet.
  • There were108 gopis dancing with Krishna in Vrindavan
  • There are 108 names of the goddess and
  • In Tantric yoga there are 108 energy lines throughout the body that converge at the heart chakra

How to use your mala:

  1. Sit comfortably with your spine straight and your eyes closed. Take a few deep breaths to centre and align yourself with your intention.
  2. If you have one, use a mantra for this practice, chanting aloud or silently. Otherwise you can simply use an affirmation or your breath.
  3. Hold your mala in your right hand, draped between your middle and index fingers.
  4. Starting at the guru bead, use your thumb to count each smaller bead, pulling it towards you as you recite your mantra.
  5. Do this 108 times, travelling around the mala, until you once again reach the guru bead.
  6. If you want to continue the meditation, instead of passing over the guru bead reverse direction and begin again.

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Barbara Courtille