In Sanskrit language, mala or more correctly, maala means a garland of beads. Mala used for counting the affirmations or mantra repetitions in meditation is called japa mala or simply mala. The process of repeating a mantra or a phrase is called japa.
Why 108 beads?
Generally, a Hindu japa mala consists of 108+1 beads, Guru bead, with a knot between the beads. The number 108 has several meanings. 108 beads represent the entire universe. When we count the mantra using the mala, we are remembering the presence of the deity who is the Universal Self in every part of the universe. So, after each cycle of repetition, we cover the entire universe by feeling and touching the presence of deity of the mantra in it.
To show respect to the Master(Guru), Guru bead is never crossed when counting the mantras during meditation. Instead, the mala is turned around so that the next round of counting begins with the 108th bead. The tassel after the Guru bead indicates the fourth state called Turiya. It is a transcendental state beyond three states, viz., waking, dream and deep sleep.
The string of the mala symbolizes the Universal Self. The string holds and supports the beads, so it symbolizes the Universal Self which is the force that supports or sustains every part and every being of the universe.
In a japa mala, 108 beads are strung in a circular fashion. It represents the cyclic nature of the universe, without an end or a beginning. The Universal Self is the only unchanging principle, just like a string in the mala.
Knot between the beads:
Traditionally, a knot is kept between the beads to ensure that the beads won’t touch each other. This is to avoid the distraction that may be caused due to frictional sound of bead during mantra meditation. Knot signifies the divine link present between all beings of this universe. It reminds us that all of us are strung in the thread of the Universal Self like Sutre maniganaa iva, meaning the beads strung by a thread.
Marker (spacer) Beads:
The reason for marker beads is rather simple. While meditating the mind often trails off, takes us away from the very moment of the mantra. So what the marker bead does as it acts as a "wake up call" or a "check" to make sure you are aware of what you are doing.
Once the mind trails off you will continue to count the beads but will "forget" what you are doing because the mind is somewhere else and once you come across this marker bead which is different from the rest, it tells you to come back to the mala and your mantra.
Another good use is that you may be reciting the mantra and wondering "AM I THERE YET? HOW MANY MORE BEADS TO THE END?"
The intervals that the counter or spacer beads are placed have importance too. In Tibetan style malas the spacer beads are usually placed at every 27th bead. Other variations of this are used too, and there is no right or wrong, but generally they would be multiples of 9 or divide equally into 108, such as 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 12, 18, 27, 36 or 54.
The Types of Beads Used:
Each type of bead weather it be a crystal, seed or wooden bead has a meaning and significance. Please see descriptions provided.
***All tassels are handmade by me, selecting fine quality materials.