Mala are beads strung together to form necklaces and bracelets of varying lengths. The word Mala is Sanskrit and means garland. In English, Mala are also known more commonly as Prayer Beads or Rosaries. While in Buddhist and Hindu traditions Mala consist of 108 chanting beads, the actual number of beads varies widely according to the tradition using them as well as other factors, and is in itself a fascinating subject that we will explore in another post.
Mala are used as aids in prayer and meditation. The user will recite a mantra (either a sacred word such as Om, or a set of sacred words. Again a subject for another post), reciting it once as she or he passes each bead through the fingers.
Counters are sometimes added to Mala so users can keep track
Or in many traditions, the beads are used as a way to count the number of times that the user chants the name or names of God or other deities. Buddhist Mala often come with counters tied to the beads to aid in the recital of prescribed numbers of repetitions.
Mala are worn most often as necklaces, though in a number of traditions, they are wound around the user’s wrist. Other, smaller mala (fewer beads) may be carried in the hand of the user as a reminder to pray or to remember God. With this in mind, Mala now come in convenient bracelet, or Wrist Mala version.
Prayer beads are used all over the world by a number of religious traditions: Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists, Christians (most notably Roman Catholics, but other denominations use rosaries. Once again a lively and interesting study for another post at another time). Sacred Beads from Sacred India provide Mala that are usually used by both Hindus and Buddhists (having their origins in India), but there is nothing to say that a person from any (or no) religious tradition may use them.
Traditionally, Mala have been made from a whole range of materials, most commonly wood, such as Sandalwood, Tulsi, and the seeds of the Rudraksha tree. But they have always been produced from more expensive materials such as precious and semi-precious stones, crystals and other fine jewels. For this reason, many people value Mala as being fine jewellery pieces in their own right.
Of course there is no reason one cannot use the beads for chanting (called Japa: another Sanskrit word that means the repetition of a mantra or holy name in a meditative manner) and as aesthetically pleasing items of jewellery. Then, there are the therapeutic qualities that can be attributed to each of the stones, jewels, woods and other materials the mala come in. Hate to repeat myself, but that too is a big subject that we will look at in several upcoming posts.
I hope you’ve found this little introduction to Mala and their use interesting. Of course we’ve only touched the surface in this post, but it’s a good starting point for anyone wanting to find out more.
Peace and blessings from us to you.