Thursday, November 17, 2011

Malas 101 - Part 1 - Origin, Use and Variations

Recently, I have been asked many questions concerning the nature of the mala. What are they used for? How many beads are there and why? How exactly do I use it during my meditation practice? These are all wonderful questions that I thought I might address here.

Malas are believed to originate in India around 500 B.C, or perhaps earlier. They are a set of a particular number of beads used to count repetitions of a mantra during meditation. They have been called many names such as worry beads, prayer beads or rosaries and have various traditions in many cultures. The malas I enjoy creating are of the Hindu tradition and are comprised of 108, 54, or 27 beads (54 and 27 being divisions of 108). A full mala is considered 108 beads and can be a wonderful tool to keep track of your mantra during meditation and aid you in focusing. Many believe it can enhance your meditation if your mala is created from certain gemstones, seeds, or wood. 

There are many theories as to why malas have the specific number of 108, some of which are fascinating! One of my favorites is that 1 stands for the Higher Power, 0 symbolizes emptiness and 8 represents infinity. Another explanation is that 108 is a harshad number, or number meaning "great joy". A harshad number is divisible by the sum of it's digits. 

Here are some examples of malas that I have created with a varying number of beads.

108 Bead Mala

Each mala will have a "guru" bead or center bead(s). This bead actually makes the mala 109 beads and it not technically "meditated on". It signals the end of the mala and can be used as a kind of marker, or stop for the finger to feel when you have reached the end.

54 Bead Mala

This 54 bead mala will give you a compete mala after going around twice.

27 Bead Mala

This 27 bead mala, or pocket mala is easy to carry with you anywhere. Pocket malas fit exactly there, in your pocket or bag! Four times around this mala will give you a full mala.

There are as many options for malas as there are individuals! Each mala is very special to the one who uses it and it can feel like an old friend after diligent meditation. One should treat it will love, care and reverence as well enjoy it's beautiful effects!

I hope you will join me on my next post which will be a short introduction for beginners on how to use your mala.


  1. Thanks for these explanations I once looked for but didn't totally remember ^^
    The first one is definitely my favorite ♥ And I'm looking forward to your next post!

  2. The captcha asked to validate my comment was "deityc" o_o It's really appropriate.

  3. I like the explanation that the monks wanted to breathe 100 breaths for God and to make up for any counting errors they added 8 breaths :)


  4. Sabbio, I am glad you enjoyed it! And the captcha- wow! Meredith- that is one of my favorites as well. After researching a bit, I found so many it was hard to choose! I also read somewhere about becoming enlightened if you could breathe only 108 breaths in a day. That sounds pretty challenging... :)