Divine Garlands – The Use of Malas for Mantra Practice

Malas are sets of beads used for prayer and meditation. “Mala” is a Sanskrit word meaning “garland”. I find it beautiful to think of them as garlands for holy adornment! Goddess Malas may be used for mantras, chanting, prayer, meditation, to wear, and to share on your altars and Goddess statues. There are traditionally 108 beads with a focal point bead, sometimes called a guru bead. Smaller malas may come in derivatives of 108 beads. Malas may be made from bone, gemstones and crystals, wood, and seeds and are typically 6mm to 10mm beads.

The use of beads for prayer and chanting has origins within Hinduism and dates to approximately 8th century bce. Use of prayer beads has since extended into Buddhism (using the 108 beads as in Hinduism), Islam (called subhas with 99 beads), Catholicism (called rosaries and made up of 59 beads), some Eastern Orthodox monastic practices, and Anglican Prayer Beads, as well as Goddess Spirituality.

I have been fascinated with prayer beads since I first encountered them in Catholic school when I was eight years old. I watched the nuns in the chapel clicking the beads and murmuring mystical prayers and wondered what would happen if I had my own. The colors, the metals, the click of the beads, and the intense concentration of the practice were all magickal to me. I collected rosaries throughout my time with the nuns, developing my own practice of prayer to my Lady, and then, a few years later, I discovered malas. At first, they were just the prayer beads without the crucifix, but then I fell in love with the colors and textures, and the exotic seeds. Sanskrit mantras called to me ~ I love languages and the recitation of these infused words and syllables continues to give me daily bliss.

Chanting with a mala over and over infuses the mala with the intention and divine energy of a particular mantra. To keep the energy close, you can wear your mala as a necklace or bracelet as well. Keep the sacred vibrations within your aura!

Many malas that are from the Hindu or Buddhist tradition will be 108 beads with a guru bead or a derivative of 108, like 54 or 27. The number 108 is considered to be sacred and 108 times is a lovely recitation of a mantra (called namajapa), marking each recitation on the beads of your mala.

Why the number 108?

1, 0, and 8: Some say that 1 stands for God or higher Truth, 0 stands for emptiness or completeness in spiritual practice, and 8 stands for infinity or eternity.

Sanskrit alphabet: Traditionally there are 50 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet, but some teachings claim 54 letters. Each has masculine and feminine, shiva and shakti. 54 times 2 is 108.

Heart Chakra: The chakras are the intersections of energy lines, and there are said to be a total of 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra. One of them, sushumna leads to the crown chakra, and is said to be the path to Self-realization.

Harshad number: 108 is a Harshad number, which is an integer divisible by the sum of its digits (Harshad is from Sanskrit, and means “great joy”)

Marmas: Marmas or marmasthanas are like energy intersections called chakras, except have fewer energy lines converging to form them. There are said to be 108 marmas in the subtle body.

River Ganga: The sacred River Ganga spans a longitude of 12 degrees (79 to 91), and a latitude of 9 degrees (22 to 31). 12 times 9 equals 108.

Planets and Houses: In astrology, there are 12 houses and 9 planets. 12 times 9 equals 108.

Goddess names: There are said to be 108 Indian goddess names.

Sun and Earth: The diameter of the Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth. The distance from the Sun to the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Sun.

Moon and Earth: The average distance of the Moon from the Earth is 108 times the diameter of the Moon.

For 2016: a leap year displays 366 days and 3 x 6 x 6 gives 108.

Even the Druids: the pre-historic monument Stonehenge is 108 feet in diameter.

How to Use and Charge Your Mala

Chanting with a mala over and over infuses the mala with the intention and divine energy of a particular mantra. To keep the energy close, you can wear your mala as a necklace or bracelet as well. Keep the sacred vibrations within your aura!

Some people like to keep their malas wrapped and/or in a bag or box between chanting. Personally, I drape mine on statues and altars to stay with the deity to whom they belong.

Malas are sacred tools – divine adornments. They should be treated with gentleness and respect as physical symbols of connection to deity and spiritual wisdom and power. You do not need a mala to chant a mantra. It is just an additional tool to assist in focusing your mind and spirit. And beautiful 🙂 – they are beautiful tools!

Here are some general guidelines for using your mala with your mantra practice:

Sit comfortably with your spine straight as preparing for meditation. If I am using a new mantra, I write down on a little card. Find your mantra online and chant along! This is the best way to learn and I highly recommend Deva Premal.

Hold your mala comfortably and so that it is not distracting or awkward to move it through your hands to count the beads. I prefer malas without knots because I like the movement of the bead along the string, but see which way you prefer.

Ram Dass explains the use of hands:

Now for those of you who are left-handed (as I am): In India, you would be inclined to use the right hand anyway, because of certain cultural traditions. The Tibetans, on the other hand, have no such rules; they use their malas in either hand, and with any finger. In the Hindu tradition, you can use any finger of the right hand to hold the beads, except for the first finger, which is the pointing or “accusing” finger; you don’t use that one. The reason most people use the third finger is that there is a nerve on the inside of that finger which is connected to your spine in such a way that you’re getting a little added benefit from the practice. It’s similar to an acupressure point, and it adds a little extra energy rush to the process.

Begin chanting and touching each bead and onto the next to keep count.

When you reach the Guru bead, you can mentally bow to the Guru energy and the Guru within, but don’t count it. Simply flip the mala or go in reverse and start again with the next set of recitations.

Repeated chanting charges the mala and infuses it with that particular mantra, purpose, and deity. I have specific malas that I only use for specific mantras, but I use sandalwood and rudraksha malas generally.

Happy Chanting! What is your favorite mala?

I have to confess that my mala addiction has now extended into designing custom Goddess Malas for the Shakti Goddesses in collaboration with my jewelry designer friend, Anne-Marie from Ampl Creations. She is also the creator of the stamped mantra bracelets.

If you would like to create your own mala or request a custom mala, please contact her directly through the link above. Generally, custom malas begin at about $70+ depending on the crystals that you would like to choose.

Lakshmi Mala by Ampl Creations

Sources for 108: swamij.comhumanityhealing.net

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