Mala jewelry is everywhere these days. While mala beads represent a connection to the spiritual world, they also have a fashion appeal to the free spirited Bohemian market.
I recently began educating myself on the origin and use of malas and have recently started designing and making them. They are incredibly enjoyable to make - each one different, unique and quite simply - beautiful!
While malas are often worn as jewelry, they are traditionally considered sacred tools for use in meditation, yoga, reflection and prayer. In fact the name mala means "heavenly garland."
Traditionally, malas are not intended to be worn as jewelry as they are considered sacred. The traditional view in fact is that malas should not be worn as jewelry. But many people do use them for both - meditating and wearing their mala throughout the day to carry its spiritual energy with them.
I won't talk much here about the controversy between traditional vs. modern views except to say I think it is a highly personal decision. And your mala should be whatever works for you! Here is an interesting well written post with more on this topic by malakamala.com: Mala Bead Ettiquette - What You Need to Know.
Now on to what makes a mala a mala and the symbolism behind each component.
There are six essential components of a mala:
- Tassel (some malas substitute a charm or pendant)
- Guru bead
- 108 beads
- Marker, counter or spacer beads
Now some might say there's a seventh part of the Mala - the mantra? But we'll get to that in a bit.
What is the meaning behind each part of the mala?
- The Tassel: Represents the interconnectivity between the student and the universe. Since each string comes together to form one entity it also represents our connection to each other and the universe.
- The Guru Bead: This bead sits above the tassel and represent the God, teacher, or divine power beyond ourselves.
- 108 Beads: Traditional malas will have 108 beads plus marker beads and a guru bead. There are other variations such as 72, 54, and 27 beads. But they will always be a number that is a multipe of 9 since this is considered a sacred number.
- Knots: The knots between each bead represent the separation of one's self from life's distractions. They also prevent the beads from hitting and clicking against one another thereby distracting the student from meditating.
- Marker, Counter or Spacer Beads: These are beads spaced at specific points along the mala to help bring one's self back to focus while reciting a mantra. Common points are at 54, 27 and 18 - but again will always be a number that is a multiple of 9. Marker beads are usually a different size or shape than the other beads.
- Thread: The thread represents our bond with the universe. Since the thread connects everything together on the mala, it symbolizes the fact that everything in the Universe is connected.
What types of beads are used on a mala?
Mala beads are usually gemstones, wood or seeds. Choosing a type of bead is a highly personal decision. Thought should be given to both color and material. For example, blue often represents relaxation while red symbolizes power, passion and energy. Agate gemstones are considered grounding stones that promote balance and centering of one's energy. Jade is a protective stone that facilitates harmony and stability. Other popular gemstones include quartz, amethyst, aventurine, and onyx.
Read more on How to Choose Mala Beads at GoldenLotusMala.com.
Mantras - the seventh essential part of a Mala?
I mentioned earlier that mantras might be considered the seventh part of a mala. Although not tangible, they play a key role in the use of a mala.
Mantras are a word or phrase used while meditating and counting the beads on a Mala. They can be self-chosen or assigned to a student by a guru or teacher. Reciting a mantra while using a mala is done as follows:
- Hang the first mala bead onto your right middle or ring finger.
- Place your thumb on the guru bead.
- Push the mala bead away with your thumb while reciting your mantra.
- Repeat the sequence on each bead until a count of 7, 21, 27 or 108 is reached.
- When the guru bead is reached it is important not to cross over it because it is considered sacred. Instead turn the mala around and repeat the same process on the opposite side.
How does one choose a mantra? As I said earlier these can be assigned to a student from a teacher or a Guru - or you can select one yourself. There are many ancient and as well as modern day mantras.
Examples of ancient mantras include:
- "Om" - Said to expand consciousness and increase divine awareness.
- "Om Namah Shivaya" - useful for purification and destruction of the ego.
- "Om Shantih" - useful for peace, protection, blessings and unity
Examples of modern day mantras include:
- "Be here, now."
- "This too shall pass."
- "Today I choose joy."
Want to know more about mantras?
- Ancient mantras: 7 Life Changing Ancient Mantras (at BeliefNet.com)
- Modern mantras: What's a Mantra? And How Do I Use a Mantra? (by MalaCollective.com)
Now there is a lot more information out there than I have provided. I did provide some links to sites I have found useful but just know they are not all inclusive. Feel free to explore the interenet - and send me links if you find something interesting!
In case you're interested in making your own mala, I plan to post a DIY tutorial soon. In the meantime, ChalkboardMag.com has a great tutorial: Make Your Own Mala Beads + Wear Your Resolutions
Till next time .... "Om."