Composition of a Mala - looking at the parts
A mala most often will have 109 or 112 beads; 108 counting beads , sometimes 3 marker beads dividing the mala into 27 bead sections and a Guru bead. Let's look at these parts of a mala and their use and significance.
Quality malas are overhand knotted between each bead. The knots are there to keep the beads secure and separate: they don't touch and thus remain silent during practice and we can feel their separateness with our eyes closed. They also ensure that if a breakage happens - the beads are not lost.
The thread of the mala is cotton, silk or nylon twisted cord. It represents the tie we have to the Universe. It shows us the bond and interconnectedness of everything: Everything is connected, 'tied' together.
The 108 main beads or Counting beads – They are usually made of seeds, or beads made of wood, bone or semi-precious gemstones. Depending on the material used, the properties of the beads will have certain energetic effects.
Different spiritual practices and religious traditions historically have used beads of a specific material. In India, malas are primarily made from sandalwood, tulasi, and rudraksha seeds. In Nepal and Tibet, most malas are made from bodhi seeds, lotus seeds, and bone. Western malas began to incorporate semiprecious beads – to add to the mala the vibrational energies of the crystals.
Wooden beads are probably still the most common beads used for malas as are hard wearing, widely available and relatively inexpensive…They are also the beads used by monks and nuns. Sandalwood, Rosewood, Ebony, Elm and Peach are the most common wooden beads.
Of the seeds used, Rudraksha seeds have the most history and significance.
It is believed that the first malas were strung from rudraksha seeds and worn by the ancient Vedic Sages in around 1000 BCE. They had strong spiritual significance to the Vedics, who believed that these seeds came from Lord Shiva himself.
According to Vedic beliefs, Lord Shiva went into a deep trance - meditating for the well-being of all living creatures of the earth and when he finished and opened his eyes - tears fell to the earth. These tears were in the form of seeds which grew to trees, later being called the Rudraksha tree. Rudra means “Lord Shiva” and Aksha means “teardrops”, making Rudraksha “Tears of Lord Shiva”.
It is believed that these tiny seeds emit positive vibrations and work to heal the Heart Chakra...
Lotus Seeds and Bodhi seeds are more widely used in Buddhism where the Lotus seeds (really rattan seeds) are said to aid one to rise above obstacles and Bodhi seeds (from a species of fig) are believed to assist in attaining enlightenment.
Like the story of Lord Shiva, the legend exists in Buddhism that Prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment and became the Lord Buddha while meditating under a bodhi tree.
Gemstones/Semiprecious Crystals are becoming more and more popular as mala components, as they bring their own vibrational energies to mala work.
The counting beads are tied in patterns of 108 (Mantra), Tibetan (108 + 3 markers at intervals of 27) or Zen (108 + 4 markers at of intervals of 7, 21, 87, 101).
When marker beads are used they are usually larger in size or of a different shape or texture. They are there to ensure your mind does not wander off during meditation - but stays centered in your practice.
In the center of the garland at the half way point is the Guru (or meru (meaning 'mountain') bead. It can be a gemstone bead, or a specific style of bead, then with a tassel hanging off it. The guru bead is named that for a reason. It symbolizes your Teacher, your Guru, the Divine, or God – whatever you hold sacred – as well as your intention. It is the sacred in your mala - the energy to guide, teach and support you.
The two threads of the mala come together into one and travel through the guru and then finish and tie off in the tassel, representing our connection to the Divine and to each other. Oneness. The tassel is also said to represent our desire to touch enlightenment.
The mala is a wonderful tool with a long history - with specific patterns and distinct parts that each work toward your end goal - of directing your prayers, energies, thoughts or intentions to your higher self, the Universe and the Divine.
Our Product Page can give you a larger view of the Composition of a Mala: