The history and characteristics of mala beads
About Mala Beads

The Characteristics of Mala Prayer Beads

Japa malas or meditation malas, are used in many forms of Mahayana Buddhism to count mantras (Sanskrit prayers) and for meditation purposes, often with a number of beads, usually a divisor of 108. Pure Land Buddhism uses 27 bead malas. These shorter malas are easier to hold when enumerating repeated prostrations. In Tibetan Buddhism malas are also 108 beads: one mala counts as 100 mantras, and the 8 extra are meant to be dedicated to all sentient beings. In Tibetan Buddhism, often larger malas are used such as 111 beads: one mala as 100 mantras, and the 11 additional beads for errors.

A mantra is a word or series of words chanted aloud or silently to invoke spiritual qualities. Chanting is used as a spiritual tool in virtually every cultural and religious tradition. In the yogic tradition a mantra is a Sanskrit word that has special powers to transform consciousness, promote healing or fulfill desires.

The History of Mala Prayer Beads

When we look at mala prayer beads during the past history of humanity, usage in India can be regarded as the beginning. In India, malas have been started to be used from the BC 2500's and in Sanskrit, they have been known as "japa-mala", in which "japa" meant "prayer" or "repeated prayer", and "mala" meant "wreth of roses" or " wreath consisting of whispering strings". It was mostly made from seeds and transported by hanging on the neck. In Hinduism, the number of beads was 108 which corresponded to the number of Brahman's names. Same number of beads were also used in religions such as Sikh and Buddhism born in India later.

As Buddhism spreads out to Asia, the use of malas also spreaded to Central Asia, China, Hindu China and Japan, where the number of beads divided into 44 and 27 which are the dividends of 108. In China, sometimes the they have been called as "shu zhu" or "counting beads". In parallel, material diversification has begun and on top of seeds, semi-precious stones, trees, amber and bones were used. The Buddhists called prayer beads as "Om Mani Padme Hum" and "Jewellery of Lotus’s Heart" which is considered as the Buddha's true words.

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