Everything You Need to Know about Mala Beads and Japa Meditation

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Malas are more than just trendy yoga fashion. They have been used as a vehicle for self-actualization for centuries. They are used to aid in Japa meditation, which involves repeating the mantra 108 times.

With so many types of rosary, it can be confusing as to how to start a rosary meditation practice. In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about rosary beads, how to choose and care for your own rosary beads, and how to start using Japanese rosary beads for meditation.

what is mala tang

what is mala tang

Mala is translated as “garland” in Sanskrit. The japa mala is a garland of beads used for meditation.

They consist of a string of 108 beads with a larger bead at the end. Tassels are usually attached to the ends as well.

Malas can be made using Rudraksha seeds as beads. In India, especially those who believe in Shivaism, they think that these Vajra Bodhisattvas are the tears of Shiva.

Other materials from which marathi beads can be made include various types of wood, gemstones, and metals.

Interestingly, the English word “bead” is derived from the Middle English word “pray”. The meaning of the word changed with the development of the Catholic rosary, in which each bead on a string is used to count a specific prayer.

Although many people wear them as a fashion accessory these days, the rosary is not a modern phenomenon. As early as the Ming Dynasty, maras were used as accessories in the Chinese court.

Rosary beads around the world

Rosary beads around the world

Most yogis wear a rosary of 108 beads. In many Eastern traditions, this is a favorable number. There are many theories as to why this is so, ranging from simple to complex mathematical equations.

108 is arguably so important that many spiritual practices, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, consider the number a sacred number.

The japa mala has 108 beads plus a larger bead called the guru bead which helps you meditate 108 times. But other religions and cultures have beads used to count prayers or meditate.

Catholics count prayers with a string of beads called the rosary. This includes 5 sets of 10 prayers for the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. Between each set of 10 are divider beads indicating where to say the Lord’s Prayer and Prayer for Glory.

A group is called a decade. Each day of the week, the rosary commemorates a different time in the life of Jesus.

The rosary ends with four beads and a cross representing the cross.

Protestants also have their own version of the rosary, consisting of four sets of seven beads.

Seven is an important number to the Christian and Jewish beliefs. They believe that God created the world in seven days and that the church calendar has seven seasons.

Each group is called a week and is separated by cross-shaped beads. The rope ends with Invatori beads and a Christian cross.

The Islamic rosary is called tisbah or misbaha in Arabic. Indian Muslims call their rosary beads subha. These cords contain 99 beads representing the 99 names of Allah revealed in the Qur’an.

According to Abu Hurayrah, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad, if you memorize all 99 names, you will surely enter Paradise.

parts of japa mala

parts of japa mala

Even japa mala can be made in different styles. Some have an overhand knot between each bead, some may have adjustable knots that allow the beads to slide as you count, and still others may or may not have a rope tassel at the end. These are the most common elements found in japa malas:

guru beads

The guru or meru bead at the end of the mala is the largest bead on the rope. It can also be a different color and material than other beads.

Not counted in the 108 meditation beads. If you use the rosary while meditating with your eyes closed, the larger guru beads will help you feel at the end of the meditation.

108 beads

As mentioned earlier, 108 is a favorable number. For shorter versions, some rosaries can be made in multiples of 9.

Often these beads are used for counting 108 prayers or mantras during meditation.

Other Common Mara Traits

Other Common Mara Traits

backhand knot

Most malas consist of a continuous rope with a knot between each bead. These knots make the mala more secure, so even if the mala breaks, the beads don’t all slip off. They also help protect the beads since they don’t rub against each other as often.

Some malas have spacer beads between each bead instead of knots.

Rosary beads used by many Buddhist sects have no knots between the individual beads. Instead, their rosaries are adjustable in length, allowing the beads to easily slide a few inches to the other side. The sound made by the beads hitting each other is also an important part of meditation in some sects.


Some mala beads have additional small beads after (or at other intervals) the 27 beads. This serves a dual purpose. Some say the difference in the shape of the beads helps you stay alert and aware while meditating.

Others also say it’s a useful place to stop meditating and remember to resume it later.


Silk or cotton tassels can be tied at the ends of the rosary. This is a talisman that represents your connection to the highest truth.

Tassels can also resemble the root of a lotus flower, which is often mentioned in yoga practice. No mud and no lotus.

But some rosaries can simply end with a guru bead, a knot, three decorative beads, or a symbolic pendant that means something to you.

Choose Your Rosary for Meditation


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