A japa mala, also known simply as mala (from Sanskrit माला; mālā, meaning “garland”) refers to a rosary or string of beads commonly used in Buddhist regions like Tibet and India.
The Japa mala is used to keep track of the repetitions of the mantras or in some cases of the names of deities. Mantras, as is known, are litanies that are repeated either by pronouncing them or in silence, for different purposes.
Mantras are used on a daily basis by Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs, who maintain that they favor deep states of meditation thanks to the vibrations of their phonemes, which enhance concentration, generating a better environment to achieve inner development .
The use of japa mala may bring to mind, by analogy, the use of the Catholic rosary as they share the function of helping to keep track of devotional litanies or mantras. In fact, japa mala is often called “The Buddhist Rosary.”
Types of evil
The malas are made with different materials, mainly with Bodhi, Lotus, Rudraksha, Tulsi and also Racktu seeds. The materials tend to vary according to the preferences of each faith, for example the Vaishnavas prefer the seeds of Tulsi and the Shaivites that of Rudraksha.
Other beliefs, such as those of the Aghori, prefer the bones of various animals, while some Tibetan Buddhists use yak bones. They also look malas made with semi-precious stones.
How do you use the malas?
The use of the malas is similar in the different aspects and creeds. Let’s keep in mind that some mantras must be repeated hundreds and even thousands of times. The mala should be used in such a way that the mantra is fully thought of and not the counting of the seeds or stones.
At the beginning of the ritual, the mala is held in the right hand, and keeping the index finger raised, the thumb is used to encircle each seed or stone in a clockwise direction (or in the opposite direction depending on the creed) to as progress is made.
A typical japa mala has 108 stones plus a larger stone that is just a start and end marker, often called a “stupa”, “bindu” or “sumeru”. Therefore, the number of mantras for each cycle is 108. There are also “half malas” with 54 beads and bracelet malas with 27 beads.
Mantras can be vocalized or simply mentally evoked. Although the most common is to use the traditional mantras of Buddhism and Hinduism, the use of japa mala also admits the repetition of personal mantras.
Benefits of japa malas for meditation
- They are a simple and very efficient way of counting the recited mantras.
- They increase concentration and meditation during the recitation of mantras.
- Through physical contact with the beads, vibrations of health, peace and harmony can be transmitted.
- A widely used japa mala is usually charged with strong vibrations capable of generating states of peace and even improving health.
Where are authentic japa malas made?
Authentic japa malas are made by artisans in Kathmandu, Nepal, following the ancient rites learned from their ancestors.
Many artisans from Kathmandu have taken their art and traditions to different parts of the world, remaining faithful to their customs and legacy.