Introduction of Mala
Traditionally a “Mala” in the Hindu context denotes a garland; whereas the same when used in a prayer session is called a “Japa Mala”. As in many religions, be it Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam the usage of rosary, threngwa, japa mala or subha are an integral part for keeping a count and following the prescribed procedure of the prayer undertaken by the devotee. In the Hindu context the word “Mala” is loosely used to indicate both a garland and a rosary, and its meaning is connoted from the context of its usage in speech or text.
The word “Japa Mala” comprises of two words “Japa” meaning devotional repetitions and “Mala” meaning garland. This virtually means a garland for the devotional repetition of prayers. The usage of mala in a prayer session may be for varied purposes like chanting, counting, mentally repeating a prayer or a deity name. The use of mala in prayers appears to have originated in India around 8th century B.C. Mala was an ancient tool to keep the devotees mind focused while practicing meditation. Hindu deities adorn themselves with the mala which forms a part of their attire or personality. The constitution, procedure of repetition, and benefits of the mala have preset rules and regulations.
Constitution of Mala
The Mala consists of solid spherical beads with a hole bored through the radius for stringing them in a garland form. The spherical concept of the bead springs from the Hindu philosophy that the “Atma” or soul is immortal and life is cyclical. The selection of a bead type basically depicts the purpose of the mala.
· Spirituality – Shiva (Rudrakasha), Vishnu (Basil), Lakshmi (Gold), Ganesha (Ivory), Kali, Durga or Shakti (Pearl or Coral)
· Black magic (Tantric) – Human bones
· Wealth acquisition – Coral
· Satiation of desires – Silver
· Attraction – Ivory, etc.
The single “Meru” or the main bead. This is the most steadfast bead and is not included in the counting. The “Meru” bead maintains its separate existence in spite of being with the rest. This in all cases is not to be crossed and if the same unknowingly transpires, the devotee has to perform pranayam yoga (breathing exercise) six times as penance.
The quantum of beads in a mala has multi dimensional significance. Ideally a Hindu mala consists of 108 beads, but the different tenets/schools and scriptures have specified varying bead quantum. Some may be enumerated thus -
· Spirituality attainment – 27 beads.
· Desire fulfillment – 108 beads.
· Wealth acquisition – 30 beads.
· Dexterity in black magic – 30 beads.
The significance of the 108 beads of the mala are numerous and unfathomable. However a few can be summarized as follows –
· 108 are indicative of the sensory focuses in our body.
· 108 represent the scriptures or Upanishads.
· 108 happen to be the names of Vishnu and Shiva in the epic Mahabharata.
· A normal person breathes 21600 times a day. If half of the total breaths (10800) are spent in worldly affairs, he should give 10800 for spiritual emancipation, which can be attained by 100 turns of the mala (100 x 108=10800).
· Astronomy – The four compartments of each of the twenty seven lunar asterisms i.e., 27 x 4 = 108
· 108 have innumerable mathematical, spiritual and philosophical substantiation.
The Knot (Brahmagath) and the Thread
Since the red color in Hindu mythology is endowed with great supernatural powers three strands/rounds of red colored thread are used to string the beads. Reach bead is to be separated by a knot as a buffer so that they do not make a clicking sound due to collusion while in use. The “Meru” bead is tied in the middle of the mala with a Brahmagath (Brahma’s knot). A “Brahmagath” has great significance and is used only in rituals of infinite spiritual sanctity like marriages and thread ceremonies. A “Brahmagath” in the mala denotes the transcendence of Brahma himself in the object.
Invocating a Mala
A new mala should be procured from a ‘Guru” after observing the due rituals. Thereafter its purification and invocation should be accomplished else the success for the attainment of the four elements of humanity, namely – Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha which the mala will help the devotee to attain will remain unfulfilled.
Principles of Mala usage
The following points are to be observed while using a mala –
· Do not cross the “Meru” bead. On violations ritualistic penances are to be performed.
· For experiencing heightened positive energy draw the mala closer towards your body.
· While offering prayers the mala should always be held in the right hand.
· The index finger should never touch the mala.
· The mala should be placed on the mid joint of the middle finger and the beads should be drawn by the thumb towards oneself.
· The mala alternatively can also be placed on the ring finger with the tip of the ring finger and thumb touching each other. The mala can then be drawn by the middle finger.
· For experiencing higher level of powers, the mala can be placed on the ring finger and drawn by the thumb.
Precautions while using a Mala
A user should ensure the observance of the following so as not to desecrate the mala –
· Use only one and your own exclusive mala. Never share or lend your mala.
· Never change mala’s for different prayer offerings.
· Sprinkle holy water and pay the ritualistic obeisance before commencing the usage of mala.
· Ensure that the beads of the mala do not make a clicking sound during usage.
· The prayer mala should never be physically worn.
· To prevent the energy loss of a mala subsequent to its use store it in a box, bowl or at the place of worship.
· A bad omen transpires if a mala slips and falls. As penance perform six pranayams.
· The mala should never be visible to anyone except the user. A bag resembling a cow’s face should be used for concealment of the mala during use to prevent the loss of positive energy.
· Breaking of a mala is the most disastrous omen. One has to perform Mahamritunjay japa to reverse the effects of the bad omen.
The “Mala” in Hindu mythology is not just a prayer rosary but a great religious tool of discipline, restraint, and perseverance for the ultimate attainment of spiritual bliss and salvation.