Years ago, most people in the Western world had no clue what a mala was let alone used or wore malas at all. But in the past decade it seems they have become a full-on trend. With books and movies like Eat, Pray, Love and practices like yoga and meditation being integrated into Western culture, a number of people wearing and using malas now. But what is the purpose and deeper significance behind these beautiful beads? If you’re unfamiliar with malas, a mala is a string of beads worn around the neck much like a necklace, but the powerful intention behind the mala that sets it apart from a regular beaded necklace. Malas trace back to the ancient Eastern world where they were and still are, used by Hindus and Buddhists in their spiritual practices of meditation and prayer. In Sanskrit, the word mala means garland and they are much like a Rosary which is used to pray with in the Catholic faith. In fact, in ancient times when European Crusaders went to the East, they saw people praying with their malas, and so they created their own version of the prayer beads in Europe which became what we know today as the Rosary.
Each bead on a mala counts as one repetition of a prayer or a mantra, and there are 108 beads in total. In many spiritual traditions, the number 108 carries great significance. This is for many reasons including that the average distance of the Sun and Moon to Earth is about 108 times the diameter of the Sun which shows how things are mathematically and scientifically connected in the universe. In India, there are 108 sacred sites throughout the country and there are also 108 sacred points in the human body. In Buddhism, they say that this number represents all of the senses and emotions of the human experience. There is also one special bead on each mala which is known as the guru or teacher bead as a way to remind you to be grateful for your teachers and the lessons you learn throughout life.
Malas are usually made using Rudraksha beads which are seeds that are sacred to Hindus. The word Rudraksh in Hindi means Shiva’s Eyes to connect it with one of their deities named Shiva. While many of the traditional malas are made out of these seeds, malas can also be made from other beads such as crystal and gemstone beads, wooden beads and even glass beads. The malas made with the seeds and natural gemstones will carry the properties of the stones or seeds in them giving the wearer many benefits. There are many different styles of malas as well, and there are now even Western artisans and companies making malas for people to wear and use in their spiritual or meditation practices.
So why do Westerners wear malas? Many people wear malas in respect to their spiritual practices and beliefs, while others use them in meditation. Some also wear them as a way to feel more grounded and connected, or as a way to remind them of their purpose in life. They may seem like a just a fashion statement, and while they are lovely to wear, there is a sacredness behind malas that should always be revered. Malas being worn in the West represents the good morals and values of the East integrating into our busy world that could benefit from balance and peace. We can imbue our own meaning and intentions into the malas we wear as a reminder to practice what we believe and to be mindful and loving in our day to day lives. Do you wear a mala? What intentions or meaning does your mala carry?