What is a Mala
A Mala is a string of beads forming a necklace which is used for doing Japa, by the Hindus. The term ‘Japa’ means chanting of Mantras, repeating a certain Mantra multiple times. The Mala is commonly called Japa Mala. The word Mala also means garland. The Japa Mala has been used since ancient times for chanting Mantras. We see images or pictures of Sages/Rishis holding a Japa Mala in hand, in a meditative state, as the Japa Mala has proved to be an important tool for meditation. In today’s time, the concept of chanting Mantras on the Japa Mala has spread worldwide. Besides the Hindus, almost all religions, like Buddhists, Jains, and others, have the concept of using the Japa Mala, only the method of counting is different.
The Japa Mala is essentially used for counting the number of times a Mantra is being chanted while practicing Japa. Just like the Rosary is used by Christians, but the bead placements are different from the Rosary and the Japa Mala, the purpose is the same. Japa Malas are made of various kinds of beads, like Rudraksha beads, Tulsi beads, Sphatik (Crystal gemstone) beads, and many such beads of gemstone beads. As per Vedic texts, the beads of the Japa Malas are associated with different Hindu Gods, Goddesses, and Planets. Therefore, the beads of the Japa Mala you are using will be according to the Mantra you have chosen to chant and what goal you want to achieve by practicing the Japa. For example, the Rudraksha bead Japa is popularly used to chant Lord Shiva Mantras, etc.
The Japa Mala has 108 beads, as Vedic Mantras are chanted insets of 108. There is a 109th bead in the middle of the Japa Mala, which is usually slightly bigger than the rest of the beads, which is called Guru or Sumeru bead and a tassel usually hangs from beneath the Guru bead.
Other than Vedic Mantras, you can choose to chant any other Mantras. It can be as simple as “I am safe” or any other chant.
Method of using the Japa Mala for Chanting
As per the Shastras, Hindus hold the Japa Mala in the Right hand. The count on the Japa Mala is kept by holding the beads between the Thumb and Middle finger and the Index finger is not used at all or rather the Index finger is to be kept extended away from the Mala to prevent it from touching the beads, as it denotes the ego-self. The Guru bead is not counted, it is the 109th Bead, it is also a marker of the start and endpoint of the Japa Mala. Start from the adjacent bead next to the Guru bead, chant the Mantra, and slide the Mala to hold the next bead and continue in this manner.
A minimum of 40 days of continuous chanting using the Japa Mala is needed to charge it and build positive energies.
Japa Mala Meditation
Chanting Mantras has multi-fold benefits, as it helps on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels. By using the Japa Mala for keeping track of the counts it helps to focus and concentrate only on the chanting and not let the counting bother you. Japa Mala Meditation can be done in various ways. Choose a Mantra of your choice and the Japa Mala. Meditation has its challenges as the mind wanders to various mundane topics, the Japa Mala meditation is useful in bringing back your concentration to the Mantra chanting whenever the mind wavers. Touching the beads for counting is said to ground us. You may choose to chant the Mantra aloud or silently. Practice makes perfect, and that is what Japa Mala Meditation is all about.
- It is ideal to allocate a fixed time for the Japa Mala Meditation practice.
- Japa Mala Meditation is best done in a serene atmosphere, where you will not be disturbed. So switch off cell phones and computers or any distractions.
- Sit comfortably on the floor on a rug or cushion with your spine straight and legs folded crossed in a Yoga posture. This is especially if you are doing Vedic Mantra chanting. You can also sit on a chair, keeping your back straight and feet firmly planted on the floor for grounding purposes.
- For Vedic Mantras, it is prescribed to face the East or North direction.
- Sit with your Japa Mala and focus on the intention for the Japa. Close your eyes if you are comfortable as that helps to focus.
- Inhale and exhale deeply a few times (5-7) before starting to get centered.
- You can invoke the God you have faith in or simply the Divine energies.
- Start the chanting and focus on the meaning of the Mantra every time you chant it.
- Be determined to complete the number of rounds of chanting you have set to do.
- When you finish, sit in that atmosphere for a few minutes. Slowly open your eyes and offer your gratitude to the Divine.
Japa Mala Meditation is an individual experience and varies from person to person. It calms down the mind, gives clarity of thoughts, builds positive energies in us, and is extremely meritorious.