What Is Japa Mala?

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Jaap (to utter in a low voice) + Mala (garland)

Japa Mala Definition

Japa Mala, Jaap Mala, or Japamala, is a meditation technique that uses a mala (a string of beads) as a tool to count the repetition of mantras, or Japa.

You might have seen people wearing or holding these and thought that they looked like necklaces, but the reality is that they are far more than just jewelry. They are of great spiritual and cultural significance as you will find out below!

japa mala deep dive

The mala is a type of prayer bead that is traditionally used in Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, similar to how rosary beads are used in Catholicism. Today, they are often used as part of meditation and mindfulness practice regardless of the user’s religion.

Within the yogic tradition, the practice supports us to purify the mind and liberate us from samskaras (past impressions) and vasanas (future desires).

They can be made of any material such as glass, stone, crystal, plastic, clay, metal, or wood.

japa mala over holy scripture

Malas are used to count recitations of particular mantras or sacred sounds (Japa). Because there are generally 108 beads on a mala, the mantras are repeated 108 times with the practitioner moving their finger across each bead with every mantra repetition.

When they reach the last mala bead (which is actually the 109th), they know they’re finished or have finished one round of Japa. This final bead is called the Sumeru.

The Sumeru bead

This bead is especially significant; it is said to collect all the energy that is accumulated in the mala while the Japa takes place.

When doing your Japamala practice, one full cycle of the Mala is completed without crossing over the Sumeru bead. Instead, you rotate the mala and continue to recite the mantra or prayer moving the mala in the opposite direction.

Because of the strong energy that it contains, many also touch this bead on their bowed forehead and third eye chakra to open or close the practice.

The Sumeru represents the spiritual goal that you wish to achieve as a result of your practice, and therefore the constant rotation demonstrates your dedication to always striving towards it.

Why are there 108 beads?

The number 108 is very powerful and significant in Dharmic religions. It represents the number of spiritual completion, considered as representing the wholeness of existence.

Where else does 108 show up?

This number appears in multiple different ways throughout yogic tradition and nature itself:

  • There are 108 names of various divine Gods and Goddesses
  • The Sanskrit alphabet has 54 characters, each with a Shiva and Shakti aspect, making a total number of 108 characters in the Sanskrit alphabet
  • In Hinduism, it is said that the soul or ‘Atman’ goes through 108 stages of spiritual development
  • The diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of the earth. The distance from the sun to the Earth is also 108 times the diameter of the Sun. The average distance from the Earth to the moon is 108 times the diameter of the moon

As you can see, 108 connects the individual to the whole.

person holding japa mala beads

Japa mala in your life

How to use your mala

1. Before you pick up your mala, set an intention to clear your mind and begin your practice with gentleness and respect. Now hold your mala between both your middle and index fingers. Do not hold the mala below the level of the navel

2. Start at the bead to the right of the Sumeru (the biggest bead) and use your thumb to begin to count each of the smaller beads whilst you recite your mantra (silently or out loud)

3. Feed the beads toward your heart space using your thumb. At the end of every finished mantra, move on to the next bead. This can take some getting used to, but try to find a rhythm with your prayer or mantra repetition

Japa Mala tips

1. As well as using it to keep track of the number of mantras you have chanted, you can also use the mala to help ground you and focus your attention on a single point.

2. Do not let anyone touch or use your mala

3. Keep your mala beads in a clean place, such as on your altar or in a mala bag

4. Once you reach the Sumeru, do not cross over it. Either finish your practice or reverse the beads in the opposite direction and repeat another round

5. Try to hold the mala at the heart space or third eye center whilst practicing Japa

6. Do not hurry your practice – do it slowly and mindfully with feeling, intention, and devotion

7. Remember, our mala gets charged with the energy of that particular mantra or practice. So, once you get confident in your mala practice, you might want to consider changing your mala with every new mantra as different Japas carry different energies

8. You can wear the beads when you’re not doing Japa Mala practice if you need a reminder of what’s important to you

person holding japa mala

Simple mantras to start Japamala with

  • Aum/Om

The unbroken sound of the universe

  • Om Namah Shivay or Om Shivaayai Namaha

Salutations to the auspicious one (Shiva)

  • So Hum

I am that

  • Om Saraswatyai Namaha

Salutations to Saraswati (the goddess of education and creativity)

  • Aham Prema

I am divine love

  • Om Sri Matre Namaha

Salutations to the sacred/divine Mother

  • Om Sri Lakshmyai Namaha

Salutation to Lakshmi (goddess of abundance)

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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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Liz is a Qigong and Yoga teacher based in Gloucestershire with a love for all things movement, nature & community. She strives to create a trauma-informed space in which everyone is empowered to be their authentic selves. www.elizabethburns.co.uk

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