An extract from the now updated Ashram publication: "Mantra Yoga and Ashram Chants" by Swami Nishchalananda.
|A 27 bead mala, turquoise and rose quartz|
Number of Beads and their Symbolism.
A mala is a string of beads. The most common mala consists of 108 beads, although those of 27 and 54 are also used. In Yoga, 108 is considered a sacred number. The reason is as follows:
The number 1 represents Oneness, Unity, Perfection and Totality.
The number 8 symbolises Nature, the manifest universe, as well as the individual personality.
According to certain schools of Yoga, we are made up of 8 tattwas (subtle elements): prithvi (earth, solidity, structure), apas (water, fluidity; all fluids), agni (fire, chemical processes), vayu (air, electromagnetic forces), akasha (space), manas (individual mind), ahamkara
(ego, individuating principle) and buddhi (faculty which permits the flow of Awareness).
The 0 symbolises shoonya (transparency or emptiness).
|A mala made in the Ashram|
Japa encourages this transparency between the individual personality and underlying Consciousness. Therefore, the number of beads on the mala symbolise the purpose of doing Japa. The numbers 54 and 27 are important merely because they are divisions of 108. Moreover, the individual digits of all these numbers 27, 54, 108 and even 1008, always add up to 9. In numerology, the number 9 symbolises the perfection of human life. Therefore, whether you use a mala with 108, 54 or 27, or even 1008, it always symbolises the aim of Yoga: to lead us to perfection and realisation of our essential Nature. Use a mala with whatever number of beads suits you.
|Tibetan style mala. 108 beads|
The Structure of the Mala.
The beads are separated from each other by a special kind of knot called a brahma granthi (literally, ‘the knot of Brahma’).The mala is made into a continuous loop by joining the two ends together using an extra bead, known as the sumeru (the summit), which is offset from the other beads. The sumeru bead is an essential part of the mala and is regarded as both the starting and ending point for all mala rotations. It acts as a reference point so that the practitioner can count the number of mala rotations during Japa.
How to Use the Mala.
The tips of the thumb and ring finger should lightly press together and the mala is supported, but not held, at their junction. The middle finger is used to rotate the mala. The second and small fingers are not used but are held away from the mala. Other traditions have other ways of holding the mala which are equally valid. For example, the mala is often held in the right hand, draped over the last three fingers and rotated with the thumb. Use whatever method you prefer.
|Crystal Mala. 27 beads|
Start your practice at the sumeru bead. Rotate the mala, bead by bead, synchronised with each repetition of the mantra, until you return to the sumeru. This obstruction will tell you that you have finished one round of Japa.