Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hindu Prayer Beads

Hindu Japa Mala
Photo Credit: The Full Wiki

In Hinduism, prayer beads serve the function of focusing the mind on each individual mantra rather than on the counting of the mantras. A mantra is a sacred sound, syllable, or word that has transportive meaning to the mind.

These “energetic vibrations,” capable of penetrating both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems of anyone within earshot of the chanting, are reported to have been discovered by yogis and Rishis (Vedic seers) who received them while practicing transcendental meditation over 6,000 years ago. {3}

Assumption is made that the Hindu practice of praying with mala beads evolved from this ancient Vedic practice, sometime between 185 BC and 320 AD.

Hindu Malas
It is important to note that it’s not the counting of the mantras that is important. Rather, it is the focused intention of thought upon the sound vibration that draws a devotee into an altered state of consciousness, empowering both him and the mala (rosary) with spiritual energy that further aids his practice. {1}

There are as many different types of malas as there are sects of Hinduism, and there are as many mantras as there are gods and Hindus. The two main branches of Hinduism, Vishnus and Sivas, use different types malas. Vishnus fashion 108 wooden beads out of the wood from the tulsi tree (holy basil), and Shivas use seeds from the rudraksha tree to make strands of 32 or 108 beads.

Hindu Prayer Beads
Photo Credit: Hein Bratt

Using Hindu Malas
In addition to 32 or 108 round mala beads, most Hindu prayer strands also include one larger bead called the Guru, Seva Mother, or Mother Bead. {2} This larger bead represents the sacred attachment between the teacher and his student. In Hinduism, a Guru, the essential person (teacher) in a student’s life, is often tasked with the role of assigning specific mantras. Therefore, the Guru Bead is a sacred bead that should not be crossed during the recitation of prayers. If a supplicant reaches the last mala bead and wishes to continue, he must turn the strand around and begin again in the other direction.

Hindus follow a sacred practice in using their prayer beads, which begins with holding them in the right hand with the strand draped over the middle finger. Ancient Hindus believed that using the index finger was in poor taste and would increase karmic debt, so modern practice includes keeping the index (and the pinky) finger completely away from the beads.

Using the thumb to slide each bead across the fingertips of the middle and ring fingers, the devotee establishes connection between his brain and the nadis (vital energy centers) of his fingers while repeating the name of the god he wishes to honor. Supplicants believe that repetition of these mantras will create a heat that incinerates karma. {2}

Rudraksha Mala
Photo Credit: San Marga

Types of Hindu Malas
Different types of beads are believed to invoke the power of certain gods, thereby releasing different forms of healing into the supplicant’s body. Coral, believed to restore health to those with anemic conditions, is used in worship of Lord Ganesh, Hanuman, Lakshmi, and the planet arms. {5}

Rudraksha beads seem to be a universal material that brings honor to many of the gods and to all nine planets. Amber beads are used by those suffering from blood disorders, including issues of menstruation. White sandalwood malas are believed to bring peace and empowerment and are most often used to worship ram or Vishnu. {5} These are just a few of the many materials Hindu mala beads are made from.

It is believed by Hindus that the seeds from the rudraksha tree symbolize God’s compassion for all life and that they vibrate at a frequency that releases peace and health to the body. It is believed that these seeds decrease body temperature and blood pressure, thereby relieving stress and strain from the body. {6}

Hindu malas closely resemble Buddhist malas, and many scholars believe that Buddhists adopted the practice of using them directly from their Hindu ancestors. However, there are some very distinctive mala practices in the Buddhist faith.

Read more about Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian prayer beads.


1. Adams, Tom. “Prayer Beads—Tibetan Mala.” Eastern Healing Arts (website). Copyright 2004-2010. Accessed October 26, 2012.
2. Khalsa, Dayakaur. “Mala Beads.” Mala-beads (website). Accessed October 29, 2012.
3. Paul, LoriAnn V. “How to Pray With Muslim Prayer Beads: Thikr, Dhikr, Zikr, Tasbih, Tespihi, Subha, Misbaha.” Hearts to Heaven (website). Accessed October 26, 2012.
4. Rosary Workshop. “Journaling the Bead: A History of the Rosary.” Accessed October 20, 2012.
5. S, Anamika. “Hindu Prayer Beads for chanting Mantras.” HubPages. Last updated June 17, 2012.
6. San Marga Iraivan Temple. “Rudrakshas.” Himalayan Academy (website). Accessed October 29, 2012.
7. Winston, Kimberly. Bead One, Pray Too. New York: Moorehouse Publishing, 2008.

*Clip-art courtesy of The Graphics Fairy

1 comment:

  1. I would love to see an English translation of your prayer lyrics that you pray daily. Do you know of a link to a translation?