Mala Indians, Tibetans and Buddhists: Meaning and History

The mala are jewels used in India for thousands of years for prayer, meditation and devotional practices. They can also be worn as bracelets and necklaces to give an ethnic and elegant touch to clothing.

What are the mala: historical hints and meaning

The mala are Indian garlands made of 108 grains. They are used by both Hindus and Buddhists and represent instruments of prayer and meditation for devotees of both religions. The meaning of the term mala is in fact “rosary”: these objects are composed of pearls, stones or natural seeds and are used to count the sacred formulas addressed to the divinity.

In fact there is therefore no difference between a Tibetan, Buddhist or Indian mala. The structure of these devotional articles is in fact always the same: in addition to the 108 grains there is a last seed – different from the others in size, shape or colour – which closes the crown and signals the end of the ritual practice.

The mala are usually formed by the rudraksha, the small copper-coloured seeds from the plant Elaeocarpus angustifolius. The grains of these wreaths can also be composed of lotus seeds, tulsi wood and sandalwood. All these plants have in common that they are perceived as sacred by Indian tradition or that they are appreciated by Ayurvedic medicine for their medicinal virtues. Less common in the Orient, but still commercially available, are the malas made from natural minerals.

According to esoteric tradition every material can be conceived as a vehicle of powers, virtues and subtle energies for body and mind. Each stone, crystal or wood is therefore able to positively condition the wearer and can be used to enhance certain aspects of one’s personality or to improve one’s psychophysical well-being.

Those who are going to use a mala for the first time should choose the one that best suits their specific needs: the evaluation of the material is therefore also a very important aspect to consider. The malas can also be worn as simple ornamental accessories or as protective and auspicious amulets. They can be worn around the neck as necklaces or on the wrist as bracelets. In fact, the number of grains can be less than 108 as long as they are multiples of 9. According to Indian thought, wearing a mala also allows you to be connected and united with the deity.

The mala, although they recall the form of Catholic rosaries, are actually much older than the latter: the Christian rosary in fact dates back to the thirteenth century while the first attestation of the mala is dated to the second century BC. The first to make and use these objects were the Buddhist peoples who lived in Maharashtra two centuries before the birth of Christ; the mala were finally exported outside India following the processes of expansion of the Buddhist religion.

How the Tibetan malas are used

As already mentioned above, mala can be used for the recitation of prayers, for the repetition of sacred songs but also for the enunciation of magic formulas and ritual expressions such as sūtra, mantra and dhāraṇī. The main purpose of these wreaths is in fact to help not to divert attention from spiritual practices.

The mala should be supported with the right hand and slid between the ring finger and thumb in an hourly direction. Each grain corresponds to a prayer and you proceed in this way until the end of the circumference. Once you have reached the last seed, you can continue the prayer in the opposite direction.

While the right hand is raised close to the chest and supports the mala, the left hand is open upwards and is resting close to the womb. The ideal position for meditation and prayer is to sit with your legs in a crusade or on your knees with your back straight and relaxed. If this position becomes uncomfortable, you can also decide to lower your right hand and place it above the respective knee.

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