Mala Beads: History, Tips and Use


Originally posted on Finding Isvara, December 22, 2016

I have several mala beads. I have even made some myself; they are easy and fun to make. I like to wear my mala beads as jewelry around my neck and on my wrist. I’m sure many of us do. Mala beads can be simple or beautiful pieces of art. They are typically made of wood or seeds considered to be sacred.  Animal bone, semi-precious and precious stones are also used. I bought my first  mala beads with the intention to wear it. I know mala beads were used for meditation, but I didn’t know all about their spiritual use and the traditions and etiquette associated with them.

Here are some interesting facts about mala beads I found on

Mala beads are a string of beads used to count mantras (Sanskrit prayers) in sets of 27, 54 or 108 repetitions. The large meru (mountain) bead provides a starting and ending point on the mala for counting the repetitions. Mala beads are an ancient tool that was developed to keep the mind focused on the practice of meditation.
Mala beads are seen in other cultures and religions and are also known as prayer beads, rosary beads and worry beads. Over two-thirds of the world’s population employ some type of prayer beads as part of their spiritual practice. The use of beads in prayer appears to have originated around the 8th century B.C.E. in India.
Mala beads are typically made out of different materials, and the properties of the beads are said to have specific energetic effects. Different spiritual practices and religious traditions historically have used beads of a specific material.
Mala is a Sanskrit word meaning garland. Japa means recitation, and it is traditionally used as an adjective and combined to form Japa Mala (prayer beads for meditation). Japa mala was adopted into other languages as the use and popularity of prayer beads spread. When the Romans invaded India, they mistook japa for jap, the Latin word for rose. Upon returning to Rome, mala beads were referred to as rosarium and later became known as rosary beads in English.

Mala beads are used for many reasons: reflection, spiritual practice, prayer, meditation, cleansing of the chakra system and crystal healing. Traditionally, mala beads have been worn mainly by Hindus and Buddhists, but as time passed and traditions were handed down, it’s now common to see people from all over the world wear and use prayer beads, particularly yogis and those who practice meditation.

As with any practice, you must find what resonates most with you and be mindful of what you’re doing and why. Not everyone will use their prayer beads with the same intentions. Some faiths that use prayer beads are Catholicism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. Here are a few guidelines I found most interesting about prayers beads. However, different guidelines apply for different faiths and usage.

Hopefully these tips will help you understand and respect the use of prayer beads:

  • Don’t let anyone touch or wear your mala beads. If you use your beads for meditation, chakra or crystal healing, it becomes set with your intentions and vibrations. Having someone else touch or handle it can interrupt the vibrational bond between you and your beads. This also means don’t touch the beads of others or try them on.
  • It is considered disrespectful to place your mala beads on the floor, take them to the bathroom or let them touch your bed.
  • The traditional view is that mala beads are for spiritual purposes, and are considered a sacred tool. Therefore, wearing your mala beads it is not recommended, although many hindus, monks, and spiritual leader wear their prayer beads because they are always doing spiritual work. Wearing mala beads may be considered as showing off your spirituality or pretending to be more spiritual than you really are. When not in use prayer beads should be stored in a sacred place or placed on an altar.
  • You should cleanse and recharge your mala beads from time to time. If your prayer beads do touch the floor or are accidentally touched by someone you can cleanse or recharge them by placing them in the sunlight or moonlight, or smudging them with sage.
  • To use your prayer beads for meditation you should hold it in your right hand. You pass from one bead to another using your middle finger and thumb, reciting a mantra on each bead. Touching your prayer beads with your index finger should be avoided since this finger represents the ego. 

There are many aspects to take into consideration when choosing mala beads. The color, materials, number of beads and the style depending on your faith. I have them in different designs, materials, and colors. Some I wear as jewelry and others that I use for meditation, but I like to wear them all.   Whether or not you decide to wear them outside of prayer or meditation is your choice; you set the intention you want your prayer beads to have. 

They also make great gifts for your yogi friends any time of the year!

Happy Holidays!