By Swami Harshananda
Sometimes transliterated as: Japamala, JapamAlA, Japamaalaa
Japamālā literally means ‘rosary used for japa for repetition of mantra’.
Repetition of a sacred mantra, especially in a ceremonial manner, is an inevitable part of many religious practices. Such repetition which is generally done mentally is termed as ‘japa’. Japa must be practiced, keeping the count, either on the fingers or with a japamālā. Scriptural works prescribe many rules for the preparation of rosary and it's use.
The materials used for preparing the japamālās are the beads and threads. There are prescriptions in scriptures of both the materials used in making of japamālās. The japamālā is made out of those materials only.
Material for Beads
- Rudrāksa beads (Elaescarpus ganitrus)
- Beads of dried sticks of the tulasī (holy basil) plant
- Beads of dried wood of bilva (Aegle marmolos)
- Beads of gold
- Beads of certain precious stones like crystal or quartz, coral, ruby, emerald and others
- Beads of bhasma or dried holy ash
Material for Thread
For stringing the beads, the following threads are recommended:
- Silk thread
- Copper wire
- Silver wire
Number of Beads
The number of beads used for making a rosary should be 108 or 54. Rosaries are also made of 27 beads, but rarely. Sometimes it may be even 64 or 32.
Significance of Different Types of Japamālās
Japamālās made of different materials are prescribed for different mantras. For instance, the rudrākṣa beads are used by the Śaivas and the Śāktas who repeat mantras connected with Śiva or Devi. Mālās of tulasī beads are used by the worshipers of Viṣṇu.
Different types of mālās are prescribed for getting different results. It is believed that mālās of rudrākṣa beads can give mokṣa and those of pearls give competence in the knowledge of all the sciences. Generally, one bead is always kept extra in a mālā which is strung separately to stand like a crown. This is called ‘meru’. While counting the mantras, meru should not be crossed. While counting on the mālā, the thumb should be used supporting the mālā on the middle finger.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore