From Mala to Japamala
As I pen down my Article which is on 108 beads which we call as Mala, which is a usual practice in many faiths especially 108 beads in Hinduism. Let me tell what does “Mala” mean?
Malas are usually used in Chanting, they are used for keeping count while reciting, chanting, or mentally repeating a Mantra or the name or names of a deity. This particular Sadhana (Practice) is known in Sanskrit as Japa. These Malas are typically made of counts-18,27,54,108 beads. In Tibetan Buddhism, malas of 108 beads are used.
Let Me Analyse with Scientific basis too—
108 is the Atomic number of Hassium.108 degrees Fahrenheit is the internal temperature at which the human body’s vital organs begin to fail from overheating. The distance of Earth from the Sun is about 108 times in Diameter of the Sun (actually closer to 107.51, as per definition of the AU). Actual ratio varies between 105.7
In Hinduism 108 is Sacred Number–
The Number 108 is considered to be very sacred one especially in Dharmic Religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism. In Hinduism, Mukhya Shivaganas are 108 in Number, so Shaiva religions, particularly Lingayats, use of 108 rudraksha beaded lace for japa. Also,they recite supreme lord Shiva’s 108 (Ashta Shatanaamaavali) names daily during their morning Shiva puja. In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, there are 108 gopis of Vrindavan. When these names are recited often, they are accompanied by counting of a 108 -beaded mala, is considered to be very sacred and often done during ceremonies. This particular recital is called Namajapa. So, therefore a Japamala has 108 beads, repetitions of Mantra.
Likewise, Tibetan Buddhist malas or rosaries (“Trengwa”) are usually 108 beads. Buddha in Tibetan language called as Kangyur in 108 volumes. Zen Priests wear Juzu (a ring of prayer beads) around their wrists, which consists of 108 beads. In Buddhism, it is believed that there are 108 feelings too. There is Bhante Gunaratne this number is reached by multiplying the senses, smell, touch, taste, hearing, sight, and consciousness by whether they are painful, pleasant, or Neutral, and then again by whether these are internally generated or externally occurring, and yet again by past, present and future, finally we get 108 feelings. 6 multiplied by 3,2,3=108. In Japan, at the end of every year, a bell is chimed 108 times,in Buddhist temples to finish the old year and welcome the new one. Each ring represents one of the 108 earthly temptations (Bonno) a who must overcome to achieve Nirvana State.
Let’s us see in Jewish Culture and Numerology—
Jews, they often exchange gifts and give charitable donations in Multiples of the number is 18, associated with the Hebrew word Chai, meaning alive, living, or life. The Number 108 both is a multiple of 18 times (6times 18) and contains the Numbers 1 and 8 that compose the number 18.
We have travelled through various culture & faiths for 108 beads usage, now let me also take you through Literature field too—We find in Homer’s Odyssey, the number of suitors coveting Penelope, wife of Odysseus. There are 108 outlaws in the Chinese classic water Margin? Outlaws of the Marsh by shi Nai’n. There are also 108 love Sonnets in Astrophel and Stella, the first English Sonnet Sequenceby Sir Philip Sydney.
As I travel and take you all through various usages of Japamala, we need to understand why does a Japamala consist of 108 Beads?
The ancient Sages or Rishi always observed the Mantras usually have a claiming effect on our mind when chanted a mi9nimum of 100 times or more. In order to keep a track of the count they used the “crease Counting” method. Since it was used easily to keep track in Multiples of 9 & 12. Hence the Number 108 was chosen since it was more than 100 leaving us some margin of error while counting. The same count of 108 were followed when making a mala. There were various ways of counting using the creases on Fingers. One among them is– Gayathri Prayer—Gayathri Japa—
As we all know light is a symbol of knowledge and wisdom. Many of us would like to meditate on formless objects of the supreme divine. Gayathri Mantra helps in such a meditation. This prayer is repeated for 108 times. To keep track of which repetition (Jap) you are on, mentally number the creases on the finger of eachhand, starting with the second crease of the ring finger. These were the earlier days of japa.
Why 108 beads in a Japamala?
Swami Muktananda, Nabhi Chakra Guru Explains in detailed manner—According to him he says that Heart as the source of the infinite connection and our connection with the divine and God. From the heart, there are 108 Main Nadis (Veins) that go from the heart to all the Extremities and after reciting a mantra 108 times you would have purified your body. In this way, a meditator can see the importance in reciting Mantra. In Ayurvedic Medicine, he says they talk of 108 MARMAS. These are vital points in our body where muscles,bones, joints, arteries, and nerves,meet creating the vital flow of life.
Regardless of the meaning of 108, it is important that if a mala is used to count mantras, the mantra be remembered with sincerity, devotion, feeling and full attention. 9 times 12—has spiritual significance—this is also 108 (9Times12). Also, 1 plus 8 equals 9, That 9 times 12 =108.
Harshad Number—108 is a Harshad Number, which is an integer divisible by the sum of digits (Harshad is from Sanskrit, and means “great Joy”
Desires—There are said to be 108 earthly desires in mortals.
Lies—Equally there are 108 lies that Humans tell.
Delusions—These are said to be 108 times human delusions or forms of ignorance.
Heart Chakra—The Chakras are the intersections of energy lines, and there are said to be a total of 108energy lines converging to form the Heart Chakra. One of them, Sushumna leads to the crown chakra, and is said to be the path of self-Realization.
Sanskrit Alphabet Here we find there are b54 letters in Sanskrit Alphabet. Each has Masculine and Feminine, Shiva and Shakti. 54 times 2 is 108.
Pranayaama—If one is able to be so calm in Meditation, as to have only 108 breaths in a day, enlightenment will come.
Upanishads—There are 108 Upanishads,texts of the wisdom of the ancient sages.
Sri Yantra—On the Sri Yantra there are marmas where three lines intersect, and there are 54 such intersections. Each Intersections has Masculine and Feminine, shiva and shakthi qualities. 54 times equal 2 108. Thus, there are 108 points that define the Sri Yantra as well as the human body.
Time—Many people are of the opinion that there- are 108 feeling, 36 related to past,36 related to present & 36 related to future.
Astrology—there are 12 constellations, and 9 are segments called Namshas or Chandrakalas. 9times 12equals 108. Chandra is Moon, and kalas are the divisions within a whole.
River Ganga—The sacred Ganges spans a Longitude of 12 degrees (79 to 91), and a latitude of 9 degrees (22 to 31). 12 times 9 equals 108.
Hinduism—For example we find many deities have 108 names, while in Gaudiya Vaishnavism, there are 108 gopis of Vrindavan, a mala often accompanies Recital of these names, is considered to be sacred and often done during religious ceremonies. This recital is called as Namajapa.
I could go on & on with my in-depth analysis, but I need to conclude within my limited Knowledge-The distances between the /sun and the Moon, the Earth, the way the planet rotates and the impact it has- all these things that have been looked into it with great care. The diameter of the Sun multiplied by 108 equals the distance between the sun and the Earth, the diameter of the moon multiplied by 108 equals the distance between the Earth and the Moon. The diameter of the Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth. That is why we have 108 beads in a mala known as “japamala”. I feel younger generation need to be put into this practice, this will definitely condition one’s mind towards positivity taking out negativities in one’s life. As an Academician and political strategist, I think every student irrespective of any faith should be taught of 108 times doing Pranaayama which is the need of the hour especially the youth of our Nation, taking India Vikas Ki Aur.
Dr. S. Sukanya Iyer