A mala bead is a simple string of beads that are used for meditation practice. It is essentially a tool that helps you count your mantras.
It is helpful because it acts as a tactile guide while you sit in silence and meditate, and can therefore help you feel more mindful. While malas can be made from any material, it is definitely most authentic when made from Rudraksha seeds and sandalwood.
A traditional mala bead will have 108 beads strung together along with one guru bead which is larger than the rest. The guru bead is used as a marker to help feel the beginning and end of the necklace. This is helpful when the mantra is being chanted. Sometimes, to help keep track of the mantra, a special or differently shaped bead is placed every 27 beads. The mala bead comes from Hindu mythology and the reason for having 108 beads in the mala is that it is a sacred number for Hindus.
The necklace consists of a tassel, which has significance of its own. It showcases that strings coming together and represent a connection and oneness. It is also the representation of a divine form of love. The guru bead is attached directly to this tassel. This guru bead often becomes the 109th bead. It is also used to symbolize the guru from whom the disciple has received the mala. Therefore, it becomes a manner of paying homage to the student-guru relationship. Along with this, there is an overhand knotting, which is a true sign of traditionally crafted mala. The overhead knotting makes the mala bead stronger. It also provides a perfect space for meditation, wherein each bead is used to count a repetition of the mantra.
The mala beads have been used by spiritual seekers for thousands of years to help keep their mind focused when they meditate. Malas were first created in India almost 3000 years ago. They have their roots mostly in Hinduism, but have also been influenced by Buddhism. They were used for a special meditation style called Japa, which means to recite. The term mala is a Sanskrit word, which stands for meditation garland.
Just like praying with rosary beads, the japa mala has been found to help slow respiration and help with well-being. Repeating the mantra is said to help move away from daily obsessions and focus on more positive thoughts. One Shiva brings to you bead malas to help you gather your thoughts and calm your soul.