The Hindu rosary is used as an aid to meditation, to keep the mind from wandering in order to make it concentrate, without distractions, on the meaning of the prayer being recited. Recitation is usually murmured, or silent. Normally when saying the rosary, a Hindu will repeat the name of his or her self-selected deity (Ishtadevata). It also may be the mantra that was whispered to a boy by his guru on the day he was initiated into his caste and invested with the sacred thread; thereafter, it is forever kept a secret. The receiver is regarded as the disciple of that guru, who is more revered than a Brahman priest. The guru guides him in all religious and spiritual matters for the rest of his life. The phrase, name, or sound (the latter termed a seed [bija] syllable), is repeated 108 times daily, keeping count with the rosary.
The antiquity of the Hindu rosary is confirmed by its frequent inclusion with ancient Hindu deities represented in sculpture and painting. Held in a hand, the rosary is meant to symbolize aspect or attribute of the particular deity, but its meaning is not the same in all cases. Rosaries are included in the depiction of the Hindu deities Agni, Agastya, Ahirbudhnya, Ardhanarisvara, Bhadrakali, Bhringin, Brhaspati, Gauri, Kamantaka, Lakulisa, Manasa, Parvati, Rati, Risi(s), Shiva, Subramanya, Surya, Uma, and Vayu, among others. Lesser spirits are believed to dwell in rosary-bead perforations.
A rosary of gemstones or gold is considered to be one hundred times as auspicious as any other material. Doing a mantra doesn’t require using a mala; the mala is just there to add another dimension to the practice. Besides speaking the mantra, and hearing the mantra as you speak it, the process becomes tactile as well. If you want a psychological analysis of the use of a mala, you could say that it is a “kinesthetic cue device.” Without it, you could be doing the mantra and get lost in doing it mechanically. But if you suddenly feel the bead between your fingers, it wakes you up again.
The mala is used so that one can focus on the meaning or sound of the mantra rather than counting its repetitions. One repetition is usually said for each bead while turning the thumb clockwise around each bead, though some traditions or practices may call for counter clockwise motion or specific hand and finger usage. When arriving at the Guru bead, some assert that both Hindus and Tibetan Buddhists traditionally turn the mala around and then go back in the opposing direction. However, some teachers in the Tibetan traditions and beyond emphasize that this is superstitious and therefore not so important. To use your mala, start with the first bead next to the “guru” bead. Hold the bead between the index finger and thumb, and recite your mantra once out loud or silently. Then move on to the next bead with a rolling motion of your thumb, recite your mantra again and repeat. When you get to the guru bead again you have completed 108 mantras without needing to count each one.Bead by bead – it’s like the steps of a ladder, walking you straight into the Brahman.
Caring for your Mala
In general, your mala will grow in spiritual significance as you use it for mantra recitations and bring it to teachings and possible have it blessed by your guru. And while it is not in itself as sacred as a statue or a piece of Hindu scripture, it is something we usually treat with respect. This means that you wouldn’t put it on the floor or put mundane objects on top of it or throw it.
When not using the mala, Hindus wrap them around their wrists or hang them around their necks. (Although please note that they are not worn like a necklace, for decoration, or, with self-pride, as a way to show that one is spiritual.) When you don’t need it for a while, or are sleeping, for example, you can hang it on a clean, highest place, maybe near your altar.