Monday, January 5, 2009

What's in a Mala?

Strands of prayer beads will be a feature in my shop. I made my first strands of prayer beads more than two years ago. At the time, I was going on inspiration, and knew little about the history of such things or their common use, with the exception of a Catholic Rosary.

The first three strings of prayer beads each had 28 wooden beads (27 being one quarter of a traditional strand of 108 beads and one guru bead). They were strung on colored hemp cord with a decorative ceramic bead and a cotton tassel.

More than a year later, I went to a mala workshop and learned much more about the craft of making malas, as far as technique. In the workshop, we used gemstones, silk cord, and knotted between each bead. Since then, I have made many malas, and I have even repaired the first mala I ever made: the hemp cord had worn out with use. A selection of those malas are below.

Number 1 is the mala I made at the workshop. It is half length with fifty four beads of aragonite, green aventurine, and rose quartz strung on green silk and finished with a pewter tree of life charm. The guru bead is silver.

Number 2 is a full length, 108 bead strand of labradorite, fluorite, and moonstone strung on silver silk with a sterling silver guru bead and a tassel. The moonstones were extremely disappointing, with holes not drilled all the way through or not a consistent size. I attempted to expand them with a bead reamer, but that just broke most of them. On a strand of about sixty moonstones, I could only use twenty of them. Very disappointing. I made this strand of mala four times, as I encountered more and more problems with the moonstones. I'm happy with it now, but I would have liked more moonstones. Labradorite is one of my all-time favorite gemstones.

Number 3 is another full length mala made of sodalite, howlite, and blue lace agate on blue silk with a sterling silver guru bead and a tassel. When I was born, my eyes were the color of blue lace agate, and my mother had a necklace made for me. That stone is rather special to me.

Number 4 is a small wrist mala, one quarter of the full length strands, with twenty seven small kyanite beads strung on silver silk and finished with a blue silk tassel. One end is a lobster claw clasp because the small beads were just not long enough to go over my hand. The guru bead is pewter. Kyanite is good for balancing all chakras and never needs to be cleansed.

Number 5 is another wrist mala with much larger beads. This one is blue lace agate, labradorite, and fluorite with a pewter guru bead on silver silk with a blue tassel. For the sake of perfecting the design, I put a clasp on this one as well. The beads are so big that it's not necessary, it will easily slip over a hand (even a large one), but I want to start making more small ones like the kyanite. I think I have a good method for this as well. I may end up redoing this strand without the clasp.

The last one, number 6, is my very first mala remade. This time, the original wooden beads were strung on cotton cord. The holes in the beads are too large for hand-knotting, so I put glass spacer beads in between, and reused the original cotton tassel. As this was my first, and with no previous instruction, it is my favorite and the one I use most often. Though the kyanite is quickly gaining ground (so to speak). I enjoy holding that stone so much.

The following is the information I have included with malas when given to friends and family as gifts; I will likely revise it for the malas sold in the shop. It is a little bit about what they are and how to use them. Much of this information came from the workshop or is based on that, or from a collection of books I have on the subject.

A japa mala is a tool of meditation. Japa means repetition and mala is the word for string of beads or garland in Sanskrit.

Malas were first a part of Hindu traditions that were later adopted by Buddhists, and much later by Christians. These strands of beads consist of a symbolic number of beads strung together with one center bead, called the guru bead, and finished with a tassel or charm. The practice of moving each bead is an extension of focus and concentration, often while reciting a mantra: poem, prayer, or affirmation that promotes a specific feeling or result.

To use your mala, hold it between your thumb and middle finger, it is traditionally never touched with the index finger, and advance the beads with your thumb. If you reach the end and want to continue, turn the string around and go the other way; it is disrespectful to the energies you put into it to cross the guru bead, which stores all the work you do with your mala.

You can choose any mantra for use with your mala. Positive affirmations are very useful; say it once for each bead in slow, rhythmic, meaningful repetition. This is an exercise in calming and meditation. With practice, it will more easily transition you into a meditative state whenever you hold your mala.

It is customary to bless your mala, that the use of it will bring you comfort, love, and peace. You may do this in a ritual or by smudging. You also want to develop an affinity with your mala, which can be done by wearing your beads like a necklace, carrying them with you and touching them regularly, or sleeping with them under your pillow.

Your mala is a sacred object and should be treated with respect as such. Malas should not be left lying around carelessly, tossed, tangled, or stepped on. It should be kept in its pouch when not in use. Should your mala need to be cleaned, you can do so with a damp cloth. Immersing a mala in water will weaken the cord it is strung on.

I find the act of making a mala to be as calming and meditative as using and working with one. It is a task that I very much enjoy.

My malas will come with a pouch for storage and a special affirmation relating to the properties of the stones used. They will be cleansed and charged with Reiki before leaving my hands on their way to yours, but you will want to cleanse and charge them yourself when you get them.

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