How To Use Japa Mala Beads

Japa Mala beads are the Hindu rosary. I say that so those not familiar with them can get a basic idea of what they are and what they are used for. The Hindu mala beads were certainly in existence long before Christianity was a thing, so there is some evidence that Christianity may have gotten the idea for the rosary from Hinduism. Many cultures do have prayer beads, ways of counting repetitions of mantras or prayers, and they probably all began with Hindu malas.

“The use of beads in prayer appears to have originated around the 8th century B.C.E. in India.” 

The word “Mala” you may remember from my post on Hindu wedding garlands. Those garlands are called jai mala or var mala. Mala means garland in Sanskrit. Japa means repetitions and has the connotation of using repeating sounds over and over to build up energy and inner fire. So the japa mala is a garland of repetitions.

The circular nature of the beads connects to the Hindu belief that all life is cyclical and the world exists in cycles.

How to Use

First of all, you’ll need a mantra. You can use a simple Om or Om Namah Shivaya or Om Ganapati Namah (I bow to Shiva, I bow to Ganesha, respectively). You also may hear specific mantras for particular attainments, like mantras for fertility, for prosperity, for love, or for peace. ISKCONs use the beads to count out their repetitions of the Hare Krishna mantra. If you find mantras for specific attainments, they will usually give instructions on how many times to repeat the mantra and how often. It is common to see instructions to repeat the mantra 108 times (one for each bead) once a day for 40 or 41 days.

Before you begin the practice, you will make a vow as to how long you’ll be chanting this mantra, so if you decide on 40 days, you promise that to the Gods and must complete it.

I’ve heard it said that while Hindus hold the beads in their right hands, Buddhists use the left. I don’t know how true that is, as my Buddhist husband has never heard that.

Hold the beads over your middle finger, avoiding them touching the tip of your index finger (as the index finger represents ego, a detriment to spiritual development) and move the beads one by one with your thumb.

“In northeast India, particularly those in the Shakta traditions in West Bengal and Assam, the mala is often draped on the ring finger of the right hand, with beads moved by the middle finger with aid of the thumb and avoiding the use of the index finger. However, draping the mala over the middle finger and using the thumb to move the beads is also acceptable in these regions.” -

You need to start at the bead next to the larger “bindu” or “guru” bead and go all the way around until you reach that bead again. If you are doing more than 108 recitations of your mantra, you turn and go back around again, not crossing over that larger center bead. Also, if you’re using a smaller “wrist mala” that has 27 beads, you’ll go back and forth 4 times to get to 108.

When not in use, it’s good to store the beads within a box or a bag in your puja room. Many malas will come with storage bags.

Some believe that a mala becomes energized with the mantra that you infuse it with, and so you can wear the mala or touch it to someone and have the effects of the mantra you meditated on felt. For this reason, some people keep a different mala for each different purpose or mantra that they wish to use.

Types of Materials

“…the properties of the beads are said to have specific energetic effects.”

Rudraksha Beads: Common for prayers to Shiva.






Tulsi Root: Common material for Vaishnava malas and prayers to Krishna, Vishnu, or Rama.

tulsi mala

Rosewood: Said to be good for prayers to Ganesha. Also popular among Tibetan Buddhists.

Sandalwood Beads: Said to be good for prosperity.

Gemstone Beads: Different stones and colors can have different meanings and effects. Crystal beads of clear or white are supposed to be best for healing mantras. Some people, such as my husband, believe that different stones and metals and other natural materials have a particular energy to them that makes them good for helping people with particular problems. Each gemstone has properties that it is known for.

Ehow’s list of mala bead materials:

 Tell me, do you mala beads for your meditations?

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About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • Nithin Sridhar

    Very interesting and useful blog. I just want to add that, there is no compulsion that a Sankalpa/Vow must be taken before starting the Jap. If its taken one must try best to fulfill it, if one is unable then he must start over again and also do Prayaschitta for breaking the vow in the form of extra Japs.

    If one wishes to do Jap out of love of deity, he may simply do it every day without any vow or take vow of dedicating it to God every day just before chanting.

    • Ambaa

      Thank you for the clarification! :)

  • siddharth

    Its “Omm Namah Shivaya”

    • Ambaa

      What did I put? Oh dear, left out a letter! I will correct that :)

    • Nithin Sridhar

      Its not “omm” it is “aum” to be precise.

  • 5w_haul

    its said that mala should be used in gomukhi so nobody can see you using it, and should never touch ground while using it.

  • 5w_haul

    lol !!!! when did romans invaded india whole article is fake

  • esha

    I don’t think that making money from your religion is a good thing. As an hindu I’d never do this.

    • Ambaa

      I’m sorry that you feel that way. I like to craft and I thought people could benefit from the things I make.

      I’m doing my best to provide for my family through a very difficult financial time and cannot afford to make things for people for free.

      There are many people who create and sell items for worship. Where else would people get murtis and puja items than from a shop? I don’t see anything wrong with that myself.

      • esha

        Well I’m sure that some hindu items such as mala beads are supposed to be spritually blessed by a hindu priest. Well thats what they do to the items I buy.
        Anyway you are free to do whatever you wish.
        I was not being rude, just saying what I feel.

        • Ambaa

          People are free to buy or not buy from me as they wish. I will never claim something that is not true and my beads are not blessed by a priest. Not yet anyway.

          What you said did hurt my feelings. I don’t see why you would say that to me but be fine with other shop keepers. Creating items and selling them is a perfectly good form of business and I don’t think it’s at odds with my life as a Hindu.

          I already spend an enormous amount of time and effort creating this blog for people to have for free but I can’t do everything in my life for free. I do have to eat.

        • reddy

          Yes thats true. But you could be more polite and considerate in your comments. The other way could be suggesting Ambaa to try to arrange; to sprinkle some form of divine water (by a Priest) or doing other pooja on the whole articles (pooja items) she intend to sell. No one in this world would provide you free of cost things and services such as beads or doing pooja. This is more evident in India itself.

  • Doug

    Although the Japa Mala is the earliest form of prayer beads, the Rosary did not stem from it nor was it derived from the idea. The Rosary was given to St. Dominic in an apparition from the Blessed Virgin Mary in the year 1214 and was spread by his Dominican Order. Whether you believe it was given to him an apparition or not, St. Dominic was Spanish and had never been to India nor had any connection to Hindus to get the “idea” from. The purpose of the Rosary is also quite different from that of the Japa Mala. But I understand why you’d use it as a comparison.

    • Ambaa

      There are so many different stories of origins of things that I never know what to believe! I thought it worth mentioning that some people believe this story, but I’m not sure I buy it :)

      How would you see the purpose of rosary beads as different from japa mala? (Just curious, though as you noticed, I only made that comparison to help people get a basic idea of what I was talking about!)

  • Shatter

    The intuition for this type of meditation and prayer runs deep in the human soul. I designed and braided my “legbands” along theses lines. Each stone being the focus of intention and energy cultivation on my hikes and journeys and later as part of my yoga practice.

    • Ambaa

      Very nice!

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