Meditation, quiet reflection, prayer…Beads are present in all of these moments of deep introspection and are used in various religious traditions all around the world. Catholics have rosary, Muslims have tasbih, Buddhists and Hindus use japa mala. They all have a different number of beads and different names but what they all have in common is that they assist in reciting and counting specific prayers or incantations. They help achieve a state of calm, create a place of peace, and get in touch with spirituality.
In recent years, prayer beads have become quite the fashion accessory. Yoga practice has increased the popularity of beaded necklaces and bracelets, especially of malas.
Malas are traditionally made of 108 gemstone beads plus a guru bead. There are many theories behind the significance of the number 108. Some believe that the number 1 stands for the universe and highest truth, 0 symbolizes emptiness and humility in spiritual practice, and 8 represents infinity and timelessness. The addition of the number’s digits (1+0+8) also equals 9, a number with great significance and meaning. It stands for eternity, faith, spiritual enlightenment and awakening.
In the Hindu tradition malas are made of 32 to 108 rudraksha beads, carved from the seeds of a tree unique to the island of Java in Indonesia. These rough seeds represent the difficult and rigid life required of the worshippers of Siva. Buddhist mala also typically consist of strands of 108 beads, reflecting the religion’s historical connection to Hinduism. In Buddhism, the 108 beads represent the impurities that one overcomes in the path to Nirvana. Buddhist prayer beads have traditionally been made from the wood or seeds of the sacred Bodhi tree. Bodhi in sanskrit translates to “enlightened” and reflects Buddha’s understanding of the true nature of things.
Hope, this was helpful.
Research and info thanks to Museum of Anthropology