A japa mala is a rosary that consists of 108 beads. Buddhists use japa malas in their prayers and so do Hindus. These malas can be used for different reasons including counting mantras and chants. It is believed that the rosaries used by the Buddhists were adapted from Hinduism.
These rosaries are worn by both priests and devotees. They are also attributes of certain deities including Avalokiteshvara, who was the bodhisattva of infinite compassion.
The rosaries worn by Buddhists are usually made from wooden beads, although a range of other materials can also be used. There are many reasons why wooden beads are used in the creation of these japa malas. First of all, wooden beads are the most natural kinds of beads available. Some trees also produce fragrant wood such as sandalwood and it is believed that sandalwood attracts positive subtle vibrations. These soothing and peaceful wooden beads bring clear perception, positive attitude and promote tranquillity as well. In addition to all these, sandalwood is a sedative wood and it can be used as an antiseptic and antidepressant. This wood has the property to heal cells and aid the immune system in the healing of illnesses and injuries.
It is also believed that chanting or praying with japa malas made from wooden beads such as those made from sandalwood can be beneficial for calming. It can help focus the human mind and it also helps in meditation. Sandalwood is commonly used in temples and also on personal altars. During the earlier days, sandalwood was abundant and apart from being used in prayer beads, they were used to construct certain areas of the temples. Even deities were fashioned from sandalwood and kept in shrines and temples.
In most cases, prayer beads are made from beads coming from wood from the bodhi tree or the sandalwood. But, there are rosaries that can also be made from more expensive materials such as semi-precious and precious stones including crystal, coral, gold, amber, pearls and rubies. They can also be made from found objects such as animal bones and seeds just like how they were made in the ancient days when other kinds of materials were not easily accessible.