Perhaps the most frequently asked question coming to me over the years of creating and tying Malas is: “What is the significance of 108?”
It’s a fair question, and one that invites innumerable replies. Depending on which friend is asking, as well as the mood of the moment, and most of all my memory, I’ll give an entirely different response each time. It’s not that I’m fabricating or making it up: there are literally 108 different reasons why a Mala consists of 108 knots.
I would love to share nine of them with you, both for joy’s sake, and to refresh my memory!
The first is my favourite. It has to do with the heart: no surprise there!
1) There are said to be 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra. One of them ~ Sushmanaa ~ leads to the crown chakra, the path to Self-Realisation. With each turn on the Mala and every repetition of Mantra, yet another of those 108 channels to the heart is opened. And the heart is that in which the whole universe is resting.
2) 108 is a Harshad number. The word Harshad comes from Sanskrit, and means joy-giver. A Harshad number is divisible by the sum of its digits.
3) 1 stands for oneness, highest truth, God. O stands for completeness in spiritual practice. 8 stands for infinity or eternity.
4) In Hindu mythology, there are 108 names of God. In the Stotram citing those names, each sound and syllable is Mantra, imbued with the power to release the one singing from the clutches of an identified mind consciousness. Even repeating one single name will bring about the freedom state, and as the Sage Charandass promises in the final verse, the one who sings 108 names of the Mala will become carefree, and will go beyond the net of the senses and the mind sense.
- Ajar | Unborn * Amar | Undying * Avigat | Ever Present * Avinaashee | Indestructible
- Alakh | Unseen * Niranjan | Pure * Swaamee | Highest Self
- Purush | Being * Puraatan | Ancient * Purushottam | Supreme Being * Prabhu | Lord
- Pooran | Perfect * Antara-yaamee | Omniscient
- Krishn Kanhai-yaa Vishnu Naaraayan | Names of Vishnu
- Jyotiroop | Form of Light * Vidhaataa | Lord
- Aparampaar | Beyond * Mukund | One Who Liberates * Muraaree | Krishn
- Deenabandhu | Brother of the Destitute * Brajanaathaa | Lord of the Gopis
- Yaadavapati | Krishn * Jagadeesh | Lord of the World * Chaturbhuj | Four-Armed, Strong
- Nirbha-ya | Fearless * Sarvaprakaashee | All Permeating Light
- Paarabrahm | Supreme Being * Praananako Daataa | Giver of Life
- Sabathaam Ghataghatavaashee | Indweller
- Nirvikaar | Formless * Paramayshvar | Supreme Lord * Giradhar | Holder of Mountain
- Maadhav Govind | Names of Krishn * Pyaaraa | Beloved
- Kamalanain | Lotus Eyes * Kayshav Madhusoodan | Names of Krishn
- Sabamayn Sabasay Nyaaraa | Unique in All
- Hrisheekaysh Muraleedhar | Flute Player * Mohan | Most Attractive
- Om | Praanav * Akhil | Whole, Complete * Ayonee | Enlightenment
- Bhagavat | Lord Vaasudayv | Vishnu * Bhagavaanaa | God
- Gyaanee | Knower * Dhyaanee | Meditator * Maonee | Silent One
- Deenaanaath | Lord of the Poor * Gopaal Hari Har | Krishn
- Garudadhvaj | Vishnu’s Carrier * Ghanashyaamaa | Blue/Black Krishn
- Bhaktavachhal | Unwavering Devotion * Aru Dayakinandan | Krishn
- Karataa Sab Vidhikaamaa | Highest Desire
- Aadi Pradhaan | Foremost Leader * Maadhuree Moorati | Sweetest Form
- Dharanidhar | Cosmic Serpent * Balabeeraa | Hanuman
- Nandanandan | Krishn * Aru Yashodaanandan | Son of Yashoda
- Sundar Shyaam Shareeraa | Most Beautiful Shyam Presence
- Parashuraam Narasinh | Names of Vishnu * Vishvambhar | All Pervading
- Achal | Unmoving * Akhand | Without Limit * Aroopee | Without Form
- Eesh | Lord * Agochar | Inapprehensible * Aor Jagataguru | World Guru
- Paramaanand | Supreme Bliss * Bahuroopee | Multiformed
- Karunaama-ya | Compassionate * Kalyaan | Well Being * Anantaa | Infinite
- Da-yaasindhu | Ocean of Compassion * Banavaaree | Sustainer
- Dhaaran | Holder * Shankh | Conch * Chakr | Disc * Rukminipati | Golden Lord
- Aanandakand | Source of Bliss * Vihaaree | One Who Plays
- Kansanikandan Raavanaganjan | Destroyer of Demons
- Jagapati | Lord of the World * Lakhmeenaathaa | Lord of Supreme Blessings
- Jagannaath | Lord of the World * Aru Badreenaathaa | Vishnu
- Nirgun | Beyond Qualities * Saragunadhaaree | One in Whom All Qualities Lie
- Daamodar | Vishnu * Raghuvar | Beloved of Vishnu * Seetaapati | Raam
- Raamaa Kunjabihaaree | Krishn
- Dushtadalan | Destroyer of Evil * Santanako | Eternal Rakshak | Protector
- Sakal Srishti Ko Saa-n-ee | Keeper of the Whole Universe
- Duhkhharanakay | Destroyer of Pain * Kaotuk | Cared For * Anagin | Innumerable
- Shaysh | Serpent * Paar Nahin Paaee | Could Not Go Beyond
- Sao Aru Aath Naam Kee Maalaa | 108 Names of Mala
- Jo Nar Mukh Uchchaaray | He Who Repeats
- Apanay Kulakee Saaree Peerdee | All His Pain Is Destroyed
- Aykarusaoko Taaray | Vision of Oneness is Invoked
- Guru Shukadayv | Sage * Mantr Nij Deenho | Sing Mantra
- Raam Naam | Name of Raam * Tat Saaraa | All Is That
- Charanadaas | Sage * Nishcha-ya | Worriless * So Japakari | Repeating
- Utaro Bhavajal Paaraa | Will Go Beyond the Senses
By the way, there are another 108 names of each of these 108 Gods. But that’s for another meditation.
5) If one’s meditation practice is perfected and he has attained a state of enlightenment, he may take just 108 breaths in one day.
6) There are 12 houses and 9 planets. 12 x 9 is 108. Or at least there were. Nine planets. I’m good with the astrological houses but don’t, please, ask me to name the planets. One or two might be cited that got down-graded since my schooldays.
7) Astronomically, there are 27 constellations in our galaxy, and each has four directions. 27 x 4 is 108. In other words, the number 108 covers the whole galaxy, which is a metaphor for the whole of creation. On this one, I can do the math, but naming those constellations is definitely best left to the astronomers.
8) The diameter of the sun multiplied by 108 equals the distance between the sun and earth. The diameter of the moon multiplied by 108 equals the distance between earth and the moon. The diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of the earth. This one is a wee bit beyond my grasp, but in meditation I can close my eyes, and imagine I am sitting on the sun and envisioning another sun in the far distance, and then sit on that sun and imagine yet another sun… well, you get the idea. And everything is happening in the imagination.
9) There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Each has a masculine and feminine counterpart. 54 x 2 is 108. Sanskrit or Dev Naagari ~ the language of the gods ~ is a transcendent language. Each letter sits beneath open space, just as an embodied being sits open to the sky.
I have also read in certain accounts that a Mala consists of 100 beads with an extra eight added in as a measure against forgetfulness, a precaution of sorts. For what, I’m not precisely sure. A Mala is not meant to keep one tied to the realm of form and name and numbers and tallies and totals. “Utaro Bhavajal Paaraa ~ you will go beyond the realm of senses, time and space.”
If even once you sing God’s name, He will come running.
And once He gets in your heart, He just cannot get out again.