On a mala or set of mantra counting beads, there are generally 108 beads, or some fraction of that number. The question arises” “Why are there 108 beads on a mala?”
The mala represents the ecliptic, the path of the sun and moon across the sky. Yogis divide the ecliptic into 27 equal sections called Nakshatras, and each of these into four equal sectors called Padas, or “Steps”, marking the 108 steps that the sun and moon take through heaven. Each is associated with a particular blessing force, with which you align yourself as you turn the beads.
The 109th bead is called the “Guru Bead”. It represents the summer and winter solstices, when the sun appears to stop in its course and reverse directions.
Traditionally, we stop at the 109th “Guru Bead”, flip the mala around in our hand and continue reciting their mantra as we move backward through the beads. It is said that the index finger and the little finger should not be used to count the mala. The mala should be held with the middle finger and counted using the thumb.
We are deeply interconnected with all of nature. Using a mala is a symbolic way of connecting ourselves with the cosmic cycles governing our universe.
Also, the distance between the earth and the sun is approximately 108 times the sun’s diameter. The diameter of the sun is about 108 times the earth’s diameter. And the distance between the earth and the moon is 108 times the moon’s diameter. This could be the reason as to why the ancient sages considered 108 such a sacred numbers
The microcosm (us) mirrors the macrocosm (the solar system). We could say that there are 108 steps between the ordinary human awareness and the divine light at the centre of our being. Each time we chant another mantra as our mala beads slip through our fingers, we are taking another step toward our own inner sun.
Some Points of Interest:
Heart Chakra: The charkas are the intersections of energy lines, and there are said to be a total of 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra. One of tem, sushumna leads to the crown chakra, and is said to be the path to Self-Realization.
Sanskrit Alphabet: There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit Alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine, shiva and shaki. 54 times 2 is 108.
Upanishads: Some say there are 108 Upanishads, texts of the wisdom of the ancient sages.
Sri Yantra: On the Sri Yantra there are marmas where three lines intersect, and there are 54 such intersections. Each intersection has masculine and feminine, shiva and Shakti qualities. 54 times 2 equals 108. Thus, there are 108 points that define the Sri Yantra as well as the human body.
Astrology: There are 12 constellations and 9 are segments called namshas or chandrakalas. 9 times 12 equals 108. Chandra is moon, and kalas are the divisions within a whole.
Gopis or Krishna: In the Krishna tradition, there were said to be 108 gopis or maidservants of Krishna.
Silver and the Moon: In astrology, the metal silver is said to represent the moon. The atomic weight of silver is 108.
Stages of the Soul: It is said that Atman, the human soul or centre goes through 108 stages on the journey.