The word ‘malas’ comes from a Sanskrit word meaning garland or necklace, are traditional tool used to count the number of times a mantra is recited. They may be made from a variety of materials – wood, large seeds or nuts – and usually aromatic to dispel evil influences. Should the natural plant material be odourless, perfume may be added. Precious stones may also be carved into mala (or rosary) beads; pearls have also occasionally been used, but their softness renders them impractical for constant use, the sheen of the beads being adversely affected by constant rubbing.
The size may vary considerably; but a small rosary of 18 beads, symbolising the 18 Lohan (Arhat in Sanskrit, meaning ‘Defenders against the passions’) is popular and 18, 27, and 54 are frequently met with 108 beads as needs.