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Is a Japa Mala or Prayer Beads just a mantra counting system, or does it have a bigger significance? Does the material matter (for example, sandalwood beads, rudraksha beads, Tulsi beads, quartz crystal beads etc.)? Are there any benefits to using a japa mala or beads over just using fingers to count?

If the beads matter, what are the rules to use and maintain them?

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Does the material matter (for example, sandalwood beads, rudraksha beads, Tulsi beads, quartz crystal beads etc.)?

Yes, different malas are prescribed to be used for different deities. This is the topic of the 13th Patala of Sri Matrika Bheda Tantram where Mother Goddess asks Lord Shiva about the various types of beads Japamalas are made of.

Lord Shiva replies:


Vaishnave tulasi mAlA gajadantair-ganeshware |
kAlikAyA mahamantram japed-rudrAkshamAlAyA ||
tArAyAshcha japen-mantri mahA-shankhAkhya-mAlAyA |

In Japa of Vishnu (mantra), Tulasi beads mala (to be used), in Ganesha Japa beads made of elephant's tusk. Mahamantra of Kalika Japa must be done using mala of Rudraksha beads. The wise mantra-knower must to do Tara mantra Japa using Mahashankha mala.

Chapter 13; verses 2,3,4.

Similarly,

Tathaiva sakalA vidyA mahAshankhe vaset sadA || (4)

For Japa of all Mahavidyas, Mahashankha mala is apt.

Further,

Spathiki sarva-devasya pravAlaih sakalAm japet |
swarna-raupya-samudbhutAm sarva-deveshu yojitAm || (5)

Spathika mala is prescribed in Japa for all deities; the same holds true for Coral beads mala. Malas made of gold and silver beads are also prescribed to be used for all deities.

And, we also have:

KAlikAyAshcha sundaryA rudrAkshaih prajapet sadA |
bhairavyAh prajapenmantram shankha-padmAkhyayoh priye || (6)

Japa of Kalika and Tripura Sundari must be done using Rudraksha malas. For Goddess Bhairavi, use malas made of Shankha and lotus seeds.

(A partial answer for the time being. I may update it with more info about the other queries)

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    Very useful and perfect response. I look forward to receiving the rest of the information from you. Jun 29 at 22:21

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