There are several types of Jaap mala in the market. From the exotic to the commonplace, I once saw a mala made of plastic beads! So be careful of what you are buying.
In my opinion and experience counting on the fingers is the best way for counting your mantra while doing your jaap. Here you are actively balancing all the tattva (Prithvi, Aap, Tej, Vayu, Akash) and doing the mudras with your fingers as you recite your mantra. This method of counting is very potent and preferable to using a mala. However for some reason, if you are not comfortable with counting on your fingers you can use a jaap mala. There are some rules regarding this mala then which you will need to remember.
- One mala for one mantra ideally.
- Before using it you need to energise it. Your pandit can do it or you can do it yourself.
- Depending on which mantra you are going to use you might need different malas. Here is a list of malas which you can use without too much trouble. These are easily available in the market and generally will not be faked.
- Clear quartz/sphatik mala – for all Devi mantra, Gayatri mantra
- Rudraksh mala – for all Shakti or Shiv mantra, all planetary beej mantras, Gayatri mantra
- Tulsi mala – for all Vishnu mantra, Gayatri mantra
- Lotus seed mala – For all Laxmi mantra, Gayatri mantra
- Red sandal wood mala – Ganapati
- For doing jaap of planetary beej mantras you can either use Rudraksh mala or then a mala made out of the planetary gemstone of that planet (this can get expensive!)- eg Moon-pearl
- There are malas made of Conch, turmeric, parad/solidified mercury, etc which are used for specific purposes, getting rid of diseases, overcoming problems tantric rituals etc.
- There will be 108 beads in a jaap mala which will be held together by a 109th Sumeru bead. You will start from the first bead from the Sumeru and end at the last bnead next to the Sumeru. Now when you do jaap of more than 1 round, you cannot cross the Sumeru, you will reverse the direction of the mala for the next round.
- Now how to count. Hold the mala in your right hand, with your ring finger and thumb and use your middle finger to pull the beads for counting. (It forms the Gras mudra in the energy sense.) Do not touch your index and little fingers to the mala at any time. When you reverse it for the next round use these 3 fingers only to twist the mala around.
- When you do jaap your fingers should be at the level of your heart chakra, and your mala cannot dangle down till the ground, so you need to use a small cloth bag tied to your wrist. Sort of, stuff the mala in the pouch so that you can easily count and it stays in it. It should not touch the ground or your legs while you are doing jaap.
- Do not sleep wearing your mala. Do not leave it around and do not let others touch it.
How to start using your mala? There is a very long procedure for energising your mala but you can do this very short abbreviated procedure yourself with full Intention and Will.
- On a suitable day during the bright half/shuklapaksha of the month either during sun-rise or sun-set sandhya-kaal. (Monday for Shiv, Tuesday for Ganapati/Hanuman or the energetic/raudra forms of Devi, Friday/Ashtami/Navmi for the peaceful/saumya forms of Devi, Thursday/Sunday/Ekadashi- Vishnu, the planets on their days, etc)
- Now after having a bath etc do your regular pujas, what ever you do, burn incense, light a lamp etc.
- Then take your jaap mala. First wash the mala with Ganga-jal or purified water. (You can also wash it in desi cow milk, but you won’t get this milk. You only get the hybrid cow milk in the market which has zero auspicious properties, its aura has brown streaks. I never drink it.)
- Then place it on a clean white cotton cloth, apply chandan/sandalwood powder (Vishnu, Gayatri), saffron/kesar (Devi, Ganapati, Gayatri), or ash/ bhasma (Shiv, Gayatri) to it depending on which type of mantra you are using. If you are not sure just put vermillion/kumkum on it. Put flowers, offer incense, offer it ghee diya or camphor fire and finally a Naivedya of 5 items mixed together in a silver or glass bowl (honey, ghee, milk, curd and coarse sugar/’khadisakhar’). If you do not have these items you can use 5 different types of fruits, choose them carefully as you have to eat them all yourself later as the prasadam.
- You can recite any brief prayer in your language where you will request the Jaap-mala to take on the mantra which you will now recite. You are requesting the deity of the mantra to enter the jaap-mala so please be serious here.
- Then recite your mantra 108 times with full faith (murmur in as low volume as possible, do not shout it out). After this take your mala in your hands and blow on it 3 times. Here you are intending that the energy of the mantra you have just recited enters the mala with your breath.
- Hold the mala in your cupped hands and focus very deeply on it. Think of your deity and sincerely request his help. Feel his presence in the mala.
- Now use the mala to count out your mantra once more 108 times. Now it should be in a very soft murmur so that even if someone sits next you, he won’t be able to hear it. With time, it will become a mental recitation. Mental jaap is the most powerful way.
- You have charged it and it is alive with the power of the Mantra now. You should eat all the Naivedya after your puja as it has become prasadam now. It is personal to you and you should eat it all.
Now a bit on women. I am a woman myself and have a child too, so I know what happens during certain times for women.
- Women should not do pujas during the 5 days of the monthly cycle. During these 5 days the energy vertices/chakras of the body are moving in the anti-clockwise direction as there is physical destruction going on in the body. Doing pujas etc which generate clockwise energies will cause damage to your astral body. Also avoid going to temples and touching your household deity moorthis. Ideally you should rest completely and let your body heal. But in these modern times this may not be possible, so no puja and minimum cooking for the family during this period. Try to rest.
- During pregnancy you can do your pujas but no Dhyan. During Dhyan you are manipulating the vital energies/pran in your body which will affect the vital energies of the baby you have in your womb. No sitting on the Asan which you use for doing Dhyan either. You should sit on a separate mat or a chair to do your pujas/jaap. After childbirth, give time to your baby, and only after the baby is 6 months old you should resume.
Doing jaap, you train your mind to concentrate on a single sequence of sounds which are not random words but Sanskrit. Each syllable has power to create, sustain and destroy. So choose your mantra carefully. It is very important that you do at least one round of 108 counts of any mantra which resonates with you. This is the first step on the spiritual path. If you are not sure about which one to do, use the Gayatri Mantra, this mantra is the source of all knowledge.