Mala is the Buddhist or Hindu word for prayer beads, and also signifies a garland of flowers. Equivalents are found in many religious traditions. The following excerpts are from the highly recommended Beads of Faith by Gray Henry and Susannah Marriott (Fons Vitae):
"Although the number, grouping and material of the beads vary from tradition to tradition, many of the ideas they embody are universal. In whichever faith they are used, the very act of pausing on a bead brings you back to the centre of where you are and who you are. The etymology of the word "bead" helps to clarify and reinforce the meaning and trancendental function of prayer beads, deriving as it does both from the Sanskit buddh, which refers to self-realization—the Buddha being the Enlightened One—and from the Saxon verb bidden, "to pray."…
"…the Arabic word for 'rosary,' wardiya,' has at its root the letters w-r-d, ward meaning "rose". In the ancient Semitic language, from which derives Hebrew, Arabic, and even Aramaic the language spoken by Christ, the linguistic root of ward means "watering -place"…
"The garland of flowers and the cirlcet of beads both draw upon the power of the never-ending circle found in the circular cycle of prayers common to diverse faith traditions. From Celtic Christians to Native Americans, people of different religions and from different historical periods have honoured circles as enclosed places of mystical protection, symbolically bringing people together to ward off the advent of danger. St. Augustine (354-430 CE) said 'God is a circle, whose centre is everywhere.' The circle also echoes the cyclical flow of nature and the human seasons: birth, life, death and rebirth…"
What is it to be a mala? Not in some metaphoric sense, but to live from the reality that is both undeniably individual and absolutely whole? The small hand-pressed bowls comprising the 108 Bowl Water Mala present this question, not for a ready answer, but for the circle of people who hold them and fill them to explore together.