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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

108 gopī-beads?

I was wondering if there is any scriptural evidence for the widespread belief that the 108 beads of our japa-mālā represent 108 gopīs or 108 Upaniṣads. A Google search brought up many such claims, not only from Vaiṣṇavas but also from jñānīs, yogīs and academics, but none of them quoted any evidence. A scan of Haribhakti Vilāsa also brought up nothing. Is anybody able to quote any scriptural evidence?


  1. 108 is certainly there in the scriptures, HBV and the rest. Why? I don't know the earliest source for the 108 figure. It's just one of the things that is...

    It's 2^2 x 3^3, the multiple of the self-exponents of the first two plural integers, which is of course cool and very meaningful.

    Those who want to be 1337 can say 1101100.

    You may find this article meaningful.

  2. That article is even more confusing!

    And then I saw the final paragraph:

    "Slightly more remarkable is that 108 equals the product of the second power of 2 and the third power of 3, i.e. the first non-trivial even and odd numbers multiplied by themselves as many times as themselves. In figures: 108 = 2² x 3³, or 108 = 2 x 2 x 3 x 3 x 3. This way, it unites on their own terms the polar opposites of even and odd, the numerical counterparts of female and male, yin and yang, etc. If nothing else, at least it’s cute, is it not?"

    Yes, very cute. For us that means 108 indicates the Two whom we worship: Radha-Krishna. Or even, Gaura-Nityananda. :-)

  3. There are some traditional prayers that are chanted before starting japa, you can view a PDF I once compiled here. The most relevant segment in the PDF in this context reads as follows:

    zrI-nAma-mAlA-dhyAna - meditation on the mala

    Remember the japa-mala as a form of Radha-Krishna surrounded by the 108 gopis in the circle of Rasa, Radha-Krishna being the middle bead:

    tri-bhaGga-bhaGgima-rUpaM veNu-randhra-karAJcitam |
    gopI-maNDala-madhyasthaM zobhitaM nanda-nandanam || mbd 4.223

    “In a three-fold bending form, his fingers curled on the holes of the flute, amidst a circle of gopis is the beautiful son of Nanda.”


    MBD stands for Manohara-bhajana-dipika. The text does not, unfortunately, give further sources for most of the slokas included in the compilation. The verse above does not, of course, mention the mala as such, but it is filed under the heading zrI-nAma-mAlA-dhyAna, a usage that is repeated in other similar works such as Nandalal Pandit's Bhakta-kanthahara.

    Another relevant section reads as follows:

    zrI-nAma-mAlA-grahaNa-mantra - mantra for taking the mala

    Take the mala with folded hands, praying that the mala would make the japa of the Names successful:

    avighnaM kuru mAle tvaM hari-nAma-japeSu ca |
    zrI-rAdhA-kRSNayor dAsyaM dehi mAle tu prArthaye || mbd 4.223

    “O mala, I implore you: Make my harinama-japa free of obstacles, bestow me the servitude of Radha and Krishna!”


    There is yet one more prayer that is relevant, said when the mala is put down at the conclusion of japa:


    In concluding, offer a prayer to the mala:

    tvaM mAle sarva-devAnAM sarva-siddhi-pradA matA |
    tena satyena me siddhiM dehi mAtar namo’stu te || mbd 4.225

    “You, O mala, we know as the abode of all gods and the bestower of all perfections. Thus, verily, bestow perfection unto me; Obeisance unto you, O mother!”


    The above prayers are a part of my own daily routine, and I heartily recommend them to everyone.

    Some Gaudiyas take the passage cited by Advaitadas in an earlier blog entry, japAnya-kAle mAlAntu pUjayitvA sugopayet, literally and also offer worship to the mala. It helps a great deal in establishing a reverent attitude towards the mala, the bestower of all perfections, even if done briefly and in the simplest of manners, by offering a few spoonfuls of water from the pancha-patra as padya, acamaniya and so forth.

    The 17th chapter of Hari-bhakti-vilasa discusses japa in detail, perhaps someone would like to collect all mala-related verses and present them for the devotees?

  4. I am glad we are back on topic. Yes I have seen the verses you quoted there on a webpage of the Gaudiya Math's Saranga Maharaja (! has he been reading babaji-books?!) but as you said there is no source mentioned of the tribhanga bhangima verse, nor is there any direct link to the 108 beads of the japa mala. It is the closest we got until now, though.