The Mala as Bṛhaspati & Tara
At the crux of a mala is the “guru bead,” representing the teacher. Surrounding Guru are 108 beads, each which is counted and a mantra spoken or internalized during japa (the practice of repeating mantra).
There are 27 Nakṣatram (asterisms), each with four padas (quarters or “feet”). 27 sets of four padas makes 108 padas. Each of these padas has its own bija mantra and it’s own very specific unique type of energy. All energies and combinations of energies can fall into one of these 108 very specific aspects.
In Jyotiṣ, Jupiter (Bṛhaspati) is Guru, appointed teacher of the gods and high priest of Indra (the creator). He is teacher of Chandra (the Moon), as well as Tara (the stars). In Hindu mythology, Tara was wife to Guru Bṛhaspati as well as a student. Although highly devoted to his job, Bṛhaspati needed Tara to perform his duties and keep his job. Too immersed in fulfilling his own needs, Bṛhaspati was not able to fulfill the needs of his wife and she fell into an affair with Chandra. They eloped, making Bṛhaspati, naturally, incredibly upset as he could lose his standing with Indra and title of Guru to the gods. This is much like losing one’s own divine access to spiritual knowledge and awareness to the temptations and distractions of earthly emotion and feeling. The Moon’s (feeling mind’s) fascination with Tara (the stars, or many aspects of energies which can be felt and experienced) then combined to produce a child, Budha (Mercury), the rational mind. Budha is then the resulting application of our feeling, emotional mind to the energies present in our earthly realm – all thanks to the teachings of Guru (Jupiter).
Bṛhaspati, the Guru, displeased with his wife’s fidelity and the birth of this “bastard” child Budha, then incited a great civil war amogst the gods (the many aspects of ourselves and the divine within). Śūkra (Venus), who is our key to the senses, was the only of the Navagraha to take Chandra’s side in the conflict. Eventually the conflict was ended before everything was lost, but the struggle remained between the pure, transcendental knowledge of Guru and the emotional, feeling, psychological mind of Chandra and the critical, rational, reasoning mind of Budha.
A mala, in my mind, represents a combination of the pure, untainted transcendental knowledge of Guru (the Guru bead) and the 108 padas of the Nakṣatram or aspects of Tara (the 108 beads which are counted during japa). It reunites Guru with his wife and allows us to reach a higher consciousness and put aside emotions and intellect long enough for us to tune in to the 108 aspects of whatever mantra we are invoking to ensure 100% coverage.
This is much like how Chandra also, monthly, engages with all 108 of these energies at about one pada every 6 hours and 40 minutes. In this way Chandra himself does his own month-long japa as if each pada is its own bead on the mala. In the story of Chandra and the daughters of Daksha, Chandra marries these daughters and is required to spend one night with each daughter (Nakṣatra). He can’t spend too long with any one of them, as he must complete his japa and experience all aspects of the energies of nature. Not just the pleasing ones (ahem, Rohinī).
Which pada of which Nakṣatra is first called upon is above my head, but it shouldn’t necessarily matter so long as all 108 mantras are recited. A fun practice could be to recite all 108 unique bija mantras for each of the 108 padas, with or without a particular Graha (planet) in mind.