A Mala is composed of either 18, 27, 54 or 108 beads (or any multiples of 9, as 9 is a sacred number in yoga). Most Mala necklaces are composed of 108 beads plus the merubead.
The number 108 is sacred in Hinduism and has spiritual significance.
The number 1 represents God; 0 emptiness and humility; and 8 infinity.
The beads are usually between 7-10 mm in diameter.
Why 108 beads?
108 is a sacred number in hinduism, Buddhism and yogic tradition.
There are 108 Upanishads, Sanskrit texts that contain Hinduism’s central philosophical and ideas and concepts.
There are 108 sensate foci in our body.
There are 108 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet.
There are 108 energy lines connecting to the heart.
There are 108 primary tantras.
There are 108 chapters in the Rig Veda, an ancient Indian Vedic Sanskrit hymns collection.
The tassel, made of either silk or cotton, below the guru bead is ornamental. According to some religions, the tassel represents a lotus flower in bloom and enlightenment. They can also diffuse essential oils (link to article on essential oils).
The Guru Bead, also called the head bead, merubead or sumeru is 109th bead of the string. This bead is not counted in the 108 beads and is larger than the other beads. It is the starting and ending marker. It represents gratitude and connection to the divine. The guru bead, your teacher, also creates intention and reminds the wearer the motives of the meditation.
The knots, hand-tied in high quality mala, between beads allows the fingers to move easily over the beads during meditation. The knots also protect the beads as the space prevents the beads from rubbing against each other.