That morning my cell phone told me that it would rain all day. It didn’t. But in the late afternoon, thunder crashes assured me that the rain was indeed coming. I had a class that night and decided to walk over to Isis before the cloudburst.
I got to class an hour and a half early, with nothing in particular that needed to be done. I decided it would be perfect to do my evening meditation rather than wait until I got home from class, and avoid what sometimes pushes to the uncomfortable edge between meditation and sleep.
The problem was, I use prayer beads for my evening meditation. I had a mala in my purse, but I wanted to do my Brighid prayers that use a specialized set of prayer beads, which were at home. So what’s a 21st century girl to do? Find an app of course.
I visited the Play Store and searched for “mala.” There were certainly plenty of free mala apps (thank Krishna so many developers are in India!). I started reading descriptions and reviews, then downloading and trying them out.
First consideration was to find an app that let me change the number of beads from 108 to any number, because my Brighid prayers are repeated in sets of nineteen, her sacred number. What I didn’t need was an app that taught me a mantra or that sang along with me—those apps are available though for anyone who wants to learn mantra meditation or learn a new mantra. Very handy! But I knew my mantra and just needed something to help me count it.
Japa Mala: The Prayer Beads
The first app I tried was Japa Mala: The prayer beads by Praveen Krishna R, developed June 29, 2012. It had 54 reviews with an average of 4.4 stars. It had one to five thousand installations. I opened it on my Samsung Galaxy tablet. The screen featured a photo of simple but pretty wooden prayer beads. I was able to easily change the number of beads from 108 to 19. Swiping the screen across the picture of the beads counted the repetitions.
I closed my eyes and started doing my prayers, swiping each time I said the phrase. Then I found the problem with the app. I didn’t know where I was unless I was looking at the screen! When using this app on the phone, when you reach the end of the round, it vibrates to let you know you’ve finished the first round and are ready for the second. But the tablet didn’t vibrate. And the practice I was doing required me to switch to a different mantra, so I needed to know when the set was over.
Of course the simple solution was to switch to my phone, but offering a choice of audio response, vibration response, or both would be a huge benefit to this and the other apps I tried. From what I was reading in the reviews of these different apps, enough people (in India at least) use these apps constantly to count their mantras (apparently they are doing mantras during board meetings instead of playing Candy Crush, think about that!) that they wouldn’t want the noise of an audio notification, but I wanted the flexibility to use my tablet instead of the phone, and that feature would have let me do it.
Rudraksh Japa Mala
I tried the next app, Rudraksh Japa Mala by Electroid Inc., developed July 18, 2014. It had 48 reviews for an average of 4.6 stars and one to five thousand installations. The best feature of this app was that I could pick what type of beads were shown in the illustration, and to count your repetitions, you swiped the beads and they actually moved. It tried to provide a fairly realistic visual experience. You swipe the beads either up or down and you can adjust how fast they move in response to your swipe. A vibration on every swipe lets you know that your mantra was counted even if you’re not watching the screen; this feature can be turned off if it’s too much for you. Alternately, it has an option in the settings screen to use the volume keys on the phone to count. Recorded mantras are included.
The Mala Settings section allowed me to change the number of beads (looks like this will become only available as a premium feature in future editions), the look of the beads, the direction the beads moved, and the bead speed, among other things. The beads are all rudraksha seeds, sacred to Shiva, as indicated in the app title, but you can select plain, gold-capped, or a single bead.
Under the Sounds and Notification section of the settings, there is an option called Chant Mantra. From here you can select one of six mantras, including Om, Om Gam Ganapathaye, and Om Namah Shivaya. Depending on the mantra selected, one person or a group will chant the mantra with you. There may or may not be music playing as well. The Ganesha mantra, for instance, was the syllables without the tune that is commonly taught. The Om Namah Shivaya recording was sung with a tune and music in the background. You can quickly turn the sound off without revisiting the settings by touching the speaker icon at the bottom of the home screen where the beads are. Using this setting, the mantra repeats when you swipe the beads.
You can instead use the BackGround Music setting and choose a mantra or a tone (like a sitar drone) to play in the background—this is an ongoing repetition of the mantra that does not respond to your swipe. I liked the idea of the drone, but in practice because the tone was only a few seconds and repeated over and over; it felt choppy. Ultimately not useful. Also, if you think maybe you would like it if it didn’t repeat so fast, or would repeat only when you slide the beads, no go. The tones are provided as background music only, not under the Chant Mantra option. The musical note icon at the bottom of the home screen is where I quickly touched to turn off the background music sound.
When you reach the end of the round, there is a long vibration and a tone. The tone can be turned on or off under Sounds and Notification. Unfortunately, it took too long for me to decipher all the settings to realize this when I first looked at it. There is a setting marked “Vibrate on each count” and checking the box toggles between a very clear “Vibration ON” and “Vibration OFF.” Immediately below that it says “On Mala Completion” and the check box toggles between “On” and “Off.” I assumed it was continued from the previous setting and that they meant “vibrate on mala completion,” but it actually means “tone sounds on mala completion.”
The home screen shows how many total repetitions you’ve done in a box across the top of the screen. The mala bead illustration is on the right hand side. On the left it tells you how many beads are on your mala, the Mala Count (how many rounds you’ve done) and below that, the Bead Count (how many beads you’ve completed in the current round). This is helpful if you are trying to do an established number of repetitions of a particular mantra to achieve a particular goal—the count stays there unless you choose to clear it, even if you close down the app and re-open it later. Also, you can save your prayers so you can work on more than one at a time, and it will still keep track of your total repetitions for each prayer. On my tablet, there is also a pretty image of a blue om in a lotus flower below the bead count–this isn’t on my phone, so maybe it’s only for larger screens.
This is a great app full of lots of features! It was a little too much for me to take in when I just wanted to get going with my meditation, and I didn’t have time to play with it and figure it all out. I moved on to the next option.
Puja Bead Counter Updated
Puja Bead Counter Updated was developed by InnovationMantra on July 4, 2011. It has a 4.5 star average from 55 reviews and over five thousand installations. It is super easy to use! The home screen features an image of what appears to be a wrist mala of rudraksha seeds, although a quick count reveals ten rudrakshas, and a wrist mala should be a ¼ mala, or 27 beads. It certainly has no effect on the usefulness of the app, but something bothered me about the photo, and I finally realized it was because the number of beads didn’t fit my expectation.
The top of the screen has a gold bar that tells you what bead you are on out of the total number—just tap the screen at the total number to open the keyboard and edit how many beads you would like to use. Below that is a black bar that tells you what round you are on and also has a check box to turn on or off the vibration mode (unchecked it vibrates only at the end of the round, not on every swipe). A bead icon at the right clears everything back to the standard settings.
To count your mantras, you can swipe or tap the image of the wrist mala. There is a vibration for each swipe, and a long vibration when you reach the end of the round. Unfortunately, when the phone is situated in portrait orientation, that area of the screen that can be used for the swipe or tap is only ¾” high on my Samsung Galaxy Light phone. As I got deeper in my mantra, with my eyes closed, my hand tended to drift out of that area. This seems to be a major flaw, because the whole working area of the app takes up only the top half of the phone screen, leaving a large unused area, room that could have been used to increase the swipe area. The simple solution was to rotate the screen to landscape orientation, which didn’t increase the height of the swiping area, but did make it wider and a little more centrally located.
The primary features of this app are that you can either tap or swipe to count, it has an option to vibrate on every swipe, and it’s super easy to use.
The Rudraksh Japa Mala is by far the best of the three apps I test drove. But what I needed in the moment was to download and go, so I ended up choosing the Puja Bead Counter as the simplest. Although I much preferred the image and size of the swipe area on the Japa Mala: The Prayer Beads app, the fact that the Puja Bead app vibrated on each swipe and had a long vibration at the end of the round gave me the level of response I needed from the app. I was able to quickly figure out how to use the app so I could move on to actually doing my prayers. But now that I’ve spent some time playing with the Rudraksh Japa Mala, I think I will switch to it for its host of features.
That said, there is no app that can compare to the feel of the beads in your hands, so nothing will replace my regular mala work. But I like knowing that even if I forget my mala at home, I have a way to count my prayers!
There are a lot of mala apps out there, if you have found one you like, please let me know about it in the comments!
Making Malas for Meditation
If you would like to learn more about malas and mantra meditation, my Making Malas for Meditation class is coming up on Sunday, December 7, 2014. We learn the history of malas and how to use them, make a mala in class, and then do a group meditation. Find out more info and register on my website.
Joy Vernon specializes in Traditional Japanese Reiki and is a certified Komyo Reiki Shihan (Teacher). She studied with Komyo Reiki Kai Founder Hyakuten Inamoto in 2011 and 2013. She is also a Reiki Practitioner and Teacher in the Usui Reiki Ryôhô lineage through IHR. Joy was first trained in Usui Shiki Ryôhô/Usui Tibetan Reiki in 2003 and started teaching Western Reiki in 2007, but has been teaching the more spiritually focused traditional Japanese Reiki since 2008. She is the Organizer of the Denver Traditional Reiki Meetup and is a member of Shibumi International Reiki Association and the Healing Touch Professional Association. Joy is also a Certified Professional Tarot Reader. Learn more at JoyVernon.com.
© 2014 by Joy Vernon. All rights reserved.
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My friend Jenna has been using an awesome app called iMantra on her iPhone. It will play prerecorded mantras for you, or let you record your own! It sounds perfect. I wish they made it for Android!