Significance of 108 in prayers and rituals

During my growing up years, I would often accompany my grandmother to a variety of religious functions. Some people would have their prayer beads wrapped around their hands while they murmured away. I managed to set my hands on a set a prayer beads made of this rough seed like thing (later realised rudraksh) while no one was looking and started counting. I did not manage to count all but an old uncle who was devoutly holding one in his hands did say there were 108 beads.   I also noticed everyone busy counting 108 tulsi (basil) leaves, or bel leaves, flowers, coconuts, sweets, lamps and any thing that could be offered to the divine and then chanting the name of the divine for the same number of time. Those were the days of memorizing mathematical tables and was pretty amused with this obsession with 12*9. After pestering my grandmother and grandaunt for a while, I was made to understand that 108 ensured wish fulfillment and people were doing it out of gratitude for the divine or to seek a blessing. It triggered a momentary thought to discover the significance of 108.

How nice !! I thought, and mentally resolved to collect 108 of something to offer to Goddess Saraswati (goddess of learning) to ensure she cleared my exams in flying colours while I spent some time chasing butterflies in the park. My life revolved around 108 for many years and whenever in duress, I would find myself chanting the name of the divine 108 times as an ultimate mark of gratitude or penance depending on the situation. I would be glowing in satisfaction with my feat convinced that the divine forces were ultimately pleased with my act. As life flowed, I embarked on a journey exploring universal truth science and encountered the origin and significance of 108 in its many forms.

Significance of 108 in Different Forms of Study

Astronomy: The sun diameter is 108 times the earth diameter. The distance between sun and earth is 108 times sun diameter and the distance between moon and earth is 108 times moon diameter. It appears that our learned rishis were master scientists and to ensure that we encompassed sun and moon along with earth in our sense of gratitude and prayer the number 108 attained significance. However, over a period of time, only the number remained and individuals got entangled in observing rituals.

Astrology: There are 12 houses and 9 planets and 12*9 is 108.

There are 27 lunar constellations or Nakshatras and each has 4 directions or spread out over the 4 elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water). 27*4=108 which encompasses the entire universe.

Numbers : 108 = 1+0+8 is 9 which is the limit of single digit numbers. 9 represents wholeness and 9 times any combination of numbers is always 9. God is wholeness!!

108=11x22x33    which represents the total product of the powers of one dimensional reality, 2 dimensional reality and 3 dimensional reality encompassing the complete existence

1 = Oneness with the universe; 0 is nothingness and 8 turned on its side is infinitum or all encompassing

Chemistry: Originally it was believed that the universe is made of 108 elements. However, the current periodic table contains a few more.

Human Body: There are 108 energy intersections or marmas in the human body. Since the universe is contained in our body,thus 108 in prayer is a recognition of the same.

Shoshu Buddhism believe that 108 is combination of 6 senses, 3 time dimensions, 3 possible reactions and 2 states of mind  ie 633*2=108

  • 6 senses                ie  (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, thought)
  • 3 time dimensions ie  (past, present, future)
  • 3 reactions             ie   (like, dislike, indifference)
  • 2 states of mind     ie   (pure, impure)
Power of 108 in Daily Life
  • Prayer beads used by the devout include 108 beads
  • There are 108 listed Upanishads included in Muktopanishad : Rigveda (10); Yajurveda (50);Samaveda (16); Atharvaveda (32)
  • Chanting the name of the divine (Devi, Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesha) 108 times recognizing the laws of the universe
  • 108 Gopis of Lord Krishna
  • 108 auspicious illustrations on the Buddha’s footprint
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