Mala means "garland" which is the ancient Sanskrit word for Prayer Beads.
It consists of 108 beads that are kept together with a string, with one Guru bead which is larger than the rest. The Guru bead acts as the starting and ending marker for the mantra chanting. In some special cases, the prayer beads might have special stones or different shaped beads than the rest to specify that you have reached the 1/4th marker.
Mala beads also known as Buddhist beads, were traditionally used in prayer and meditation. They are intended for spiritual healing.
You don't have to religious or even in the religion to reap the benefits of the prayer beads. For people who use them, just the repetition of the recitation of a mantra can bring them closer to tranquillity.
Different types colour in prayer beads represents a different intention. You can have them, for accomplishment, desire or wish.
Alternatively, you could just forget the mantra and meditation part. Wear them all day long as necklaces or bracelets, to reap the benefits!