Categories: Hindu Culture

Rudraksha: The Divine Seeds

Rudraksha are special seeds from the Elaeocarpus ganitrus tree, mainly found in India, Indonesia, and Nepal. They’re known for their use as prayer beads in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. These seeds are covered in a blue fruit when ripe, earning them the nickname “blueberry beads.” Hindus, especially followers of Shiva, often wear them for protection and mantra chanting, such as Om Namah Shivaya (Shiva Panchakshara Stotram).

An Indian monk praying on Rudraksha beads

These seeds are linked with Shiva, a major Hindu deity, and are highly valued like semi-precious stones. They’re used to make jewelry and malas (garlands) for spiritual practices. Rudraksha seeds can have up to fourteen “faces,” which are natural lines dividing the seed into segments. Each face is associated with a specific deity in Hindu mythology.

Nomenclature

Rudraksha is a word from Sanskrit, a language used in ancient India. It’s made up of two parts: “Rudra,” which is another name for the Hindu god Shiva, and “aksa,” which means “eye” in Sanskrit. When combined, rudraksha can be understood as the “eye of Rudra.” In Sanskrit dictionaries and according to many prominent Hindu figures like Sivaya Subramuniyaswami and Kamal Narayan Seetha, “aksa” is often translated as “eyes.” So, rudraksha is thought to symbolize the eye of Shiva.

Rudraksha Tree

Among the 300 different types of Elaeocarpus species, 35 are located in India. The main species within this group is known as Elaeocarpus ganitrus, commonly referred to as the “rudraksha tree.” These trees are found across various regions, stretching from the Gangetic plain in the foothills of the Himalayas to areas in Nepal, South and Southeast Asia, parts of Australia, Guam, and Hawaii.

Elaeocarpus ganitrus trees typically reach heights of 60 to 80 feet (18 to 24 meters). They are characterized by their evergreen nature and rapid growth. As they mature, these trees develop distinctive roots that form buttresses, rising up near the trunk and spreading outwards along the ground’s surface.

Rudraksha Fruit

The rudraksha tree starts producing fruits about three to four years after it first sprouts. Each year, it can produce anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 fruits. These fruits are often called “rudraksha fruit,” but they’re also known as “amritaphala,” which means “fruits of ambrosia.”

Inside these fruits, there’s a part called the pyrena, which is like a seed or stone. This pyrena is usually split into several parts that hold the seeds. When the fruit ripens completely, these stones are surrounded by a blue outer layer of flesh. Even though this blue color looks like it comes from a dye or pigment, it’s actually because of how light interacts with the structure of the fruit.

Sometimes, people refer to rudraksha beads as “blueberry beads” because of this blue color, which resembles that of blueberries.

Natural Compounds

Rudraksha fruits have a variety of natural compounds within them. These include alkaloids, flavonoids, tannins, steroids, triterpenes, carbohydrates, and cardiac glycosides. Additionally, there’s a specific alkaloid called rudrakine, which scientists found in rudraksha fruit back in 1979.

Rudraksha Stones

Rudraksha stones are special beads with different “faces” called mukhi, separated by lines or clefts. These faces range from 1 to 14, with one-faced (ekmukhi) being the rarest. Eleven-faced stones are worn by renunciants, two-faced by married individuals, and five-faced is associated with Hanuman. The stones from Nepal measure between 20 to 35 mm, while those from Indonesia are 5 to 25 mm. They mainly come in brown but can also be found in white, red, yellow, or black colors.

Various types of Rudraksha stones exist, such as Gauri Shankar, which are two naturally conjoined stones. Sawar stones are Gauri Shankar with one stone having only one face. Ganesha stones have trunk-like protrusions, while Trijuti stones are three naturally conjoined. Rare types include Veda (4 conjoined Sawars) and Dwaita (2 conjoined Sawars).

Uses in Indian Religions

Rudraksha beads are special to followers of Shiva and are often worn on a string called a mala, which can be worn around the neck. These beads are usually strung on silk, black, or red cotton threads, and sometimes on copper, silver, or gold wires. It’s important not to string them too tightly as it can damage the beads. The Devi-Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Devi Bhagavatam) explains how to make these garlands.

Hindus use rudraksha garlands during prayer and meditation to purify the mind, body, and soul, similar to how Christians use rosaries. Wearing 108 beads is a tradition, especially in Shaivism, because it’s associated with Shiva, who wears rudraksha garlands. Most garlands have 108 beads plus one extra bead called the “meru,” “bindu,” or “guru bead,” which marks the beginning and end of the 108 repetitions. Rudraksha garlands are often made with combinations like 27+1, 54+1, or 108+1 beads. The mantra “Om Namah Shivaya,” linked with Shiva, is commonly repeated using rudraksha beads.

History in Upanishads

The late-medieval Upanishads discuss the making, wearing, and significance of rudraksha garlands, believed to be tears of Rudra, the deity. The Akshamalika Upanishad lists materials for making the garland, with golden thread binding the beads, silver caps on the right, and copper on the left. The Brihajjabala Upanishad explains that Rudraksha beads originated from the eyes of Rudra during moments of destruction, offering spiritual benefits akin to charitable acts. The Rama Rahasya Upanishad and Rudrahridaya Upanishad also mention the use of rudraksha beads in spiritual practices. Additionally, the Tirumurai texts associate wearing rudraksha garlands with piety and devotion to Lord Shiva, emphasizing their significance in chanting mantras and expressing love for the divine.

Cultivation of Rudraksha

The Ch. Devi Lal Rudraksha Vatika is a sprawling 184-acre grove located in the Yamunanagar district of Haryana, India. This vast expanse is dedicated to cultivating rudraksha, a sacred seed revered in Hinduism for its spiritual significance. Alongside the rudraksha trees, the vatika also houses over 400 endangered ayurvedic medicinal herbs, adding to its botanical diversity and importance.

Rudraksha trees are primarily grown in the foothills of the Himalayas, with major cultivation centers situated in Nepal and various regions across India. Particularly renowned areas for rudraksha cultivation include Kathmandu, Kulu, and Rameshwaram. However, naturally occurring trees of rudraksha can also be found in the alpine forests of the Dhauladhar and lower Shivalik ranges of the Himalayas, contributing to the rich biodiversity of these regions.

While groves like the Ch. Devi Lal Rudraksha Vatika are a notable presence in Haryana, they are predominantly found in the Uttarakhand state of India, where the favorable climatic conditions and hilly terrain provide an ideal environment for rudraksha cultivation and conservation efforts.

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Krishna Das is an experienced article writer. He writes about Hinduism in his spare time.

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