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Rudraksha (IAST: rudrākṣa) refers to a stonefruit, the dried stones of which are used as prayer beads by Hindus (especially Shaivas), as well as by Buddhists and Sikhs. When they are ripe, rudraksha stones are covered by an inedible blue outer fruit so they are sometimes called "blueberry beads". The rudraksha stones are produced by several species of large, evergreen, broad-leaved tree in the genus Elaeocarpus, the principal species of which is Elaeocarpus ganitrus.
The stones are associated with the Hindu deity Shiva and are commonly worn for protection and for chanting mantras such as Om Namah Shivaya (Sanskrit: ॐ नमः शिवाय; Om Namaḥ Śivāya). The stones are primarily sourced from India, Indonesia, and Nepal for jewellery and malas (garlands); they are valued similarly to semi-precious stones. Various meanings and interpretations are attributed to rudraksha stones with different numbers of "faces" (Sanskrit: मुख, romanized: mukha, lit. 'face') or locules, and rare or unique stones are highly prized and valued.
Rudraksha is a Sanskrit compound word consisting of Rudra (Sanskrit: रुद्र) and akṣa (Sanskrit: अक्ष). Rudra is one of Shiva's Vedic names and akṣa means 'teardrops'; thus, the name literally means "Rudra's teardrops".
Sanskrit dictionaries translate akṣa (Sanskrit: अक्ष) as eye, as do many prominent Hindus such as Sivaya Subramuniyaswami and Kamal Narayan Seetha; accordingly, rudraksha may be interpreted as meaning "eye of Rudra".
Of the 300 species of Elaeocarpus, 35 are found in India. The principal species of this genus is Elaeocarpus ganitrus, which has the common name of "rudraksha tree", and is found from the Gangetic plain in the foothills of the Himalayas to Nepal, South and Southeast Asia, parts of Australia, Guam, and Hawaii.
Elaeocarpus ganitrus trees grow to 60–80 ft (18–24 m) and can be found from sea level to 3,000 m (9,800 ft). They are evergreen trees which grow quickly, and as they mature their roots form buttresses, rising up near the trunk and radiating out along the surface of the ground. The species tends to grow in narrow spaces rather than on open ground. Its leaves resemble those of the tamarind or nux vomica but are longer.
The rudraksha tree starts bearing drupes (fruit) in three to four years from germination. It yields between 1,000 and 2,000 fruits annually. These fruits are commonly called "rudraksha fruit", but are also known as amritphala (fruits of ambrosia).
The pyrena of the fruit, commonly called the "pit" or "stone", is typically divided into multiple segments by seed-bearing locules. When the fruit is fully ripe, the stones are covered with a blue outer fleshy husk of inedible fruit. The blue colour is not derived from a pigment but is due to structural colouration. Rudraksha beads are sometimes called "blueberry beads" in reference to the blue colour of the fruit.
Rudraksha fruits contain alkaloids, flavonoids, tannins, steroids, triterpenes, carbohydrates, and cardiac glycosides. They also contain rudrakine, an alkaloid which had been discovered in rudraksha fruit in 1979.
Types of rudraksha stonesEdit
Rudraksha stones are described as having a number of facets or "faces" (mukhi) which are separated by a line or cleft along the stone. Stones typically have between 1 and 21 faces, although most have between 4 and 6 faces. Those with a single face are the rarest. Rudrakshas from Nepal are between 20 and 35 mm (0.79 and 1.38 in) and those from Indonesia are between 5 and 25 mm (0.20 and 0.98 in). Rudraksha stones are most often brown, although white, red, yellow, or black stones may also be found.
Many types of stone are described. Gauri shankar are two stones which are naturally conjoined. Sawar are gauri shankar in which one of the conjoined stones has just one face. Ganesha are stones which have a trunk-like protrusion on their bodies. Trijuti are three stones which are naturally conjoined. Other rare types include veda (4 conjoined sawars) and dwaita (2 conjoined sawars).
Religious uses in Indian-origin religionsEdit
Rudraksha stones may be strung together as beads on a garland (mala) which can be worn around the neck. The beads are commonly strung on silk, or on a black or red cotton thread. Less often, jewellers use copper, silver or gold wires. The rudraksha beads may be damaged if strung too tightly. The Devi-Bhagavata Purana describes the preparation of rudraksha garlands.: 64–65
Much as Christians use prayer beads and rosaries to count repetitions of prayer, Hindus often use rudraksha garlands aids to prayer and meditation, and to sanctify the mind, body, and soul. There is a long tradition of wearing 108 rudraksha beads in India, particularly within Shaivism, due to their association with Shiva, who wears rudraksha garlands. Most garlands contain 108 beads plus one because as 108 is considered sacred and a suitable number of times to recite a short mantra. The extra bead, which is called the "Meru", bindu, or "guru bead", helps mark the beginning and end of a cycle of 108 and has symbolic value as a 'principle' bead. Rudraksha garlands usually contain beads in combinations 27+1, 54+1, or 108+1. The mantra Om Namah Shivaya, associated with Shiva, is often chosen for repetitions (japa) using rudraksha beads.
In Hindu religious textsEdit
This section contains too many or overly lengthy quotations for an encyclopedic entry. (August 2021)
तं गुहः प्रत्युवाच प्रवालमौक्तिकस्फटिकशङ्ख रजताष्टापदचन्दनपुत्रजीविकाब्जे रुद्राक्षा इति । आदिक्षान्तमूर्तिः सावधानभावा । सौवर्णं राजतं ताम्रं तन्मुखे मुखं तत्पुच्छे पुच्छं तदन्तरावर्तनक्रमेण योजयेत्
Sage Guha replied: (It is made of any one of the following 10 materials) Coral, Pearl, Crystal, Conch, Silver, Gold, Sandal, Putra-Jivika, Lotus, or Rudraksha. Each head must be devoted and thought of as presided over by the deities of Akara to Kshakara. Golden thread should bind the beads through the holes. On its right silver (caps) and left copper. The face of a bead should face, the face of another head and tail, the tail. Thus a circular formation must be made.
अथ कालाग्निरुद्रं भगवन्तं सनत्कुमारः पप्रच्छाधीहि भगवन्रुद्राक्षधारणविधिं स होवाच रुद्रस्य नयनादुत्पन्ना रुद्राक्षा इति लोके ख्यायन्ते सदाशिवः संहारकाले संहारं कृत्वा संहाराक्षं मुकुलीकरोति तन्नयनाज्जाता रुद्राक्षा इति होवाच तस्माद्रुद्राक्षत्वमिति तद्रुद्राक्षे वाग्विषये कृते दशगोप्रदानेन यत्फलमवाप्नोति तत्फलमश्नुते स एष भस्मज्योती रुद्राक्ष इति तद्रुद्राक्षं करेण स्पृष्ट्वा धारणमात्रेण द्विसहस्रगोप्रदानफलं भवति । तद्रुद्राक्षे एकादशरुद्रत्वं च गच्छति । तद्रुद्राक्षे शिरसि धार्यमाणे कोटिगोप्रदानफलं भवति
Sage Sanatkumara approached Lord Kalagni Rudra and asked him, "Lord, kindly explain to me the method of wearing Rudraksha." What he told him was, "Rudraksha became famous by that name because initially, it was produced from the eyes of Rudra. During the time of destruction and after the act of destruction, when Rudra closed his eye of destruction, Rudraksha was produced from that eye. That is the Rudraksha property of Rudraksha. Just by touching and wearing this Rudraksha, one gets the same effect of giving in charity one thousand cows."
तुलसीपारिजातश्रीवृक्षमूलादिकस्थले । पद्माक्षतुलसीकाष्ठरुद्राक्षकृतमालया
हृदयं कुण्डली भस्मरुद्राक्षगणदर्शनम् । तारसारं महावाक्यं पञ्चब्रह्माग्निहोत्रकम्
After prostrating himself before the celebrated form of Sri Mahadeva-Rudra in his heart, adoring the sacred Bhasma and Rudraksha and mentally reciting the great Mahavakya-Mantra, Tarasara, Sage Shuka asked his father Geat Sage Vyasa.
अथ हैनं कालाग्निरुद्रं भुसुण्डः पप्रच्छ कथं रुद्राक्षोत्पत्तिः । तद्धारणात्किं फलमिति । तं होवाच भगवान्कालाग्निरुद्रः । त्रिपुरवधार्थमहं निमीलिताक्षोऽभवम् ।निमीलिताक्षोऽभवम् तेभ्यो जलबिन्दवो भूमौ पतितास्ते रुद्राक्षा जाताः । सर्वानुग्रहार्थाय तेषां नामोच्चारणमात्रेण दशगोप्रदानफलं दर्शनस्पर्शनाभ्यां द्विगुणं फलमत ऊर्ध्वं वक्तुं न शक्नोमि
Sage Bhusunda questioned Lord Kalagni-Rudra: What is the beginning of Rudraksha beads? What is the benefit of wearing them on the body? Lord Kalagni-Rudra answered him thus: I closed my eyes for the sake of destroying the Tripurasura. From my eyes thus closed, drops of water fell on the earth. These drops of tears turned into Rudrakshas. By the mere utterance of the name of 'Rudraksha', one acquires the benefit of giving ten cows in charity. By seeing and touching it, one attains double that benefit. I am unable to praise it anymore.
Like the Upanishads, the Tirumurai describes the wearing of rudraksha garlands and their use as prayer beads for chanting mantras. Accordingly, the Tirumurai identifies wearing a pair of rudraksha garlands as a sign of piety.
They who walk the twin paths of charya and kriya ever praise the twin feet of the Lord. They wear holy emblems—the twin rings in earlobes, the twin rudraksha garland around the neck—and adopt the twin mudras, all in amiable constancy.
Thinking of Him, great love welling up in their heart, if they finger the rudraksha beads, it will bring them the glory of the Gods. Chant our naked Lord’s name. Say, “Namah Shivaya!”
Herbal and sacred grovesEdit
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (July 2021)
Ch. Devi Lal Rudraksha Vatika, is a 184 acres (0.74 km2) grove dedicated to rudraksha which also has over 400 endangered ayurvedic medicinal herbs in Yamunanagar district of Haryana state in India.
Countries to which Elaeocarpus ganitrus is native.
X-ray of 10-faced rudraksha stone reveals 10 seeds storing chambers (locules) and one central chamber
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