Rudraksha – The tear drops of Shiva

A rather peculiar nut in a cotton string, bearing around the neck of a yogi, caught my attention. As soon as I informed that it is called rudraksha, the investigation was started. Rudraksha (or rudraksh) is the colloquial name of the species Elaeocarpus ganitrus, a large, evergreen, broad-leaved tree, but it is also the name of its fruits, fresh or dried (nut). It does not grow in Greece and that’s the reason why there is no Greek name for it. It grows in the foothills of the Himalayas, the South-East Asia, Nepal, Indonesia, New Guinea, Guam, Soumatra, Hawaii and elsewhere.

The origin and meaning of the word rudraksha (or rudraksh) is of great interest. Rudraksha is a Sanskrit compound of the words Rudra, means “Shiva”, and Akṣha means “tear drops” or “eyes”. Ancient Indian scriptures mentioned that these fruits are evolved from the eyes of Lord Shiva hence they were called Rudraksha.

The origin of the name Rudra is uncertain; its etymologies are symbolic. Possibly, the meaning is “the red one”. The god is called Rudra in the Puranas because he wept at birth, the word for weeping being the root “rut” (the same with rudra). In other versions the name possibly means “remover of pain” (physical, emotional, and spiritual). Rudra was eventually identified with Shiva, the god of the people conquered by the Aryans, and became so associated with the god that he was one of Shiva’s many aspects, ranging from destruction to regeneration.

In the Vedas, Rudra is the god of storms, of howling winds, and in some way causing fear, being separated from the other gods in certain rituals and kept with malevolent spirits and deities. He is also auspicious, the lord of songs, of sacrifices, the sweet-scented divine healer, the most generous of gods who bestows property and welfare, not just to humankind but also to horses, cows, and sheep, the mainstay of the early Aryan economy. As a warrior, he rides his chariot bearing a thunderbolt and shooting arrows from his formidable bow.

Back to the inspiration of this article, it is now well-understood why the name rudraksha (rudra- aksha) was attributed to these nuts, since they are found to be useful for providing health benefits as well as they help gaining spiritual success and self-confidence and relieve of negative emotions, but they may also have the opposite effect if they are not very carefully charged. Their size ranges from a pea seed to (less commonly) almost the size of a walnut and they are used in different forms of jewellery such as necklaces, bracelets and earrings. When the beads are strung, silk or a cotton thread is commonly used. Less often, jewelers may use copper, silver or gold wire, though the Rudraksha may be damaged if strung too tightly. Rudraksha beads may be strung together as a mala (108 beads in a row and a separate one) and used to count the repetition of a mantra or prayer, kin to the use of rosaries in Christianity.

There is a long tradition of bearing Rudraksha beads in India, particularly among Shaivites, due to their association with Lord Shiva, who is represented to wear rudraksha garlands. Rudrakshas are traditionally worn by men, due to Lord Shiva being a male deity. Although there are no specific restrictions, it is more common for women to wear beads made of other materials, such as pearls.

In India and Nepal, Rudrakshas are valued similarly to semi-precious stones, determined by the morphology of the outer surface of the fruit. A common type has five divisions (the botanic carpels), separated by deep lines running from the bottom to the top hole, called “Mukhi” or “faces”. Scriptures mention that they are considered to be symbolic of the five faces of Shiva and 1 to 21 Mukhi Rudraksha have been found. It is believed that these beads were available in the ancient time from 1 to 108 Mukhi. Now they have become most rare Natural thing. Their number, however, determines the cost of the bead, but is related to the effect on the person wearing such a spiritual symbol.

Dora Green

Dedicated to the yogi Panagiotis