The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, May 13, 2001

Bond with the beads
By Maharaj K. Koul

INDIRA GANDHI and violin maestro Yehudi Menuhin wore them; so does the actor Chandrachur Singh. The best of the berries ever produced in the world, the Rudraksh is catching on like never before. The berries are being now taken for necklaces by innumerable people, thanks to a growing interest in alternative therapies.

Sages have always known the spiritual value of RudrakshRudraksh has always been recognised as a medicine in the East and the sages of yore seem to have always known, the spiritual values of the beads. Traditionally used by sages and sadhus to attain a state of perfect physical and mental health, Rudraksh is also used by people as a rosary while chanting mantras and has been found to exert an influence like acupressure.

It is believed that wearing a rudraksh not only enhances the effectiveness of other systems of medicine but also endows the wearer with rare psychic powers and prosperity. Rudraksh therapy is guided by the time-tested principles of ayurveda.

All legends pertaining to the origin of rudraksh describe them as the tears shed by Shiva for the benefit of humanity. Rudra stems from the Sanskrit rud or rodana, which means "to cry". It is the original name for Lord Shiva as it appears in the Rig Veda. Aksha, means ‘eye’ and, thus, Rudraksh beads are deemed the tears of Lord Shiva.


Accounts vary as to what exactly stirred Lord Shiva to shed his tears. According to a legend, Lord Shiva told goddess Parvati that once upon a time, after doing a few thousand years of meditation, he opened his eyes and a few tears fell down on the earth. These tears grew as rudraksh trees. Another legend says that Daitya Triprasur was unconquerable. Lord Brahma and Vishnu approached Shiva who was meditating, to help them. Shiva created a weapon, Aaghbor, to destroy Triprasur. While using this weapon, Lord Shiva could not open his eyes properly. The eyes became watery and a few drops fell on the earth which later on appeared in the shape of the Rudraksh trees. Hence, this tree and its fruit is attributed only to Shiva.

Rudraksh is the name of the sacred seed and the tree that bears it. Although virtually every Hindu is familiar with the beads, only a few have seen the tree. It has a remarkable range of habitation — from the Himalayan foothills to South-East Asia, Indonesia, New Guinea to Australia, Guam and even Hawaii. In India, the Rudraksh is distributed in the eastern Himalayas in Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and in the Konkan ghats.

Rudraksh is a medium- size tree that grows up to 60 ft in height and 4 ft in girth, generally buttressed at the base. E. grandis can grow up to 120 ft with a spreading handsome crown. Rudraksh is an evergreen tree that grows quickly and bears fruit in three to four years. As the tree matures, the roots buttress rising up narrowly near the trunk and radiating out along the surface of the ground giving a gnarly and prehistoric appearance.

The white wood of the Rudraksh tree has a unique strength-to-weight ratio, making it valued for its timber. During World War I, it was used to make the airplane propellers. The splendour of the tree, however, is its intricately ornamented fruit stone which, when arduously cleaned, becomes the ruddy and revered Rudraksh bead.

A Rudraksh bead is categorised primarily by the number of its "faces" or mukhee edges face partitions, that range from 1 to 21. The Hindu scriptures refer up to 14 cuts. Longitudinal grooves begin at the pedicellar end of the bead, dividing it into cells which encase the seeds. Most common by far is the five-faced bead, followed by the four and six-faced. Rare variations are the "Gowri Shankar", a double-joined bead, and the "Brahma-Vishnu-Maheshwara", a triple-joined bead. These are highly prized but rarely found, and fetch a high price. Single-faced Rudraksh are the most valuable and extremely rare. They are kept as family or spiritual heirlooms and are often encased in gold.

Trees produce single-faced beads in sets of three. One disappears into the sky: one buries itself in the Earth and one remains on the ground for a pious person to find. Two such single-faced Rudraksh beads are kept in the inner sanctum of Nepal’s Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu. One is shown to pilgrims at auspicious times through the year.

Scriptures describe four main categories of Rudraksh according to their colour— white, red, yellow and black. Different species are said to bear different coloured seeds. Today, however, it is rare to find any colour but red. Beads range from 0.25 to 2cm. Though Meru Tantra declares: "Of Rudraksh and Shivalinga the bigger they are, the more powerful", small ones are more valued, possibly due to their rarity or the ease of wearing and carrying them. The beads of copper colour are sublime. Those that are hard, big, highly-ornamented are considered virtuous. Those eaten by worms, broken, without detail, full of wounds and unshapely are forbidden.

Along with the vibhuti oly ash) and the trishul (trident), Rudraksh beads are among the quintessential regalia of Shaivism. Nevertheless, the Padamapuran states that the rudraksh may be used by Hindus of every denomination. They will even benefit atheists and sinners. The beads are primarily strung into strands and worn on the body.

Rudraksh can be worn by all people worn on the wrist, forearm, neck, chest, head, forehead, in the ear lobes, on the stomach and also as Yagnavopaveet as per the expert’s advice and according to one’s individual need. While a Tulsi mala will give psychic powers called siddhi, the Rudraksh mala will give riddhi, psychic powers and prosperity.To obtain complete benefit the Rudraksh mala can be made of 18, 27, 36, 54 or 108 beads. A Rudraksh which is strong, honey-coloured, thorny and has clear grooves and a natural central hole should be used. The wearer gets different types of benefits depending upon the Rudraksh’s faces.

The latest research indicates that the Rudraksh mala helps to radiate out the accumulated static energy arising from the internal bioelectrical current flow. The accumulated charge is radiated into outer space thereby allowing free circulation and a uniform distribution to all parts of the human body.

Rudraksh is known to keep blood pressure under control and impart mental peace, self-confidence, matrimonial harmony, prosperity, meditation, spiritual progress and a higher level of consciousness. In the Indian system of medicine, a decoction of the Rudraksh seeds is used in the treatment of mental disorders epilepsy, asthma, liver disorder, hypertension, etc. A recent report from the Philippines suggests that the bark of Rudraksh tree is useful in the treatment of an enlarged spleen.

Ancient medical texts claim that the Rudraksh can prevent ageing and can prolong life. The beads are supposed to be anti-pyretic, anti-helminthic, anti-convulsant, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-protozoal, anti-viral, anti-paralysant and anti-carcinogenic in nature. The beads can help balance the vital chakras of the human body which control bile, wind and the phlegm. Besides, as it is completely without any side-effects, Rudraksh cannot do you any harm.

According to a survey, 35 per cent of people using Rudraksh use them for mental troubles, 35 per cent for cardiac troubles and 30 per cent for spiritual benefits. Regarding its effects, 85 per cent of the cardiac patients and 71 per cent mentally affected patients were found to be relieved while 50 per cent of those seeking spiritual benefits claimed relief. These studies clearly point out that Rudraksh has a therapeutic value, besides its spiritual significance.

Ayurvedic specialists in Kolkata have elucidated the chemical basis that imparts multi-drug values to Rudraksh , which is a traditional antidote to various ailments. While trying to scientifically establish the medicinal properties of the ridged beads, researchers M.N. Das, A.K. Mangal and D. Dey of the Central Research Institute of Ayurveda found in September last that they contained palmitic, isopalmitic, and linoleic acids. These compounds make the berries ideal for treatment of head diseases, epileptic fits and asthma.

The time has come to initiate the quantification of the Rudraksh tree in undisturbed forests, identifying the process of the harvest of berries, and also to make an inventory on the channels through which berries are moved out of the forests.

Since the Rudraksh trees are fast depleting in natural forests, it is time to explore some quick and easy methods of germination to help maintain their numbers. In addition, considering the demand of Rudraksh berry in the domestic market, the species may be brought under cultivation to increase.

The population of Rudraksh trees in our country is depleting at an alarming speed because of large scale forest felling and indiscriminate harvesting of the berries. Further, due to its ethnic importance, berries are collected in huge quantities from the forest floor causing a shrinkage in the seed bank. Poor germination coupled with a prolonged dormant period (two-three years), also adds very significantly to the diminishing of its numbers. It is very difficult to raise the seedlings of the Rudraksh in a nursery.

To check whether a Rudraksh is genuine, put it in water. If it is, it will drown, the fake wooden dupe will float. Another test is to put it in boiling water and check if it comes out fissureless. If it does, it is genuine.

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