Rudraksha (also Rudraksh; Sanskrit: rudrākṣa ("Rudra-eyed")) is a large evergreen broad-leaved tree whose seed is traditionally used for prayer beads in Hinduism. The seed is borne by several species of Elaeocarpus, with E. ganitrus being the principal species used in the making of a bead chain or mala. Rudraksha is a Sanskrit compound consisting of the name Rudra and ākṣa ("eye"). The specific epithet ganitrus is possibly taken from ganitri, the name for this species in Sundanese and Malay.
Rudraksha grows in the area from the Gangetic Plain in foothills of the Himalayas to South-East Asia, Indonesia, New Guinea to Australia, Guam, and Hawaii. Rudraksha trees are also found in Nepal. Rudraksha seeds are covered by an outer shell of blue color when fully ripe, and for this reason are also known as blueberry beads. The blue colour is derived not from pigment but is structural. It is an evergreen tree that grows quickly. Rudraksha Tree starts bearing 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.
Rudraksha beads are the material from which garlands (108 beads in number) are made. The term is used both for the berries themselves and as a term for the type of mālā made from them. In this sense, a rudraksha is a rosary, used for repetitive prayer (japa), a common aid to worship in Hinduism. Rudraksha is also used for treatment of various diseases in traditional Indian medicine.
The seeds show variation in the number of grooves on their surface, and are classified on the basis of the number of divisions that they have. A common type has five divisions, and these are considered to be symbolic of the five faces of Shiva.
Rudraksha Mala has been used by Hindus (as well as Sikhs and Buddhists) as rosary for thousands of years for meditation purposes to sanctify the mind, body and soul. The word Rudraksha is derived from Rudra (Shiva—the Hindu God of all living creatures) and aksha (eyes). One Hindu legend says that once Lord Shiva became so compassionate after seeing the sufferings of mankind that He could not stop to shed tear from his eye. This single tear from Shiva’s eye grew into the Rudraksha tree. Rudraksha fruit is green in color but turns black when dried. The central hard Rudraksha uni-seed has 1 to 108 faces and 2 to 21 faces Rudraksha are available, 1 faced Rudraksha is scarcely available, Rudraksha having 22 to 108 are almost extint, there are people sayings that 22 to 108 faced Rudrakshas plants are still there at the foot hills of Himalayas and Manasa-sarover regions, but still no people has seen them.
Apart from this a devotee has donated 108 Rudraksha plants to Srishailam temple some 6 years back, these plants had grown up and are bearing fruits under the guidence of the holy Srishailam temple authorities, astonishingly all the Rudraksha tress in Srishailam are bearing seeds of "THRIMUKHI" means all the seeds are 3 faced Rudraksha uniseeds.
Rudraksha is known to have magnetic properties and will align to north-south direction if suspended. This behavior is seen clearly when the rudraksha is placed on a coin on its axis and lightly touched on the other with another coin. This behavior is more pronounced in larger rudrakshas with more faces.
It is believed that this property of rudraksha has medicinal value.
Use as timber
The wood of Rudraksha tree is light coloured almost whitish in appearance. It has a unique strength-to-weight ratio, making it valued for its timber. The wood of Rudraksha Tree was used to make aeroplane propellers during World War I.
- The translation of rudrākṣa as "Rudra-eyed" and definition as berries of Elaeocarpus ganitrus see: Stutley, p. 119.
- Stutley, Margaret (1985). The Illustrated Dictionary of Hindu Iconography. Munshiram Manoharlal. ISBN 81-215-1087-2.
- http://www.tribuneindia.com/2001/20010513/spectrum/main3.htm accessed on 29 March 09
- Lee, D. W. Ultrastructural basis and function of iridescent blue color of fruits in Elaeocarpus. Nature 349, 260−262 (1991).
- For use both to refer to the beads and to a mālā see: Apte, p. 804.
- For the five-division type as signifying Shiva's five faces and terminology pañcānana, see: Stutley, p. 119.
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