In his anthropomorphic images, Shiva is often shown as wearing the berries of ultrasum bead tree (Elaeocarpus ganitrus), popularly known as the Rudraksha . Atharvaveda, Puranas, Upanisads, tantrics and Ayurvedic texts, delineate the curative and healing properties of this tree. No single tree is as rich with legend as the Rudraksha. Some believe that it refers to the urethral passage through which Lord Shiva usually ejects the 'seed' amassed during the period of his long and severe austerities.
According to the Shiva Purana, the berries of Rudraksha (Shiva’s eyes) represent the tears of Rudra which he shed in flutter, ‘from a desire of helping the world’, soon after he awoke from his meditative state. Amazed by the beauty of his own tears he crystallised them into the shape of seeds and distributed them among the four castes. Later, the trees of Rudraksha were raised by him in Gaud (Bengal), Mathura, Kashi and Ayodhy (all in Uttar Pradesh), Malaya and Sahya mountain ranges, Lanka and other places.
Rudraksha berries are used as a memory device for religious purposes. Rudraksha is as dear to Lord Shiva as the holy basil to Lord Vishnu, the lotus to the goddess Lakshmi and the marigold to Ganesha. Its importance is seen from the number of faces or sides it has. As many as 38 varieties of Rudraksha are mentioned in the Hindu scriptures- each one with a distinct character. But the most conspicuous of them are fourteen in number as enumerated in the Shiva Purana.
One-faced Rudraksha is considered to be the incarnation of Lord Shiva and ‘bestows worldly pleasures and salvation’. It is rarely found and only sovereign Cakravarti kings or siddha purusha (realised souls) are said to possess it. According to a legend, every year Lord Shiva endows three such seeds to the world- one passes on to his most celebrated devotee, the second to some political ruler and the third is kept by the Lord himself. Lakshmi, the goddess of good fortune and prosperity, confers her choicest blessings on the person who possesses it. Such beads are usually encased in gold and carefully preserved as a family relic.
The two-faced Rudraksha stands for Ardhanarishvara, the hermaphrodite lord, fused halfway into the form of Parvati, consort of Lord Shiva - thus reflecting that the Almighty has the elements of both sexes in him. The beads also symbolise Isha, lord of devas. Their possession ensures the fulfilment of desires, confers esoteric powers, and frees a man from the sin of cow slaughter.
The three-faced Rudraksha represents triloka or the three worlds, consisting of paradise, hell and tala . It also represents Agni, god of fire, in its three aspects: Dakshinagni, grhapatya and ahavaniya. Such beads are believed to be useful for unlucky persons.
The four-faced Rudraksha is said to embody the spirit of Brahma and represents the four Vedas. It helps one to achieve ‘the four aims of life’, and quells ‘the sin of man-slaughter’.
The five-faced Rudraksha stands for the five faces of Shiva- Sadhyojata, Vamadeva, Aghora, Tatpurusha and Ishana. It is likened to Rudra himself and is said ‘to bestow all sorts of salvation and achievement of all desired objects’. It also relieves one of sins from forbidden acts.
The six-faced represents Kartikeya – son of Shiva – who, according to Hindu mythology, is god of war and ruler of the planet Mars. Its use can ensure amazing success in business. It is believed that he who wears it on the right arm is saved from the sin of killing a brahmin.
The seven-faced bead is known as ananga or ananga svarupa epitomising Shiva’s incorporeal form. It represents the seven worlds. If worn as an amulet it makes one immune to any attack by weapon. Its possession fulfils desires and endows prosperity.
Eight-faced represents Vasumurti or Shakti in her Bhairava or terror aspect. It is useful for success in love, trade and gambling. Its wearer can subject the spirits to himself and goad them to serve him.
Nine-faced refers to Bhairava – its presiding deity being Durga in her nine forms. It is also symbolic of the yogic cult of nine Nathas. The beads are used for achieving honour,subduing the enemy and for success in litigation. If worn on the left hand, the beads ensure both bhukti, pleasure and mukti, liberation – and make one Sarveshvara, the Lord of all.
Ten-faced represents the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu (Janardana) on the earth, as Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, Buddha and Kalka. As per belief, its wearer remains free from the evil influence of planets, hoofed spirits and the like. Women use it for the security and well-being of their husbands.
Eleven-faced stands for the eleven Rudras who supervise all the good and bad in the world, used by tantrics for practising the techniques of askanda or non-spilling, by which one can acquire exceptional control over one’s senses and be in a position to arrest ejaculation during coitus. Its possession gives success in life.
Twelve-faced represents the twelve celestial deities and is worn on the head or ear for attaining the fruits of an Ashvamedha-sacrifice. It is said to build up bodily resistance against common diseases, guards one from armed persons, wild animals and malignant spirits and frees one from the sin of indulging in animal sacrifice.
The thirteen-faced is likened to Vishvadeva, ‘ Lord of the world’. It makes one attractive like Kartikeya, bestows siddhis,
supernatural powers, and frees one of sins.
Fourteen-faced stands for Lord Shiva himself. Tradition says that it should be worn on the head for the fulfilment of desires and the expiation of one’s sins. The celestial beings (devas) pay their respect to one holding the fourteen-faced Rudraksha as he attains the highest goal, the state of Shiva. The fifteen-faced Rudraksha represents Pashupati, sixteen-faced, Kailasha; seventeen-faced, Vishvakarma; eighteen-faced, the earth; nineteen-faced, Narayana; twenty-faced, Lokesha; and the twenty-one-faced, embodies all the attributes of Lord Shiva.
Sometime, Rudraksha beads are said to represent the Hindu Trinity of gods. The face of Rudraksha is Brahma; the upper summit point is Shiva and the tail end is Vishnu. Rudraksha has two-fold powers – it can give bhoga, enjoyment, as well as moksha, salvation. Colour-wise, Rudraksha is of four kinds- white, red, yellow and black. Each Hindu caste has been prescribed a different colour - white berries for Brahmins, yellow for Vaishayas, red for Kshtriya and black for Shudras. According to Devi Bhagavata of the thirty-eight varieties of Rudraksha, twelve having red colour emerged from his sun-eye, sixteen having white colour from his moon-eye, and ten having black colour from his third eye. Tantrics believe that the Indrakshi rosary which consists of all types of Rudraksha, is one hundred times more powerful than the ‘Vaijanti rosary’ which contains five gems produced from the five elements of nature: sapphire from the earth, pearl from water, ruby from fire, topaz from air and diamond from space. Though all types of Rudraksha can be ‘charged’ by repeating the five-syllable mantra ‘Namah Shivaya, the Shiva Purana prescribes different mantras for the use of first fourteen varieties mentioned above. They are as follows.
The beads can help a person attain a perfect balance between the three vital fluxes in his body, namely Pitta, Vata and Kapha. As per traditional belief the uses of Rudraksha are listed below:
Presently used for treatment of hypertension, heart diseases and memory loss. Rudraksha occupies a unique place in the Hindu Materia Medica. It is said to possess supernatural ingredients which can prevent ageing, prolong life and rejuvenate the human organism.
Besides, a rosary of at least twenty-one beads is worn around the neck or tied to the wrist. A locket of its beads is worn in such a way that it remains in contact with the heart and lungs. Due to the growing popularity of Rudraksha, artificial beads made of wood or other material, are sometime sold in the market. Some businessmen fleece customers by selling the seeds of Bhadraksha (Scavola taccada) which appears similar to the Rudraksha. There is no fulproof test for distinguishing the original beads from the fake ones. However, it is commonly accepted that an original bead leaves a shining ray if rubbed against the touchstone. It does not float on the surface of water or milk, or shows fissures if put in boiling oil or ghee (clarified butter). The belief that a Rudraksha bead when pressed between two copper coins revolves with a jerk, is unfounded.
Rudraksha with protuberant mouths, clear slits and a natural hole is considered to be of the topmost quality while the one which is not hard, spiny, or roundish, or which is defiled by insects or damaged and which is not grease-like to the touch is regarded as fruitless. The bead with size of an amalaki (Emblica myrobalan) is the best and removes suffering, bead with size of the Jujube tree (dhatriphala) is middling, and of the size of a gram is the worst. Rudraksha of the size of a Gunja fulfils desires. The lighter the bead, the more fruitful it is. The Shiva Purana says: ‘… If eleven hundred (and more) Rudraksha s are worn on the person, the man assumes the form of Rudra. The Purana also explains how and on which part of the body should one wear the Rudraksha. Various forms of incantations have also been prescribed.
The use of Tamasic food – meat, alcohol, garlic, onion, etc., is prohibited to the wearer of beads.
Ex-British Council Scholar;
presently Registrar, DAV University, Jalandhar.