The Rudraksha is one of the most commonly used beads amongst the Hindus. The tree on which it grows belongs to the species of Elaeocarpus Ganitrus found in the Himalayas. The seed of the fruit of this tree is used as a bead and is classified into four categories according to their shape and sizes. They are:
Rudraksha. This is round and large in size and most commonly used for prayers, medicines and for making garlands.
Bhadraksha. This one is smaller in size and round. It is less beneficial then Rudraksha.
Indraksha. This is shaped like a groundnut and is oval.
Sahastraksha. It is shaped like Indraksha only it is slightly flat in shape.
The bead is classified on the basis of the number of lines or mouths (mukhas) running from top to bottom. The number of mouths can vary from one to fourteen. The five-mouthed (pancha mukha) beads are the most common while those having one to four and six to fourteen are the most rare, fetching the highest price.
A single faced bead is the rarest and the owner will be free from the cycle of births and rebirths. The double faced one is sacred to Shiva and his shakti. The three-faced one to the trinity and the three shaktis. The four-faced one is associated with Brahma and the four Vedas. The five-faced one is to Shiva and the six faced one to Kartikeya. On wearing the seven-faced bead the goddess Mahalakshmi is happy. The eight-faced one is to Ganesha and the wearer is always victorious. The nine-faced bead represents the nine shakti’s (Durga). The ten-faced one represents the ten directions and is specially useful. The eleven faced one represents Rudra, the twelve faced one the Sun and the thirteen faced one removes all evil. The fourteen-faced one represents fourteen manifestations and also destroys all evil.
The seeds are generally of four colours. The most highly prized are the white, the reddish, the golden and the dark. The first and the third varieties are rare. Their superiority is not on the basis of rarity but on the four ‘varanas’, white being suggestive of Brahmin, red of Kshatriya, gold of Vaisya and the dark of the Sudra.
Legend has it that the Rudraksha seed was created from the tears of Rudra, the fierce form of Shiva, thus endowing it with medicinal, occult and spiritual powers. Each of the fourteen types of beads has a governing deity and specific properties. The smaller the size of the bead, the greater its efficacy. The bead that has a natural opening to allow the string to pass is considered the most sacred.
Rituals and observances are prescribed along with the wearing of this bead for getting the desired results. Its contact with the body is essential to derive its magical powers. It may be worn singly on a white thread or in a garland. A genuine Rudraksha bead is supposed to be beneficial to a person for good health and well-being.
The smaller beads are used in rosaries, normally of twenty-seven, fifty-four or one hundred and eight beads and are considered very effective in meditation while chanting the prayers.
Apart from the general classification, unusual shaped beads are highly valued by devout Hindus. The test of a genuine Rudraksha is that it will sink to the bottom if put in a glass of water. The major trade of this. bead is concentrated in the holy cities of India like Varanasi and Haridwar.