Rudraksha – The Eye of Shiva

Swami Vibhooti Saraswati

God lives not only in human beings but also in trees. Trees are devatas or gods.

- Swami Satyananda Saraswati

When Swami Satyananda came to Rikhia in 1989, he started to plant trees. One of the trees he worshipped during his period of intense tapasya or austerity, the Panchagni sadhana, was the rudraksha. The botanical name for rudraksha is Elaeocarpus ganitrus and it is from the Elaeocarpaceae family. Rudraksha is the Sanskrit and also the Hindi name which was given to the tree by the ascetic followers of Lord Shiva, the destroyer. The name rudraksha is composed of two words: Rudra, the name for the fierce aspect of Shiva, and aksha meaning ‘eye’ – the eye of Shiva. Swami Satyananda says, “Rudraksha is a deity and Shiva’s favourite tree.”

Rudraksha is a large tree, about the same size as the banyan tree, with a smallish spear-shaped leaf. It grows in mountainous regions like Nepal, where the best rudrakshas are to be found, and takes fifteen to eighteen years to take full shape. The Akhara rudraksha was brought from Nepal. Sri Swamiji planted it himself just outside his first hut, Parna Kutir. When he did the first pruning, he left only three branches, and made the sankalpa or resolve that this tree should produce only the highly auspicious and powerful ek-mukhi, one-faced bead, or nothing at all. Until now, no rudraksha seeds have appeared.

The rudraksha bead

In English this tree is called the ustram after its fruit, which has a hard kernel, the formation of which very much resembles the human brain. These seeds are dried and worn as malas, especially by followers of Lord Shiva, who are known as Shaivites. In the best quality beads, the central hole is already there; one does not have to make it. Rudrakshas that do not have this natural hole are of an inferior quality. A good quality bead will sink when put in water, but a false one will only float on top of the water. When stringing a rudraksha mala, all the faces should be aligned, and silk thread, gold or silver should be used.

In the Akshamalik Upanishad it is written that out of all the malas made of pearls, silver, crystal, shankha (conch), gold, tulsi, sandal and rudraksha, rudraksha is the best. The Devi Bhagavatam states that the large bead is best for those who worship Shakti (the medium and small beads being less and less effective respectively). The Shiva Purana states that Lakshmi stays where the rudraksha is, and that it has miraculous powers. The shastras speak of four colours of bead. The white or brahman bead is considered to be of the finest quality. The red or kshatriya bead comes next in regard to value. The yellow bead or vaishya is third in rank, while the black (shyam) or shudra bead is the least valuable. According to the shastras, the different colours should only be worn according to one’s jati or caste.

The bead’s faces

When dried, the rudraksha bead is about the size of a marble, although there are smaller varieties also. The value of this bead is determined by its size and also, more especially, by the number of ‘faces’ or mukhis it has, because some of them carry an extremely powerful energy. It is the energy contained in it, or its potency for spiritual practice, that gives it its value. The number of faces, from one to twenty-one, is also symbolic of various philosophical concepts. For example, the very rare single-faced bead represents the ‘One Reality’, God or Ishwara, pure consciousness, and is highly prized by sadhakas and temples alike. The also rare fused or double bead symbolizes infinity, and is set in gold, emeralds and rubies.

The six-faced bead is related to Kartikeya, Shiva’s elder son. It increases intelligence, gives a steady mind and governs the genital organs. The seven-faced bead represents the goddess Mahalakshmi, who showers wealth when invoked. The eight-faced bead is related to Ganesha, the elephant god. When worn, it bestows riddhis, delights, and siddhis, powers, removes obstacles and brings success in all undertakings. The nine-faced rudraksha represents Shakti. When invoked, the Mother Goddess blesses the sadhaka with her energy and power. The ten-faced bead is associated with Vishnu, the sustainer. The eleven-faced bead is associated with Lord Hanuman, who bestows wisdom, right judgement, a powerful vocabulary, an adventurous life and success. This bead protects the wearer from accidental death; they become fearless.

The twelve-faced bead relates to Surya, the sun god, the ruler. It is good for administrators and executives, etc. The thirteen-faced bead relates to Kamadeva, the god of love; when invoked, one receives all the pleasures and desires of life. The fourteen-faced is a divine gem. When used properly, with the grace of God, the third eye of wisdom starts functioning. The fifteen and eighteen to twenty-one faced beads, according to the instructions of the rishis of yore, are to be kept for pooja or worship to earn the grace of Lord Rudra, who brings prosperity. The sixteen-faced bead bestows the blessings of both Parvati and Shiva and is mostly worn by sannyasins. It is known as Gauri-Shankar. The seventeen faced bead is also related to Goddess Gauri.

Rudraksha mantras

Each mukhi or face has its own personal mantra by which its power can be invoked and the wearer blessed by its ruling deity. These mantras, some of which relate to more than one bead, are shown as follows.

Number of Faces Mantra
Ek-mukhi (1-faced) Om Hreem Namaha
Do-mukhi (2-faced) Om Namaha
Teen-mukhi (3-faced) Om Kleem Namaha
Char-mukhi (4-faced) Om Hreem Namaha
Panch-mukhi (5-faced) Om Hreem Namaha
Chhai-mukhi (6-faced) Om Hreem Hung Namaha
Sat-mukhi (7-faced) Om Hung Namaha
Ashta-mukhi (8-faced) Om Hung Namaha
Nau-mukhi (9-faced) Om Hreem Hung Namaha
Das-mukhi (10-faced) Om Hreem Namaha
Gyarah-mukhi (11-faced) Om Hreem Hung Namaha
Barah-mukhi (12-faced) Om Krom Shrom Rom Namaha
Terah-mukhi (13-faced) Om Hreem Namaha
Chaudah-mukhi (14-faced) Om Namaha
Pandrah-mukhi (15-faced) No mantra
Solah-mukhi (16-faced) Om Gaurishankaraya Namaha
Satara-mukhi (17-faced) Sarva mangala mangalye, Shive sarvartha sadhike. Sharanye Triyambake Gauri, Narayani namo stute
Athara to ekeis-mukhi (18 to 21-faced) No mantra

The rudraksha mala

When making a rudraksha mala, silk thread should be used to string the beads together, and their faces should be aligned. Gold and silver can also be used to make the mala. The smaller beads are commonly used for japa, even if the aspirant drinks alcohol or eats meat, unlike the sensitive tulsi, which requires the practitioner to have a more sattwic diet and lifestyle. According to the tantra shastras, the specified number of beads to be worn is as follows: around the neck – twenty-seven or thirty-two; around the forehead – forty; around the ears – six; around the wrists – twelve; and on the upper arms – sixteen. Swami Satyananda wore rudraksha beads around his head, arms and neck during his Panchagni sadhana.

Rudraksha and Ayurveda

Rudraksha is hot in nature, and has magnetic and electric power. It is widely used in the preparation of Ayurvedic medicine. Wearing the mala helps to regulate the blood pressure. The five-faced rudraksha mala monitors blood pressure and cardiac ailments. It must be worn next to the skin to have the required effect. Also, to control blood pressure, put two five-faced rudraksha beads in a glass of water, just after sunset. Drink the water first thing in the morning before any other intake. (Do not use copper glasses, and do not swallow the beads.)

The rudraksha mala is also excellent for tranquillizing the mind against nervous disorders, as it is said to destroy worries and induce positive thoughts and a peaceful mind. For nervousness and coldness due to shock, hold a big five-faced rudraksha tightly in your right palm for ten minutes. You will regain your confidence, and the body will start warming up. In addition, rudraksha are said to be good for those who suffer from diabetes. The therapeutic and spiritual effect of the rudraksha is due to the fact that,whenever the bead touches the skin, human magnetism and electricity is produced.

Rudraksha and the chakras

The rudraksha bead is also related to the chakras or energy vortexes in the human spine. The ek-mukhi or one-faced rudraksha is related to vishuddhi and Lord Shiva. Another name for Shiva is Akasha-adi-pati, the lord of space. The tattwa or element ruling vishuddhi chakra is space. The two-faced rudraksha is related to anahata chakra, the air element, vayu, and Ardhanareshwara, the half-male, half-female form of Shiva. The three-faced rudraksha is associated with the God Agni, the three shaktis or powers – ichchha (desire), kriya (action) and jnana (wisdom), and also with the three gunas. The chakra concerned here is manipura, whose element is fire, agni. This bead is ideal for those who suffer from inferiority complexes, subjective fear, gilt and depression. Its mantra is ‘Om Kleem Namaha’.

Swadhisthana is represented by the four-faced rudraksha, which is the symbol of Brahma and also of creation. It increases memory power, and the wearer gains the power of creativity when blessed. The mantra is ‘Om Hreem Namaha’. The element of this chakra is water, apas. The five-faced rudraksha bead is related to the five-faced form of Rudra, and is connected with mooladhara, which is governed by the element earth or prithvi. This bead is good for everyone and anyone can wear it. The wearer of the five-faced mala gains health and peace.

Rudraksha and the planets

According to astrology, one should wear the different faces of rudraksha bead depending on one’s ruling planet. The table below delineates this. Note that the ten and eleven-faced beads are not under any planetary influence.

Related Planets Number of Faces
Sun 1 or 12
Moon 2
Mars 3
Mercury 4
Jupiter 5
Venus 6
Saturn 7 or 14
Rahu 8
Ketu 9

The wrath of Rudra

Devotees of Shiva believe the rudraksha bead to be the hot tear of rage, which fell from Rudra’s eye as he beheld the effrontery of mankind in the face of the Creator. The name Rudra is from the Sanskrit root rud, which means ‘to weep’. According to legend, the Destroyer had been meditating for many, many years for the wellfare of all creatures. When he came out of his samadhi, he wept when he looked down from his abode on Mount Kailash and witnessed man’s ambitious, unnatural and arrogant technology. His tears rolled down from Kailash to the earthly plane and took the form of the Rudraksha tree.

In its arrogance, mankind had lost its link with God and built a towering metropolis or ‘Triple City’ to symbolize its own greatness. This magnificent creation, however, disturbed the balance between the earth, the atmosphere and the sky, and so Lord Shiva, in his destructive aspect of Rudra, was forced to right the balance. In the Mahabharata it is written, “The Lord of the universe (Shiva) drew his bow and unleashed his arrows at the Triple City (Tripura), burning its demons, and hurling them into the western ocean, for the welfare of creation. Then the ‘three-eyed’ God restrained the fire born of his own anger, saying to it, “Enough! Do not reduce the world to ashes.”

When we consider events today, in particular the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York and the attack on the Pentagon, we might come to realize that what we previously thought to be only myth is in fact a very imminent reality. For the myth that we read about today once took place on this earthly plane many thousands of years ago in another civilization that grew so ‘powerful’ and deluded by its own creation that it ended by being destroying along with all its ‘greatness’, in the blink of an eye.

What was once a reality became history and then it dissolved into the mists of myth that we read about in the Puranas. Once we grow away from our natural environment and rise too high above the earth, forgetting that it is Nature alone who is responsible for our nurture, and Nature alone who maintains the universal balance, our monuments to our own greatness will surely be destroyed by the higher power that keeps the balance of the three worlds. If we want to return to peace and normality, we must bury our megalomania and instead of raising monuments to our egos, plant trees to maintain both the physical and spiritual aspects of our ecosystem. For just by the raising of his eyebrow or the twang of his bow, Rudra can lay low all that humans have built.