Rudraksha, Sanskrit: rudrākṣa (Sanskrit: रूद्राक्ष)(“Rudra’s [Shiva’s] teardrops”), is a seed traditionally used as prayer beads in Hinduism. The seed is produced by several species of large evergreen broad-leaved tree in the genus Elaeocarpus, with Elaeocarpus ganitrus being the principal species. They are associated with the Hindu deity Shiva and are commonly worn for protection by his devotees. The seeds are primarily used in India and Nepal as beads for organic jewellery and malas, and are valued similarly to semi-precious stones. Various meanings and potencies are attributed to beads with different numbers of segments (faces), and rare or unique beads are highly prized and valuable. They are often sold with claims similar to those made about magnetic or crystal bracelets, faith healing and other medical pseudoscience. In this context, they are often marketed to businessmen and other people seeking good fortune.
There is a long tradition of wearing Rudraksha beads in India, particularly among Shaivites, due to their association with Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva himself wears rudraksha garlands.
Rudrakshas are traditionally worn by men, due to Lord Shiva being a male deity. Although there are no specific prohibitions, it is more common for women to wear beads made of other materials, such as pearls.
Rudraksha beads may be strung together as a mālā and used to count the repetition of a mantra or prayer, similar to the use of rosaries in Christianity. Most garlands contain 108 beads plus one, as 108 is considered sacred and a suitable number of times to recite a short mantra. The extra bead, called the “meru”, bindu or “guru bead”, helps mark the beginning and end of a cycle of 108, as well as having symbolic value as a ‘principle’ bead. It is believed that, as a sacred material, rudraksha beads are able to hold onto to energy of the recited mantra and aid the worshiper in his or her concentration and spiritual development.
Single rudraksha beads may be worn around the neck as a form of protection, or on the skin in other forms of jewellery such as bracelets and earrings.
When the beads are strung, silk or a cotton thread is commonly used. Less often, jewellers may use copper, silver or gold wire, though the Rudraksha may be damaged if strung too tightly.
The mālā can be worn all the time, including in the shower. Observant Hindus may follow other rules while wearing a Rudraksha bead, such as avoiding to eat meat and alcohol, as part of chosen lifestyle.