The reason why Sanathana Dharma (known to some as Hinduism) is not easily defined is because it’s not quite a religion. People who follow these paths come from all walks of life and have spiritual principles that come in all combinations. This in turn, reflects in the external paraphernalia they choose to adorn themselves with, including spiritual beads (Sanskrit: mala).
Ask any person who claims to be a Hindu: what makes someone a Hindu? It’s not a question anyone can answer with absolute certainty and finality. Sanathana Dharma has no real boundaries that ‘disqualifies’ a follower of its varied paths.
Some Hindus are staunch worshipers of Shiva and only Shiva. Others will bow before none but Vishnu. Then there are people who connect with various deities, from Karthikeya to Ganesha to Durga. Our ISKCON friends chant Krishna’s names with every breath. And finally, there are people like me who can’t be categorized – I happily do regular archanais for every major Hindu deity, I go to both Catholic and Protestant churches, I like mosques, I’m an atheist and an omnist, and finally I’m everything and nothing. I can’t be bothered to consider what labels and limitations fit me – I’m too busy immersing myself in the unlimited wonders of the universal experience.
Tulasi or Rudraksha?
I wear both. And more, including neem, sandalwood, spathikam (clear quartz) and navrattan (nine sacred gems). I even have Christian rosaries. Sometimes I use just one. At other times, I wear a few together.
Why choose? Your spiritual experience of the universe is only as limited as your mind – remember that.
Here are some facts to consider:
The foremost known Vedic scripture about rudraksha (the Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad) does not mention anywhere in it that wearers of rudraksha cannot wear tulasi beads.
Similarly, nowhere is it stated in any accepted Vaishnava-related Vedic scripture that the use of rudraksha is forbidden for Vaishnavas.
I’ll leave these self-explanatory Vedic verses below for you to think about:
“Rudranam sankaras casmi.” (Translation: “Of all the Rudras, I am Lord Shiva.”)
(Translation: That which exists is One. The sages call It by various names.)
Sanathana Dharma is not a limited concept and will never be. There is no such thing as “if you do X, you’re a proper Hindu and if you do Y you’re breaching the boundaries of Hinduism”.
Come on. We have cannibalistic Aghori sadhus in rudraksha, and tulasi-wearing Vaishnavas who won’t even consume garlic in keeping with their strict vows of a vegetarian sattvic diet. Who’s to say they’re right or wrong in their practices? Those paths have their scriptural backing too.
In summary, wear rudraksha beads if you wish. Wear tulasi if you prefer that instead. Wear both if your heart so desires – neither Krishna, Shiva nor any authoritative figure of Sanathana Dharma has ever forbidden it.
It’s not difficult to tell real Rudraksha beads (or seeds) from fake ones if you know what to look for. The best way to be sure, of course, is to pick fresh Rudraksha fruits and get the seeds out of them yourself. However, if you decide to purchase Rudraksha seeds (or have received them from someone), read the steps below to learn how to differentiate the genuine ones from the fakes.
Note: Remember, Rudraksha seeds must not be chemically treated, heated, dyed or painted as these damage the subtle spiritual vibrations of the seeds.
How to Know if Your Rudraksha Beads are Genuine
1. Weight. Real Rudraksha seeds feel heavier than they look. The weight of the seed is focused at the core. Roll it around in your palm and you’ll be able to feel this. Fake beads carved from wood are light and have no noticeable core weight.
2. They sink in water. Genuine Rudraksha beads always sink in water. If they float, they’re likely fake. In rare circumstances, genuine beads treated with strong chemicals may also float (this is due to damage done by the chemicals; it’s best not to use these beads).
3. Hair-like fibres. Look very closely at your Rudraksha seeds. Genuine Rudraksha beads have a ‘thorny’ surface, and between the thorns you should be able to see some hair-like fibres. These come from the dried pulp of the fresh fruit. It’s rare for anyone to be able to completely scrub away the pulp from the seed, so if the seed looks too ‘clean’, it may be fake.
4. Color. Rudrakshas naturally come in creamy-white, yellow, dark red and black. Remember that drying darkens the seeds, so it’s natural to see shades of dark gold, dark brown, reddish browns and brown-black. Beware of odd or bright colors like chilli red, orange and purple. The seeds may be genuine, but coated with dye or paint.
5. Shallow grooves and ‘chunky’ thorns. The uniqueness of Rudraksha lies mainly in the way the surface thorns are formed. These are usually fine, but irregular in a way that makes it very difficult for human hands to replicate (by carving). Use your judgement when it comes to this; natural thorns are almost impossible to copy perfectly.
5. Shape. Rudraksha seeds are not always round, especially those with more than five faces, but the seeds generally have a round-oval shape. Familiarize yourself with Bhadraksha seeds, so you can recognize and avoid them (Bhadraksha seeds should not be worn as they don’t have the right spiritual vibrations).
6. Energy and vibration. Some people are sensitive enough to feel the spiritual energy and vibrations emitted by Rudraksha seeds. Try meditating with the seed (or seeds) in the palms of your hands. Rudraksha seeds radiate positive, grounding, serious vibrations. The energy can feel like a human pulse. With deeper spiritual practice, you’ll be able to feel these vibrations.
7. Number of faces (mukhi). Among the most expensive Rudraksha beads sold commercially are the one-faced (ekmukhi) and certain other types claimed to be ‘rare’ by the sellers. Keep the following in mind: one-faced Rudraksha seeds are EXTREMELY rare, so there are high chances of you purchasing an expertly-made fake seed. Rudraksha trees themselves are not very common these days, and the most trees produce the five-faced seeds. The more faces a bead has, the higher your chances of being cheated. Besides, if you read the Upanishad, even the more common seeds (three to nine faces) give great spiritual benedictions and blessings, so why risk it? So-called ‘Rudraksha experts’ have been known to insert metal pieces into fake seeds to make them react with magnets, copper and so forth. This is Kali Yuga, the age of tamasic values and corruption, so be careful when you make decisions and be wary of claims that are too good to be true.
Most people of Indian ethnicity are familiar with Rudraksha beads (or seeds), especially those with a strong inclination towards spirituality. However, there is much confusion about how or when to use Rudraksha, what type to buy and so forth. What color Rudraksha beads are best? Where does one obtain genuine Rudraksha beads? What are the benefits of wearing Rudraksha? Are there negative consequences if Rudraksha beads are used wrongly? Is information about Rudraksha mentioned in any particular Upanishad?
My Personal Experience
I’d always wanted to use Rudraksha, but like most others I didn’t have enough information on the benefits or how to use them. I didn’t know if I could wear them ‘wrongly’ and incur the wrath of Shiva or some other deity. I didn’t know if women could wear them through menstrual cycles. I didn’t know if they could be worn to funerals, auspicious ceremonies or during sex. In short, I didn’t know anything about Rudraksha.
So me being me, what did I do? I embarked on a very serious, self-inflicted spiritual search to learn everything I could about Rudraksha. To make a long story short, I dug into Vedic scriptures, spoke to my gurus and went in search of a real-life Rudraksha tree.
Courtesy of my sister, we found a fully-grown Rudraksha tree, right here in Malaysia (I’ve been since told that there are more, though hidden in rural areas). I’ll never forget the sight; it was majestic and exuded a wonderful, calming energy, not dissimilar to that of a stone Shivalinga. I was ecstatic and moved at the same time, as I considered it a special blessing from Shiva for me to have had such a profound experience smack in the midst of Kali Yuga. I harvested my own Rudraksha beads from the bright blue fruits, peeled and scrubbed away the pulp, then dried them. Among the last few steps were soaking the seeds in milk and oiling them for preservation. I gave five to Agastya, my best yoga student, and kept the remaining ones for myself.
Here, I’ll share what I’ve learned about the spiritual vibrations and uses of Rudraksha, based on the Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad. May you gain the full spiritual benefits of wearing these sacred beads, and the blessing of Lord Kalagni Rudra himself. Har har Mahadev!
There are varying pieces of information about the so-called ‘right’ way to choose and wear Rudraksha, and a string of supposed disasters than can happen by wearing the beads ‘wrongly’. The way I look at it, why get misled by the claims of mere mortals when the words of Shiva Himself are available for all to study? The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad is there for all to read and make their own decisions, based on Shiva’s clear and direct instructions.
This Upanishad was originally written in Sanskrit and is part of the Sama Veda. It makes up one of the 108 Upanishadic scriptures and is in the form of a profound conversation between Lord Shiva (referred to as Lord Kalagni Rudra in this scripture) and the revered sage Sanatkumara (sage Bhusunda).
The Upanishad begins with an invocation to Brahman, the Supreme Reality for the well-being of the physical body, the prana (life force), and speech. It concludes beautifully with a prayer of peace. The sage Sanatkumara (Bhusunda) asks Lord Kalagni Rudra various questions about Rudraksha beads, including their origins, spiritual properties, how to wear them and the benefits of wearing them.
If you have genuine interest in the spiritual benefits of wearing Rudraksha, I highly recommend that you study this Upanishad. I’m a firm believer that spiritual guidance or knowledge should always come from legitimate sources, which equates to:
(a) the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master, and;
(b) teachings contained within the vast array of Vedic scriptures, plus
(c) some basic common sense to assimilate the knowledge received (in other words, you are your own teacher).
I have included the full English translation of the Upanishad here. This is a version I have edited only for language clarity. For the original version in the Sanskrit Devanagari script, please refer to this Upanishad within the Sama Veda.
Summary: Benefits of Rudraksha Beads and How to Wear Them
Once again, I strongly recommend that you read the Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad for your own spiritual benefit. It’s surprisingly concise as far as Vedic scriptures go and you should be able to complete it within 10 to 15 minutes.
However, if you’re pressed for time, here’s a summary on the important parts:
The five-faced Rudraksha (panchmukhi) may be worn by everyone for overall spiritual well-being. In the Upanishad, Lord Kalagni Rudra describes the benefits of the one-faced to the fourteen-faced type of beads in great detail. However, the five-faced beads have general positive vibrations which will suit all users. Lord Kalagni Rudra says, “The five-faced Rudraksha represents Panchabrahman, the five-faced form of Shiva (Sadyojata to Isana). The wearer of this bead attains the grace of Panchabrahman and relieves himself of the sin of homicide.”
You can choose the type of benefits you want according to the number of faces on the beads. For instance, the wearer of a three-faced Rudraksha obtains the blessings of Agni for the three types of sacred fires.
Seeing, handling and uttering the word ‘Rudraksha’ results in amazing spiritual benefits and blessings. Read the Upanishad for full details.
The recommended colors for Rudraksha beads are white, yellow, red and black. I find that the red and black are the most common. Do note that fresh Rudraksha seeds will darken considerably after drying, and this is normal. For instance, red seeds will darken to a deep brown. Also, be wary of ‘painted’ or dyed seeds. The best beads are those that are not treated with chemicals, heat or paints.
Always choose beads that are well-shaped and undamaged. Broken, cracked, misshapen seeds or those damaged by worms cannot be used.
The best type (quality) of Rudraksha beads have a natural hole. According to the Upanishad, a bead which has a man-made hole is secondary in quality, so wear the best type you can realistically obtain.
Rudraksha beads are best strung on white silk or cotton thread. Some gurus have also said that gold and silver wire are okay to use, and generally these metals are good conductors of spiritual vibrations. However, I believe that with this particular piece of advice, Lord Kalagni Rudra is teaching us that simplicity and humility is all you need to gain even the highest spiritual benefits.
There is no ‘incorrect’ way to use Rudraksha. There are no ill-effects of wearing any type of Rudraksha. Nowhere in the Upanishad does Lord Kalagni Rudra mention any negative consequences of wearing Rudraksha. Rather, the Upanishad focuses on the various types of positive effects exuded by the beads; it provides enough information for one to personally decide on the type he or she needs most.
No restrictions are mentioned for the use of Rudraksha during menstruation. A woman’s bodily energy field changes during the menstruation cycle. The effects vary from person to person, so women are recommended to make their own decisions based on their individual bodily energy during menstruation. I personally find that Rudraksha has a calming, grounding effect on me during my periods.
Wearers of Rudraksha are recommended to be vegetarian. There is no mention of any ill-effects of wearing Rudraksha as a non-vegetarian. However, bearing in mind the cyclical flow of Rudraksha’s energy in the form of a mala (rosary), it is best to refrain from non-vegetarian food as much as possible. Rudraksha amplifies one’s own bodily energy and vibrations, and as the consumption of meat is highly tamasic, it would be wise to reduce the consumption of non-vegetarian food and eventually cease it altogether.