Rudraksha tree is a genus of large evergreen trees with more than 360 species distributed in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. The scientific classification of Elaeocarpaceae to which rudraksha belongs to is as follows:
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Division: Magnoliophyta
- Class: Mangoliopsida
- Order: Oxalidales
- Family: Elaeocarpaceae
- Genus: Elaeocarpus
- Type: E. serratus Linn, Eganitrus, Roxb, etc.
These species are distributed in Madagascar, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, Myanmar, Tibet, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, northern parts of Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Fiji, Philippines, Southern China, Japan and Hawaii.
The islands of Borneo and New Guinea have a large concentration of the species. In the late nineteenth century a botanist, Dr. William Roxburgh, had classified the most popular variety of these trees found in Nepal while studying the flora of India and Nepal in his capacity as Director, Indian Botanical Garden, Kolkata. He is considered as an authority on Elaeocarpus Ganitrus Roxb. commonly called rudraksha, which match the broad specifications given in our old religious texts. The above species of rudraksha are mostly found in Nepal and Indonesia as of now, as at other places there has been no organized plantation work.
In Greek, elaei means ‘wild olive’ tree and carpus means `fruit’ and therefore the seed of fruit from wild olive-like trees have been classified as Elaeocarpus. In Sanskrit, Hindi and Marathi it is known as rudraksha, in Kannada, rudrakshi, in Tamil aakkam, in Telugu rudraksha halu and in Bengali rudrakya.
These trees may be 14.60 metres to 29.20 metres tall depending on area (Nepal rudraksha trees are over 20 meter tall) and have trunks up to 1.22 meter in diameter. Its leaves are like mango tree leaves having length of around 17.78 cm and width of 2.54 cm to 4.45 cm. The leaves are light green in colour in the beginning and turn deep green at maturity and change to yellowish red before turning grey (coffee colour) and falling. This cycle of leaves continues all over the rudraksha tree throughout the year. Flowering takes place in mid-November and bunches of white flowers grow from old leaf axils. The flowers enhance the beauty of the tree and they seem to have a mild aroma similar to Raat ki Rani Flower. The length of the flower bunch is smaller than that of the leaf. After nearly a month of flowering, fruits start appearing but this occurs only when the tree is seven to eight years old. Younger trees flower, but do not produce fruits.
The fruits of Rudraksha are green in colour and are nearly round in shape for the common varieties (5, 6, and 7 mukhis). Its pulp, tasting sour, is eaten by the birds, when green. It turns to blue and then dark brown with aging. With such deep blue-(sometimes violet-) coloured fruits all over, the rudraksha tree looks magnificent. It is often called “Blue Marble Tree“.
The fruits are 2 cm to 4 cm in diameter, the size of the beads varies according to the area where trees are located. For example, fruits of the Nepalese variety are largest in size and Indonesian variety the smallest. Rudraksha is the fruit (stone) of the E. ganitrus Roxb. The stony endocarp or the bead can be seen on removal of the outer epicarp and fleshy middle mesocarp.
Mukhi or Facet
Inside the fruit is the stony endocarp, or bead, which is attached to the stem from the base of the stone. The bead has very hard rough surface having uneven grooves and a long cavity in the center from the point where it remains attached to the stem. The bead contains seeds inside and receive their nourishment from the central cavity. From this central cavity vertical clefts remain attached. While each cleft has separate compartment having one internal seed, the joint of these clefts protrude outside the body of the seed. This joint, visible from outside, is known as Mukhi or Dhari (Facet).
To understand it in a simple manner, a five mukhi bead will have five clefts having five internal seeds, a nine mukhi bead will have nine clefts and nine seeds, etc. The number of internal clefts should be the same as the number of mukh in any rudraksha. This is a good test to recognize a rudraksha having several facets (mukhi). However, in this procedure, the bead usually gets destroyed. And in many beads, particularly those beyond six mukhi, it has been observed that the seeds often get overlapped or in a few cases some of the seeds do not attain complete growth. A lot of practice and closer examination through x-ray are required in order to do a perfect job of seeing the compartments and counting the internal seeds. It is, however, certain that the number of clefts inside remains equal to the number of facets. A combination of internal study and outer examination of the surface should be employed to determine the number of facets or mukhi’s.
References : Kamal N Seetha (2014) The Power Of Rudraksha