Rudraksha is a genus of large evergreen trees with more than 360 species found in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. It belongs to the family of Elaeocarpus. Its scientific classification is as under:
Type: E, Serratus Linn, Eganitus, Roxb, etc.
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 description given in our old scriptures and texts. This species of Rudraksha trees are found in Nepal and Indonesia.
The Nepalese Rudraksha trees grow over 20 meters tall, with trunk up to 1.22 meter in diameter. It bears flowers in mid-November. After nearly a month of flowering, fruits begin to show up in trees that are seven to eight years old. These fruits are green and 2 cms to 4 cms in diameter. On maturity, the colour turns to blue and then, bluish-violet, then deep brown and finally black. The size of the beads vary depending on the location they are found. Nepalese beads are usually larger in size and Indonesian beads are the smallest.
Rudraksha is the fruit of the Elaeocarpus Ganitrus Roxb. The stony endocarp or the bead can be seen on removal of the outer epicarp and fleshy middle mesocarp. The outer skin of the fruit has several medicinal values. It is boiled in water and this water is consumed during fever, cough and cold. The leaves having antibacterial properties are used in treating wounds. When taken orally, it also cures headache, migraine, certain forms of mental disorders and also useful in treating epilepsy. The Rudraksha bead has very hard rough surface with uneven grooves and a long cavity in the center from the point where it remains attached to the stem. The seeds present inside the bead get 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 (facet).
Simply put, a five mukhi Rudraksha will have five clefts having five internal seeds and so on. The number of internal clefts should be same as the number of mukhi in any Rudraksha. A simple X-ray test will show the above facts. But, sometimes, especially in higher mukhi Rudraksha, these seeds are overlapping. But, still, X-ray test is considered as the best test to identify real Rudraksha.
There is another species known as Bhadraksha, originating from trees known as Koenigii, Goodeniaceae, Scaevola Fruitescens, Lanceaefolius and Sikkimensis. The seeds of these varieties are flat, light in weight and not so thorny. They do not have a natural hole like Rudraksha and mostly found as two mukhis. They are believed to be of inferior quality and are used widely to make fake one mukhi Rudraksha in which one line is left out as it is while the other is side is carved for making symbols of snake, Shivling or other religious motifs.