The “origin” story of the Rudraksha bead is interesting. Forgive the readers digest version… Once upon a time, Rudra came down to earth to see what all the hoopla was about. He also wanted to find out more about the odd invention of the Divine called the human race.
What Rudra found left him astounded. Not only did human beings live for an amazingly short period of time; while they were alive they raced around pursuing this and that, suffered frequently and spent alot of time sleeping and being sick. Finally, just as they began to get the hang of being human, they slowed down, sputtered a bit and died.
The tragedy of the mortal scene moved Rudra to tears, and these tears fell in buckets. Where ever a tear touched the earth a “Rudra Tree” sprang up bearing the Rudraksha or “fruit” of Rudra. This was Rudra’s blessing to the human race as a remedy to their sorrows. People have worn them as a remedy for the ills of human life ever since. Thus ends a very touching story of one God’s compassion.
Much has been said about the Rudraksha. I don’t know if it is true or not. I cannot verify the story of Rudra’s tears. What I can relate is how the “market” works and a few other ideas. The beads are prized by their size and the clarity and number of faces. Small beads with clear “facets” are more valuable due to their rarity. The ultimate consideration was the number of facets and clarity. The usual number of facets or faces is 5. They are considered generally auspicious. 7′s 11′s have “special” purposes, etc. The number one high priced item is the single faced Rudraksha. It is “said” to be Shiva himself. While I consider this to be wishful thinking, it is true that such a bead is extremely rare. They often fetch up to one thousand dollars. As any such rarity, fakes are extremely common and difficult to discern without scraping the beast and subjecting the residue to analysis. This of course damages the item, so buyer beware.
I have a “guru bead” given to me by my Guru. It is a simple five faced specimen. I have worn it 24 hours a day for over 16 years. I never take it off and have replaced the thread on numerous occasions. This bead was given a special blessing and contains the Shakti and blessings of Shri Gurudev. This is its significance. I also have a larger necklace which I wear for formal sitting and other special occasions. You can view it and learn more about this cosmic oddity here: Prophecy and Guru Samadhi.
All of the yogi sects of India, especially the Naths have made much use of the Rudraksha. I think the special significance of any “mala” is the vibrations and blessings which are brought to an already special and unique manifestation called the Rudraksha.
I have a small Rudraksha mala which is really a “counter.” It has 100 small five faced beads and an extension of ten small metal disks. As you finish a revolution, you pull down one disk. When you have pulled down all ten disks you have completed one thousand repetitions. Usually a mantra is “prepared” by a set of repetitions in a fixed time period of at least one hundred thousand mantra repetitions and then further offerings, etc. This is an excellent way to get to know a mantra. If you do it properly you can get “siddhi” or success in the mantra in this manner.
Finally, let me say that this is a better use of time than watching TV, but your mileage may vary.
May Rudra smile on us All,