On The Rudraksha – Tears of Rudra

Worn about my wrist upon many occasions are three things – two are bandhs from a Priest; one from my RudraAbhishek, some five and a half years ago, the other from an occasion where I had assisted that same Pandit in another matter. But the third … they are a Mala [akin to ‘prayer-beads’] of Rudraksha – the Tears of Rudra. Given to me by my older sister, and of Nepali origin. But what is meant by these? What are these ‘Tears of Rudra’?

Well, first let us take some glances at the etymology. Aksha – it can be translated as Eye, but also as Tear. Rudra, meanwhile …

It is perhaps interesting to note that the PIE which underpins ‘Rudra’ – ‘Hrewdh’ – is strongly linked to the act of weeping, expression of powerful lamenting emotion. c.f Old English ‘Reotan’ – although there, too, the sense of ‘howling’ or ‘thunder’s roar’ is possible

I am generally rather … cautious of, as somebody once said of some of my work, “linguistics as theology”. The Arya Samaj flagrant misuse of Yaska’s Nirkuta is a good example of why. But If we accept that Vedic Sanskrit is the ‘language of the universe’ , then ‘nominative determinism’, wherein the essence of a thing is at least partially expressed via the naming of the thing, is an entirely rational belief to hold. And even if one did not – then it still makes sense that labelling take place with regard to observed characteristics of the thing.

However, it is the nuances between different terms which are vitally important – and also the ‘gravitational’ [well, gravitas/graha] impact these labellings may have upon the subject as a result of being declared thus.

As applies Rudra – apart from the obvious point, wherein the Manyu [‘strong emotion’ as part translation] of Prajapati is indeed expressed through tears and crying in the context of SB IX 1 1 6 -“And as to why he performs the Satarudriya offering. When Prajapati had become disjointed, the deities departed from him. Only one god did not leave Him, to wit, Manyu (“Wrath”): extended He remained within. He (Prajapati) cried, and the Tears of Him that fell down settled on Manyu. He became the hundred-headed, thousand-eyed, hundred-quivered Rudra. And the other drops that fell down, spread over these worlds in countless numbers, by thousands; and inasmuch as They originated from crying (Rud), they were called Rudras (Roarers). That hundred-headed, thousand-eyed, hundred-quivered Rudra, with His bow strung, and His arrow fitted to the string, was inspiring fear, being in quest of food. The Gods were afraid of Him.”

As a brief point of interest, this Emanation of The Manyu, contains a suite of direct one-for-one parallels for the Classical accounting of the Birth of Athena / Minerva – but we have explored that in far grander depth of detail elsewhere. And I digress .. 

It has often seemed to me that an essence-tial element of the Roudran mythic cycles is one of grief, of sadness and of lamentation.

We focus – justifiably and understandably – upon the War-Cry, the Roar ; less often do we find the Howl of grief and pain referenced.

We find mentioned within the scriptural canon, exemplar-instances wherein it is an empathy which moves the Tears of Rudra [Shiva Purana, 1 25], and the correlation of these with the long eyes open meditation prior to Aghora deployment against Tripurasura [Srimad Devi Bhagavatam XI 4]. 

Yet for me, the major association of Rudra with Tears and Wailing must surely be that occurrence following the ill-fated fete of the Horse-Sacrifice of Daksha. It is one detail, and some might suggest easily eclipsed by so much else of the mythology –

But it is an irreducibly important one. For after all, without the loss of Sati, we would have no Shakti Peetha sites comprised of the dismembered parts to Her [following Vishnu’s “intervention” and sudarshana ‘grief-counselling’] ; nor the eventual re-cycle of the NavaDurgas.

There are quite literal litanies of occurrences which are keyed to this ultimate event, as I hardly need to say [including the burning of Kama .. and also, interestingly, the fating of Tarakasura – the father of the Tripurasuras aforementioned]

So without intending to reduce the All-God in psychoemotive scope and range to this one expression [and Veerabhadra is depicted as having pretty much all emotions simultaneously on show], grief has nevertheless felt quite powerful as a part of His Myth.

In terms of IE cognates … I would put forward Hades & Persephone – specifically the notion of the half-year separation between the couple [a situation also found with the Wife of Odin Skadi in the Nordic sphere – although for different reasoning]

As applies the Greek myth, people often presume that a kidnapping made the Bride an unwilling captive; yet I am not sure that is quite what was actually in the archaic (P)IE myth, and Victorian Englishmen almost certainly over-emphasized certain elements for morality of the day

Perhaps it is the romantic in me, but I should like to believe that we have the right of it – and that the relationship between Rudra and Devi was (and very much is) a loving one, with intensive sorrow to the prospective separation between the Two.

It has certainly rendered what is celebrated on MahaShivRatri all the more poignant – a love story so great it transcends death itself.

But I digress.

To return to the texts aforementioned, here are some brief selections from Shiva Purana I 25:

These words are ascribed in the text to an exchange of Shiva with His Wife, explicating the nature and the characteristics of varying grades of Rudraksha –

“O Śivā, Maheśāni, be pleased to hear the greatness of Rudrākṣa. I speak out love for you from a desire for the benefit of the devotees of Śiva.

O Mahesāni, formerly I had been performing penance for thousands of divine years. Although I had controlled it rigorously, my mind was in flutter. Out of sport, I being self-possessed just opened my eyes, O Goddess, from a desire of helping the worlds. Drops of tears fell from my beautiful half-closed eyes. From those tear-drops there cropped up the Rudrākṣa plants.”

The text goes on at quite some length extolling the proper interpretation and utilization of the varying forms of Rudraksha, and interestingly also quotes Yama issuing injunction to His Servants not to tarry the way of the proper Rudraksha wearer and waylay this being to YamaLoka. It is said that even the most egregious sin of Brahmahatya [Brahmin-killing] is warded against via these more powerful tokens of the Auspicious One’s favour. Although, as ever, this is not something to be attempted.

Now, as applies the Devi Bhagavatam quotation I had earlier cited – XI 4 –

“Rudra Deva spoke :– O Child Ṣaḍānana. I will dwell briefly on the secret cause of the greatness of the Rudrākṣa seed. Hear. In days of yore, there was a Daitya called Tripurā who could not be conquered by any body. Brahmā, Viṣṇu and the other Devas were defeated by him. They then came to Me and requested Me to kill the Asura. At their request, I called in my mind the Divine Great weapon, named Aghora, beautiful and terrible and containing the strength of all the Devas, to kill him. It was inconceivable and it was blazing with fire.

For full divine one thousand years I remained awake with eyelids wide open in thinking of the Aghora weapon, the destroyer of all obstacles, whereby the killing of Tripurāsura might be effected and the troubles of the Devas be removed. Not for a moment my eyelids dropped. There by my eyes were affected and drops of water came out of my eyes. Note here. How enemies are to be killed. It requires great thought, great concentration, great yoga and great powers. O Mahāsena! From those drops of water coming out of my eyes, the great tree of Rudrākṣam did spring for the welfare of all.”

Again, the rest of the section is given over to detailing the various forms and functions of the Rudraksha encountered in this world of ours. I shall not repeat these here.

Now, for our purposes as devotees – the benefits of wearing the Rudraksha, whether in Mala form like mine or as a pendant etc., have been capaciously extolled elsewhere. They also make for rather handy mechanisms to ‘keep count’ for the 108-cycles of Japa [‘repetition of mantra/theonym’] worship.

Yet I think that the rather more intriguing element to all of this is the one which is understated literally every time we use the term : “Rudraksha”.

Tears of Rudra.

Tears, as we have seen – not merely of Fury, or of Lament (although certainly, those too, are most eminently appropriate for the theonymics surrounding Rudra and Manyu) – but also of an ’empathy’, a ‘sodality’, a ‘compassion’.

We so often focus upon the Raging Face of Rudra – and that is understandable, it is certainly an incredibly powerful visage. Yet it is not the whole story. There is also the Merciful and Caring God, One Whose Wrath is also motivated by compassion for the sufferings caused by that rage’s targets.

Fortunately, we have a quite tangible reminder for us of this essential truth.

The Rudraksha. As seen, right here about the arm. 

ॐ नमः शिवाय

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