Rudraksha is a seed which is harvested from a tree known as elaeocarpus ganitrus roxb. These trees are of important spiritual significance within Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Small fruits grow on these trees which sort of resemble blueberries. The rudraksha seed is in the middle and these are often used to make jewelry and mala beads.
In Hindu mythology, rudraksha beads are said to have originated from Lord Shiva's tears. The legend says that Shiva spent a thousand years meditating in order to benefit mankind. The legend goes on to say that when he opened his eyes, several tears were shed from his eyes and landed upon the earth. These tear drops are said to have grown into rudraksha trees.
The term 'rudraksha' is formed from the Sanskrit words 'rudra', which is another name of Lord Shiva, and 'aksha', which means 'eyes'.
Since these seeds are an integral part of South Asian culture, they are highly revered and sought after. Rudraksha is believed by many to symbolize a connection between mankind and the cosmos. There are also many historical figures have worn rudraksha beads including Buddha, the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, and many yogis and Buddhists since those times. In addition to this, they show up in quite a few Hindu religious texts, including the Vedas, Puranas and the Upanishads.
A classic mala necklace will have 108 beads plus an extra bead, often referred to as the 'guru bead' or the Sumeru. The guru bead is slightly larger then the rest of the beads and is used as a reference point to let the practitioner know when to reverse direction while using their mala necklace to recite mantras. The guru bead is never supposed to be crossed or counted over.