Today, in-spite of the fact that the mankind has reached extreme heights in medicine, the entire medical fraternity world over acknowledges the traditional and herbal characteristics of Tulsi. The properties of Tulsi, which the world has acknowledged today was known to Indians since ages. There is a sanskrit saying, tulanaa naasti athaiva tulasi – which means “that which is incomparable (in its qualities) is the tulsi”. For Indians tulasi is one of the most sacred plants. In fact it is known to be the only thing used in worship, which, once used, can be washed and reused again and again in pooja – as it is regarded so self-purifying. Tulasi is a gentle female energy, a sweet little goddess, and should be treated like the queen she is – the queen of medicinal plants. For she is also a plant of power, a powerful lady, a friend, a physician and an ally. When you have Tulasi plants around, you are protected, and she will bring beauty, health, elegance and grace into your life. Wherever there is Tulasi Mayi, there is pavitrata, purity in the environment, for she is a great purifier, both of the body and of the environment. If you plant nine or eleven Tulasi trees in your garden the air will be pure within a wide radius, and bacteria-free. She is one of those trees that possess divine qualities to invoke the descent of devatas, illumined beings, and increase the spiritual vibrations in the vicinity. The Tulasi plant is extremely sensitive and aware, and is able to register the vibrations around her. She loves to listen to the Vedas, all Sanskrit chanting, to hear the name of God in the form of a kirtan, and she is especially fond of ragas sung to the accompaniment of the tampura.
Stories pertaining to the Sacredness of Tulsi
The Devi Bhagavata Purana regards Tulsi as a manifestation of Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and principal consort of Vishnu. Once upon a time, King Vrishadhvaja—a devotee of the god Shiva—banned worship of all other deities except for that of his patron god,Shiva. An agitated sun god Surya cursed him that he would be abandoned by Goddess Lakshmi. Upset, Shiva pursued Surya, who fled, finally seeking shelter with Vishnu. Vishnu informed the deities that years had passed since Vrishadhvaja lived on earth. Vrishadhvaja and his heir-son and family were all dead and his grandchildren—Dharmadhvaja and Kushadhvaja—were now worshiping goddess Lakshmi to gain her favor. Lakshmi rewarded their efforts by being born as their daughters Tulsi (literally “matchless”) and Vedavati (Tulsi to Dharmadhvaja and Vedavati to Kushadhvaja, respectively). In time, Tulsi gave up all her royal comfort and went to Badrinath to perform penance to gain Lord Vishnu as her husband. Lord Brahma was pleased with her penance but told her that she would have to marry the demon Shankhachuda before she could marry Vishnu. Sudama, a part-incarnation of Krishna (an avatar of Vishnu) was born on earth as the demon (Shankhachuda) due to a curse. Shankhachuda, who also pleased Brahma with his penance, was granted the Vishnu-Kavacha (armour of Vishnu) and blessed him, that as long as his wife’s chastity was retained and Vishnu-Kavacha was on his body, no one could slay him. Shankhachuda and Tulsi were soon married. Shankhachuda was filled with pride and terrorized the beings of the universe. To rescue the universe, Shiva challenged Shankhachuda to war, while Vishnu went to Tulsi to break her chastity. Vishnu assumed the form of Shankhachuda and compelled Tulsi to have coitus. With her chastity broken, Shankhachuda was killed and Sudama was freed of his curse. In the middle of their love-making, Tulsi recognized the impersonator. Vishnu appeared in his true form and urged Tulsi to abandon her earthly body and return to his celestial abode as Lakshmi, his wife. Tulsi’s mortal remains decayed and became the Gandaki River, while her hair transformed into the sacred Tulasi plant.
Vishnu, the Lord of the Three Worlds, takes up abode in the village or the house where Tulasi is grown. In such a house no one suffers calamities like poverty, illness or separations from dear ones.
~Padmapurana, Uttarakhanda, 6-24-31-32
A Vaishnava legend relates Tulsi to the Samudra Manthana, the churning of the cosmic ocean by the gods and asuras (demons).
At the end of the churning, Dhanvantari rose from the ocean with Amrita (the elixir of immortality). Vishnu procured it for the gods, when the demons tried to steal it. Vishnu shed happy tears, the first of which fell in Amrita and formed Tulsi.
She also symbolizes Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Lord Vishnu. Those who wish to be righteous and have a happy family life worship her. Goddess Tulsi was married to the Lord with all pomp and show as in any Indian wedding. This is because of another legend, which states that Lord Vishnu blessed her to be His consort.
According to another legend, Satyabhama once weighed Lord Krishna against all her legendary wealth. The scales did not balance till a single tulsi leaf was placed along with the wealth on the scale by Rukmini. Thus tulsi played a vital role in demonstrating to the world that even a small object offered with devotion means more to the Lord than all the wealth in the world. The tulasi leaf has great medicinal values and is used to cure various ailments in the human body.
Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.15.19 explains the special position of the Tulasi plant: “Although there are numerous flowering plants full of transcendental fragrance in the spiritual realm, they are aware that Tulasi is given special preference by the Lord, who garlands Himself with Tulasi leaves.”
In her form as a plant, Tulasi always stays at the Lord’s feet and around His neck. (Her leaves and flowers decorate His feet and are strung into garlands to be worn around His neck.) The Vedic scriptures say, “Krishna gives Himself to a devotee who offers Him merely a Tulasi leaf and a palmful of water.”
The wood of dead Tulasi plants is used to carve sacred beads devotees wear around their necks and use for chanting the Hare Krishna mantra. Tulasi is always grown at Krishna temples.
While tree worship is not uncommon in Hinduism, the Tulasi plant is regarded as the holiest of all plants. The Tulsi plant is regarded as a threshold point between heaven and earth. According to a traditional prayer, the creator-god Brahma resides in its branches, all Hindu pilgrimage centers are present in its roots, the Ganges flows through its roots, all deities in its stem and its leaves containing the Hindu scriptures – the Vedas in the upper part of its branches. Tulsi is often denoted as “the central sectarian symbol of Hinduism”. The Vaishavas consider it as “a manifestation of god in the vegetable kingdom”.
The Tulsi plant is grown in or near almost every Hindu house, especially by Brahmins and Vaishnavas. Sacred places where they are grown are also known as Vrindavan (grove of Tulasi). Vrindavan is a raised cuboid stone or brick structure often in middle of the house’s courtyard or in front of the house.
A person who waters and cares for the Tulsi daily is believed to gain moksha (salvation) and the divine grace of Lord Vishnu, even if he does not worship it. Traditionally, the daily worship and care of the plant is the responsibility of the women of the household. The plant is regarded as a “women’s deity” and a “symbol of ideal wife-hood and motherhood”. Though daily worship is prescribed, Tuesdays and Fridays are considered especially sacred for Tulasi worship. Rituals involve watering the plant, cleaning the area near the plant with water and cow dung (considered sacred) and making offerings of food, flowers, incense, Ganges water etc. Rangoli (decorative designs) of deities and saints are drawn near its foot. Devotees pray to Tulsi and circumbulate it, chanting mantras. The Tulasi plant is often worshipped twice in a day, in the morning and in the evening.
In the 19th century, some families in Bengal regarded this plant as their guardian or family deity. In a British Indian census, North-Western Provinces recorded themselves as Tulsi worshipers and not belonging to Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs.
In Worship of Other Deities
Tulsi is especially sacred in the worship of Vishnu and his forms Krishna, Vithoba and other related Vaishnava deities. Garlands made of 10000 tulsi leaves, water mixed with tulsi, food items sprinkled with Tulsi are offered in veneration to Vishnu or Krishna.
Vaishnavas traditionally use japa malas (a string of Hindu prayer beads) made from Tulsi stems or roots called Tulsi malas, which are an important symbol of the initiation. Tulsi malas are considered to be auspicious for the wearer, and believed to connect him with Vishnu or Krishna and confer the protection of the deity. They are worn as a necklace or garland or held in the hand and used as a rosary. Tulsi’s great connection with Vaishnavas is communicated with the fact that Vaishnavas are known as “those who bear the tulsi round the neck”. Some pilgrims carry tulsi plants in their hands throughout their pilgrimage to Dwarka, the legendary capital of Krishna and one of the seven most sacred Hindu cities.
There are conflicting accounts about Tulsi leaves being used in the worship of the god Shiva, a rival sect (Shaiva) god to the Vaishnava Vishnu. While Bael leaves are often offered to Shiva, some authors note that Tulsi may also be offered to him. Tulsi worship is sometimes used in the worship of lord Shiva, conveying the deity’s omnipresence. Shiva’s aniconic symbol – the linga – is sometimes prescribed to have made from the black soil from the roots of the Tulsi plant. However, Tulsi is a taboo in worship of the Devi – the Hindu Divine Mother as the pungent aroma of the Tulsi plant angers her. It is also important for the worship of Hanuman. In Orissa, the Tulsi plant represents all local deities and rituals to propitiate them, are offered in front of the plant. The Nayars of Malabar offer Tulsi plants to pacify evil spirits
A ceremony known as Tulsi Vivah is performed by the Hindus between Prabodhini Ekadashi (eleventh lunar day of the waxing moon of Kartika) to Kartik Poornima (full moon in Kartika), usually on the eleventh or the twelfth lunar day. It is the ceremonial wedding of the Tulasi plant to lord Vishnu. Both the bride and the groom are ritually worshiped and then married as per the traditional Hindu wedding rituals. It marks the end of the four-month Chaturmas period, which corresponds to the monsoons and is considered inauspicious for weddings and other rituals. This day thus inaugurates the annual marriage season in India.
In Orissa, on the first day of the Hindu month Vaishakha (April – May), a small vessel with a hole at its bottom is filled with water and suspended over the Tulasi plant with a steady stream of water, for the entire month. In this period, when a hot summer reigns, one who offers cool water to Tulasi or an umbrella to shelter it from the intense heat is believed to be cleansed of all sin. The stream of water also conveys wishes for a good monsoon.
Various Names of Tulsi in the Hindu Mythology
In the Hindu mythology, tulsi has been give various names. Some of them are :
- Vaishnavi (“belonging to Vishnu”)
- Vishnu Vallabha (“beloved of Vishnu”)
- Haripriya (“beloved of Vishnu”)
- Vishnu Tulsi.
- The Tulsi with green leaves is called Shri-Tulsi (“fortunate Tulsi”). Shri is also a synonym for Lakshmi, Vishnu’s principal consort.
- This variety is also known as Rama-Tulsi (“bright Tulsi”). Rama is also one of the principal avatars of Vishnu.
- The Tulsi with dark green or purple leaves and purple stem is called Shyama-Tulsi (“dark Tulsi”) or Krishna-Tulsi (“dark Tulsi”). Krishna is also a prominent avatar of Vishnu. This variety is considered especially sacred to Krishna, as its purple color is similar to Krishna’s dark complexion.
Every part of the Tulsi plant is revered and considered sacred. Even the soil around the plant is holy. According to the Padma Purana, a person who is cremated with Tulsi twigs in his funeral pyre gains moksha and a place in Vishnu’s abode Vaikuntha. If a Tulsi stick is used to burn a lamp for Vishnu, it is like offering the gods lakhs of lamps. If one makes a paste of dried Tulsi wood (from a plant that died naturally) and smears it over his body and worships Vishnu, it is worth several ordinary pujas and lakhs of Godan (donation of cows). Water mixed with the Tulsi leaves is given to the dying to raise their departing souls to heaven.
Just as Tulsi respect is rewarding, her contempt attracts the wrath of Lord Vishnu as well. Precautions have to be taken to avoid this. It is a taboo to urinate, excrete or throw waste water near the plant. Uprooting and cutting branches of the plant is prohibited. When the plant withers, the dry plant is immersed in a water body with due religious rites and rituals, as is the custom for broken divine images, which are unworthy for worship. Though Tulsi leaves are necessary for Hindu worship, there are strict rules for it. A prayer of forgiveness may also be offered to Tulsi before the act.
Yanmule sarvatirhaani Yannagre sarvadevataa
Yanmadhye sarvavedaascha Tulasi taam namaamyaham
I bow down to the tulasi, At whose base are all the holy places, At whose top reside all the deities and In whose middle are all the Vedas.
Basil and Ayurveda
From prehistoric times the earliest inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent have held plants in great reverence. Nature was worshiped by India’s primitive tribes. According to the Hindu mythology the God of Death, Yama, himself gives way to the ‘holiness’ of the sacred Tulasi. However, India is unique and it has maintained this reverence right up to the present day. Tulasi, which was once worshiped as a plant with ‘magical powers’, was analysed by the Ayurvedic physicians for its physical properties as well. Tulasi is known as the Mother of Ayurveda. Basil has been used for thousands of years in Ayurveda for its diverse healing properties. It is mentioned in the Charaka Samhita, an ancient Ayurvedic text. Tulsi is considered to be an adaptogen, balancing different processes in the body, and helpful for adapting to stress. Marked by its strong aroma and astringent taste, it is regarded in Ayurveda as a kind of “elixir of life” and believed to promote longevity. It is an elixir for cough. the leaves when chewed after meals acts as a digestive, and when taken before and after cold water bath controls temperature in the stomach and prevents cold. If sprinkled over cooked food or in stored water, basil leaves prevent bacterial growth.Many Ayurvedic medicines are made from Tulasi and every part of her is useful. Even the smell of Basil has a positive and soothing effect on the mind. In the early morning her leaves emit a type of oil. If you sprinkle water on her and then remain near her, preferably chanting a prayer or mantra, you will receive the benefit of this. Tulasi purifies the air day and night. Most plants take in oxygen during the night, but Tulasi gives out oxygen during both day and night, so you can keep her inside at night, especially when you are doing your japa, chanting and other sadhana.
Wherever the aroma of Tulasi is carried by the wind, it purifies the atmosphere and frees all animals from all baser tendencies.