Tuesday, November 1, 2011



Men in the modern world often try to harness or conquer Mother Nature; but ancient Hindus worshipped Mother Nature. Hindus have venerated plants and trees essential for sustenance and happy living and they considered all flora and fauna as the gift of God and so sacred. Hindus worship some plants and trees as shrines among which Tulasi, the Indian Basil (Ocimum Tenuiflorum or Ocimum basilicum or Ocimum Sanctum) shrub occupies the premier position. These shrubs are popularly grown and worshiped in the vicinity of Hanuman Temples, the one in the Hanuman Temple of Vaaraanasi (Benares formerly) being most sacred. Several myths and legends surround this sacred shrub whose leaves are essential for the daily worship of Lord Vishnu and his retinue.
An orthodox Srivaishnava Brahmin after his daily pooja sprinkles the water sanctified by the bathing of a Salagrama on his head and wears a Tulasi (Indian basil) leaf used in the worship on his head and then only partakes the food offered to Vishnu in the shape of Salagrama. So also do the other devotees of Vishnu, his incarnations and his consorts. It is believed that one who does so will live for several Eons (Yugas) in Vaikuntha, the abode of Vishnu. Tulasi is glorified in Skanda Puraana, Padma Purana and Brahma Vaivasvata Purana as the celebrated consort of Vishnu. Special worships are conducted to Tulasi altars every day in the month of Kartik by Sri Vaishanvites with ritual lighting every evening.
On the twelfth day of the waxing moon in the Hindu month of Kaartik (Dwaadasi) Lord Vishnu woke up from his slumber after four months of monsoon and married Bhoodevi, the Cosmic Guardian. He also assumed the responsibility that he will protect the Mother Earth. To many this marriage inaugurates the annual marriage season. Tamilians postpone it to the Tamil month of Thai. It is believed that one who celebrates this divine wedding with reverence will be entitled to get all the benefit of Kanyadaana (Giving away one's daughter in marriage as an act of charity) glorified in scriptures. The fragrant Tulasi plant represents Mother Earth. On this holy day the Tulasi plant is bedecked as a bride and offered to Vishnu in the shape of Saalagrama, sometimes also with sugar cane or amla (gooseberry) branch. Probably in this case sugarcane or amla represents bhoodevi while Tulasi as emanation of Sridevi or Lakshmi. Tulasi leaves are not offered to Durga or Siva and his retinues for worship at any time.
There are many other mythological stories in which Tulasi is celebrated. In one story, Tulasi was a devoted wife of Sankachooda, a celestial being (yaksha) to whom she was very much devoted. Somehow she thought that Lord Krishna tricked her into sinning while trying to test her chastity. So she cursed Lord Krishna to turn into a stone (Salagrama). But Sri Krishna appreciating her chastity blessed her as a sacred plant and declared any worship to him would not be complete unless Tulasi is offered to him and placed on the head in veneration. Sankachooda's bones were immersed after his death at the hands of Siva in sea and the divine conch emerged out of it. Lord Vishnu always carries his conch (Panchajanya) in his left hand the other hand being occupied by Sudarsana Chakra. Sankachooda was a staunch devotee of Vishnu.
In another story Tulasi is married to a demon Jalandhara, who was killed by Siva. Her chastity always used to protect him against his formidable enemies and including Siva who came to their rescue. For this the chastity of Tulasi has to be disturbed by Vishnu which he did disguising as her husband. Because of the power of her chastity she could recognize Vishnu in disguise after spending some time with him. Furious Tulasi cursed Vishnu to be turned into a stone (Saalagraama). She was Vrinda in her previous birth an incarnation of Lakshmi. She cursed Vishnu and collapsed. From her body emerged Tulasi plant. Vishnu however blessed her to be worshiped as the most sacred plant and also married her. He granted her an exalted position among all his wives. Devotees therefore carry Tulasi on their head after worshiping the Lord. Sipping Tulasi water at the time of death one is supposed to reach Vaikuntha.
Tulasi symbolizes Lakshmi. In another mythological story on waking up from his slumber the Lord witnessed the churning of the ocean supporting the mountain on his back in his incarnation as Koorma (turtle). He appeared as Dhanvantari during the churning who appeared with the pot of nectar (amrita kalasha). The liquid dropping from his joyful eyes gave birth to younger sister of Lakshmi. She wanted to marry Vishnu who was already married to her sister Lakshmi. Lakshmi did not like the idea and being upset cursed her to be a plant. She was matchless in beauty but turned into Tulasi plant because of the curse of her elder sister. Vishnu took pity on her and assured her that he will remain close to her in his form of Salagrama and grant her also a unique position in all his worship, to the envy of her sister Lakshmi.
Those who wish to be righteous and want to lead a happy life must worship Tulasi. Her marriage with Lord Vishnu is celebrated at home and temples on Uttaana Dwaadasi Day. Tulasi is married to the Lord on Uttana Dwaadasi day with all pomp and show as in any Kalyanoetsavam (marriage ceremony of the Lord) in Temple worship. This is because according to another mythological story Lord Vishnu blessed her to be his consort.
Satyabhama (incarnation of Bhoodevi), the consort of Lord Krishna once wanted to show how rich she was and weighed Lord Krishna against all her legendary wealth. To her disappointment the scale was not tilting in her favor at all. Rukmini (incarnation of Lakshmi) the other consort of Lord Krishna then advised her to place a Tulasi leaf on her wealth on the scsale with devotion. To her surprise the scale immediately turned in her favor. Thus Lord Krishna showed her in one sense that what even an insignificant leaf when placed with devotion could accomplish! On the other hand he wanted to convey to his devotees the great significance of Tulasi. This mythological story is celebrated as "Krishna Tulaabhaaram".
It is a common sight to see a Tulasi Brindavan, an altar bearing Tulasi plant either in front or in back- yard or in central court-yard in most religious Hindu homes. The lady of the house after taking bath, lights a lamp before the altar, waters the plant, worships with turmeric and vermillion powder and waves aarati (vermillion mixed colored water with yellow rice) and then circumambulates the Brindaavan. There are different varieties of Tulasi with varied names worshipped at home and offered to the Lord. Tulasi with light green leaves is known as Rama Tulasi; with dark leaves Shyama Tulasi. Some green leaved Tulasi is also called Lakshmi Tulasi and purple Tulasi as Krishna Tulasi. The word Brindaavan is derived from Vrindaa or Brindaa the daughter of King Kedaara, who practiced severe austerities in Brindaavan in Uttar Pradesh near Mathura to get Lord Vishnu as her husband. After successful penance in pleasing Lord Vishnu, she got the boon from Him to be born as Raadhaa, the daughter of Vrishbhaanu and Kalaavatee. Tulasi is considered to be plant incarnation of Vrindaadevi, Forest Goddess by some. The word Brinda or Vrinda itself means Tulasi in Sanskrit.
The following Vedic Mantras of Mrittika Sookta from Maha Narayana Upanishad are appropriate for the worship of Tulasi though not conventional. In one of the mythological stories she is the incarnation of Mother Earth. There are also other hymns and songs appropriate for Tulasi worship:
Uddhritaani varaahena krishnena satabaahunaa| Bhoomirdhenu-dharanee lokadhaarinee ||
You were lifted by the Black One (Krishna) with his hundred arms, in the form of Varaaha. You are reputed as Bhoomi, Dhenu, Dharani and you are the supporter of all worlds.
Mrittike hana may paapam yanmayaa duashkritam kritam |tvayaa hatena paapena jeevaami saradah satam || mrittike dehi may pushtim tvayi sarvam pratishthitam ||
Oh Earth! Destroy all my sins! Destroy whatever wrong is done by me! May I live a hundred autumns, after having my sins destroyed! Oh Earth! Bestow on me nourishment—everything we think of is established in you.
Gandhadvaaraam duraadharshaam nityapushtaam kareeshineem| Easvaree(ga)m sarvabhootaanam taamihopahvaye sriyam ||
I invoke you to come near us, Oh Goddess Earth. You are the ruler of all entities, you are known by your odor. You are invincible by sins. You are ever full and you are associated with cow dung and others.
[This mantra is prescribed for bearing the Tulasi-plant soil on head. This is a sacred Vedic mantra chanted while applying sandal paste to the bathed deity].
Sahasra paramaa devi satamoola satankuraa | sarva(ga)m haratu may paapam doorva duh-svapna naasinee ||
May the tender sprout of the grass, more celebrated than thousands of sprouts, united with hundreds of roots and sprouts, destroyer of all bad dreams, destroy all my sins!
Asvakraante rarthakraante vishnukraante vasundharaa |sirasaa dhaaritaa devi rakshasva maam pade pade ||
Oh Goddess Earth! You patiently bear the trampling of horses and chariots and the strides of your husband Vishnu; I adore you with reverence bearing you on my head. Please protect me always.
[These mantras are prescribed for wearing the Tulasi on one's head.]
The stem, leaves, seeds, roots and even the soil which provides Tulasi (ocium tenuiflorum), Indian basil, the base is considered holy and the mud is placed on the head with reverence. A Tulasi is always placed on the food in all worships offering food to the Lord at homes and temples, especially for Lord Vishnu and his contingent.
Tulasi is defined in Sanskrit as "Tulanaa naasti athaiva tulasi"—that which is incomparable in its qualities and hence called Tulasi. It is the most sacred amongst all plants. A chain made from the beads carved out of dried twigs or root of Tulasi-plant is worn during meditation as garland (Tulasi Maalaa). It is the only worship material which though used once can be washed and reused as it is regarded as self-purifying. Religious Hindus who can't grow Tulasi at home always keep some dried leaves of Tulasi along with Ganges water. The departing soul is given Tulasi water in the hope that it will make his journey smooth removing sins. Tulasi leaves have great medicinal values and are used in many herbal remedies and cosmetic products as well as incense sticks used in the worship of God. It is used widely in Ayurvedic preparations to cure many ailments including common cold. Dried leaves of Tulasi are used to store grains to repel insects. It is used in Thailand cuisines in delicious food preparations where Tulasi is known as Krapho.
Yanmoole sarva teerthaani | yanna-agre sarva devataa| yan madhye sarva vedaascha | Tulasi taam namaamy-aham ||
I bow down to the Tulasi at whose base are all the holy places, at whose top are all deities and in whose middle all the Vedas.
Vrindyai tulasi devyai |priyaayai kesavasya cha|Krishnabhakti prade devi |satyavatyai namoh namah ||
May I offer my repeated obeisance to Vrinda, Tulasi Devi, who is so dear to Lord Kesava. Oh Goddess Tulasi! Please convey my devotional service to Lord Krishna. You are the embodiment of highest truth.
Tulasee dala maatrena| jalasya chulukena vaa | vikrinite svam aatmanaam | bhaktebhyo bhakta- vatsalah ||
Sri Krishna who is very much attached to his devotees attaches himself firmly to the devotee who offers merely a Tulasi leaf and plentiful of water.
We are all familiar with the Bhagavadgeeta verse: Patram pushpam phalam toyam yoe may bhaktyaa prayachchati | Tad-aham bakhtyaa upahrutam-asnaami prayataatmanah ||
Whosoever offers me a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water with devotion, I accept and enjoy such meager devotional offerings by that pure-hearted. [Here Lord Krishna has in his mind only the Tulasi leaf which is so dear to him. His favorite flower is Paarijaata (coral tree flower) and his favorite fruit is Jamun (rose apple; a kind of sweet black plum). Tulasi, flower, fruit (coconut or banana) and water are essential materials in Hindu worship (Aaraadhana) of Lord Vishnu.]
This discourse is prepared drawing considerable help from the following publications:
  1. Swami Vimalananda, Why Do We Do…..? Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai, India.
  2. Devdutt pattanaik, Devi, Vakils, Feffer & Simons Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai, India.
  3. Dr. N.S. ananta Rangacharya, Principal Upanishads, Bangalore, India.
     4.   Swami Harshananda, Pilgrim Centers of India, Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai, India.


Legends of Tulasi in  Christianity


Among Vedic practitioners, Tulasi "The Incomparable One", is vital in the worship of Lord Vishnu. As Vrinda Devi she arranges the pastimes of Sri  Radha Krishna in the forests of Vrindavan. 

Devotees always offer food to the Lord accompanied by a leaf from Tulasi. In addition, Vaishnavas chant on and wear sacred beads made of her wood, and in some traditions anoint their body with sacred clay in the form of her leaf.

For thousands of years Tulasi was worshipped in India and slowly made its way westward via trade routes linking India to Persia and Greece.

Many may not know that Tulasi plays an important role in Orthodox Christianity (including Greek, Bulgarian, Serbian, Macedonian, and Romanian Orthodox Churches). According to Orthodox tradition when the disciples of Jesus went to the tomb of Christ they found it empty but all around the area were fully bloomed Tulasi. The Greeks called Tulasi 'Holy Basil', from the Greek word 'basileus' meaning King/royalty for it was reserved for the greatest.

Several hundred years later, Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in search of holy relics. It is said she found a barren hill covered in sweet smelling Tulasi, and upon excavation found the true cross beneath the Tulasi plant.

Because Tulasi was discovered both at the cross and tomb of Christ, traditional Orthodox Christians saw it as a symbol of paradise, of spiritual rebirth and sanctity. This sacred plant was cultivated in Orthodox monasteries and became part of the most holy rituals - to create the holy water, to sprinkle the holy water on practitioners, to create the holy oils to anoint, to adorn the altar, and to garland the cross.

This is simply one example of the influence of Vedic culture upon the world.

Indian Scientists Decode Tulasi Plant Genome
Posted by The Hindu | Sep 15, 2015 | IndiaDivine.Org

The plant synthesizes a wide range of bioactive compounds, known for their anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-pyretic and anti-cancer properties.  Indian scientists have deciphered the entire genetic make-up of Tulasi, a herb widely used for therapeutic purposes. The genome map will help in making new medicines using the plant.
A multi-institutional team led by Sowdhamini Ramanathan from the National Centre of Biological Science, Bengaluru revisited the age-old knowledge of the plant and its medicinal effects in their laboratories.
The plant synthesizes a wide range of bioactive compounds, known for their anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-pyretic and anti-cancer properties.
These compounds are metabolites, compounds that are a by-product of plant metabolism, typically used for plant self-defense. These metabolites are very poorly understood because of lack of genomic information.
Sowdhamini and team have produced the first draft genome of  O. tenuiflorum Krishna subtype, which is an important step in understanding and identifying the genes responsible for production of metabolites with medicinal properties.
“The sequence reveals the interesting pathways used by Tulasi to make ursolic acid, a medically important compound. If one could now use modern synthetic biology techniques to synthesize ursolic acid, it would be of great benefit,” said S. Ramaswamy, one of the researchers.
“This is the first report of draft genome sequencing of a plant species from NCBS and we hope to do more,” added Sowdhamini.

Tulsi: The Queen of Herbs According to Ayurveda
Posted by The Editor | Jul 24, 2015 |   
Referred as the “Queen of Herbs” and a symbol of purity, Tulsi, better known as Holy Basil, is a popular household name in India. Worshipped in the morning and evening, many Hindu families grow Tulsi in their courtyard as it is believed to bring longevity, happiness, purify the environment and bring peace in the home.
For herbal remedies, each and every part of this plant can be used in one way or another. Of the two main species readily available in India, the darker form of Tulsi known as Shyama has more medicinal values than the lighter one called Rama.
The Following are Some Benefits of Tulsi:
Increases mental health
High in anti-oxidants, preventing premature aging
Flavonoids protect cells from radiation and its harmful side effects
Effective on acne and psoriasis
As an anti-inflammatory, it helps reduce arthritic symptoms, decreasing pain and swelling
Reduces anxiety, depression and stress
Relieves constipation, stomach cramps, indigestion and flatulence
Enhances immunity in babies
Helps reduce symptoms of cold, cough, influenza, bronchitis, asthma, sinus infections
Prevents nausea
Provides relief from menstrual cramps
Reduces chances of food poisoning
Enhances the flavour of food
Chewing fresh Tulsi leaves or boiling them with tea reduces the effects of fever and common cold
Heals infections of the mouth
Used as a paste, it relieves the effects of insect bites
Regulates blood sugar
There is interest in using Tulsi seed oil for curing cancer as research shows the oil can slow progression and improve survival rate in animals with certain types of cancer.
Considered to be a divine plant in Ayurveda,  Tulsi not only has medicinal properties but also carries spiritual significance for practitioners of this ancient system of medicine. It is considered to be a reincarnation of the goddess Tulsi, who offers divine protection from all ills.