Tulasi Devi: The Sacred Tree
Compiled by Stephen Knapp
The Tulasi tree is a most important plant, and is often seen at numerous Hindu temples, especially those dedicated to Vishnu and Krishna. At such temples you are likely to find one or more in the courtyard wherein pilgrims circumambulate it, water it, or even offer prayers to it. Some temples will even have Tulasi groves, wherein you will see numerous Tulasi plants growing in a garden. Some temples will even have a special greenhouse just for taking care of Tulasi plants. At such temples, they may even prepare large garlands of Tulasi leaves and manjaris (the ends of the branches) for the deity of Lord Krishna to wear. It is said that Tulasi will not grow well where there is no devotion to the Lord. In fact, how well Tulasi grows is said to be like a barometer that indicates how high the devotional attitude is of the devotee community around the temple.
Vaishnava devotees also use the wood to make neck beads and wear two or three strands of them around their necks signifying their devotion to the Lord. They also make their japa mala or chanting beads from wood of the Tulasi tree as well. Tulasi is considered to be a pure devotee of the Lord who has taken the form of a tree. Therefore she is given the utmost respect. This is also why many devotees and Hindus in general also grow Tulasi in their homes. In this way, the Tulasi plant plays an important part in the spiritual life of many devotees. So what is the significance, history and legends behind this little tree?
To begin with, the Basil plant (Ocimum sanctum) is commonly called Tulasi (pronounced tulsi). In some accounts of the Puranic story of the Churning of the Ocean (samudramathana), the Tulasi is added to the list of articles which emerged from it, and is sacred to Krishna (according to Wilson’s Vishnu Purana p, 67. n.8). It is also sacred to his Lord Vishnu’s consort Laksmi, and hence it is itself an object of worship.
The Tulasi plant also possesses curative properties and is said to be an antidote to snake-venom. It destroys mosquitoes and other pests and purifies the air. It even is said to ward off the messengers of Yama, the ruler of the dead, who will not enter a house containing a sprig of Tulasi. This is also one of the reasons why devotees wear the Tulasi as neck beads. When death occurs, the funeral pyre should be constructed of Tulasi, palasha, and sandal-wood.
There is further Puranic background for Tulasi attaining this spiritualistic importance. In fact it is Mahalaksmi, wife of Visnu, who had herself taken the form of Tulasi. There is a story about it in the Devi Bhagavata. The Puranic Encyclopedia summarizes these legends.
1) The curse of Sarasvati. Sarasvati, Ganga and Laksmi were all, in the beginning, wives of MahaVishnu. The Lord loved all the three equally. One day all the four were sitting together when Ganga sent lustful glances at Vishnu which was immediately noticed by both Sarasvati and Laksmi. Sarasvaii got angry and rising up caught hold of the hair of Ganga and dragged her to the ground. Laksmi then caught hold of Sarasvati to prevent farther assault but Sarasvati then poured all her rage on Laksmi and cursed her to be born as a plant on earth. Gangadevi could not bear this and she cursed Sarasvati to be born as a river on earth. Sarasvati retorted with a curse that Ganga also would be born as a river. When the whole tumult was over Vishnu called Laksmi to his side and said, “Oh Devi, do not worry. Things have happened as predestined. You go and be born as the daughter of Dharma-dhvaja and grow up there. From there by divine grace you will be transformed into a plant sacred enough to make all the three worlds pure. That plant will be named Tulasi. When you will be thus living as Tulasi, a demon named Sankhacuda with part of my virile strength will be born and he will marry you. Then you can come back to me. The holy river Padmavati will also be another form of your spirit.”
2) The story of Dharmadhvaja. Who was this Dharma-dhvaja to whom was born Mahalaksmi as a daughter? In times of old there was a Manu called Daksasavarni who was extremely virtuous and a part of Vishnu. Descending from Daksasavarni were Brahmasavarni-Dharmasavarni-Rudrasavarni-Devasavarni-Indrasavarni Vrsadhvaja. This last named was a great devotee of Shiva and because of his great affection for this devotee Shiva lived a whole period of a devayuga in the ashrama of Vrsadhvaja. King Vrsadhvaja by an edict prohibited the worship of any other deity than Shiva in his country. Even the worship of Mahalaksmi ordained by the Vedas during the month of Bhadra (September) became extinct. All Yagyas and worship of Vishnu came to a stop. Surya (Sun-god) got angry al this belittling of other gods than Shiva and cursed the King Vrsadhvaja that he would cease to be prosperous. Shiva did not like it and he went to punish Surya holding his trident in his hand. Surya was frightened and he approached his father Kasyapa. Kasyapa and Surya went to Brahma and acquainted him with all details. Brahma also was helpless in the matter and so all the three of them went to Mahavishnu. They prostrated before Vishnu and told him all. At that time Shiva also came there. Addressing all of them, Vishnu said “Oh. Devas, wilhin this half an hour twenty-one yugas have passed by on the earth. He about whom you have come to speak to me is dead and gone. Even his son Rathadhvaja is dead. The latter has two sons named Dharmadhvaja and Kusadhvaja. They are dull and splendorless now because of the curse of Surya and are now worshipping Laksmi.” Saying thus Vishnu disappeared.
3) Birth of Tulasi. Dharmadhvaja and Kusadhvaja did penance to propitiate Mahalaksmi. Kusadhvaja had a wife named Malavati. She bore a daughter named Vedavati. Sita, wife of Sri Rama, was a rebirth of this Vedavati.
King Dharmadhvaja had a wife named Madhavi. Mahalaksmi entered her womb as an embryo and after a hundred years Madhavi gave birth to a daughter. Even at the time of birth the child looked like a matured girl and was extremely pretty. She was therefore, called Tulasi, meaning matchless. (Tula= match). This Tulasi, abandoning all worldly pleasures, went to Badarikashrama and started doing penance there with the prayer that MahaVishnu should become her husband. She did penance for twenty-four thousand years sitting amidst fire in the hot season and sitting in water in the cold season and taking only fruits and water as food. Then she did penance for another thirty thousand years eating leaves only, another forty thousand years taking air only as food and another ten thousand years without any food. At this stage Brahma appeared and asked her the object of her penance. She replied she wanted MahaVishnu to be her husband. Hearing this Brahma said thus: “Devi, you know the cowboy Sudama born of a part of Sri Krishna. That brilliant cowboy has now been born on earth, due to a curse of Radha, as a demon named Sankhachuda. He is matchlessly eminent and has once fallen in love with you seeing you at Goloka. You will become his wife and later you can become the wife of Narayana. At that time a part of your divine body will remain on earth as a plant named Tulasi. Tulasi will become the most sacred of all plants, dear to Vishnu, and all worship without using Tulasi leaves would be ineffective.”
4) Marriage of Tulasi. Due to a curse of Radha, Sudama, the cowboy, was born on earth as a demon named Sankhachuda. He did penance sitting at Badarikashrama and obtained Vishnukavaca. Another object of his was to marry Tulasi. He obtained a boon from Brahma that his death would occur only when the Vishnu Kavaca was removed from his body and the chastity of his wife was lost. At that time Sankhachuda and Tulasi met each other in the forests and were married. Sankhachuda, brilliant and majestic, went about with Tulasi in amorous sports creating jealousy even among the devas. His arrogance gave innumerable troubles to the devas and they along with Brahma and Shiva approached MahaVishnu for a remedy. Vishnu then sent Shiva with his spike to kill Sankhachuda and he himself started to molest the chastity of his wife Tulasi. Sankhachuda took leave of Tulasi to go and fight with Shiva. When Tulasi was thus left alone, MahaVisnu in the form of Sankhachuda approached Tulasi and after some preliminary talks entered into sexual acts. Tulasi found some difference in the usual affairs and suspecting foul play jumped up to curse the impostor. At once MahaVishnu appeared in his true form and said “You have been doing penance for a lone time to get me as your husband. Your husband Sankhachuda was the chief of my Parsadas, Sudarna. It is time for him to go back to [the spiritual abode of] Goloka getting himself released from the curse. By this time Shiva would have killed him and he would have gone to Goloka as Sudama. You can now abandon your body and come with me to Vaikuntha to enjoy life as my wife.
Your body will decay and become a holy river named Gandaki; your hair will become the Tulasi plant, the leaves of which will be held sacred in all the three worlds.”
Tulasi then changed herself into the form of Laksmi and went to Vaikuntha with MahaVishnu. (9th Skandha, Devi Bhagavata).
5) The greatness of Tulasi. Everything of the Tulasi plant, leaves, flowers, fruits, roots, twigs, skin and even the soil around is holy. The soul of a dead one whose dead body is cremated using Tulasi twigs for firewood would attain a permanent place in Vishnuloha [the spiritual abode]. Even great sinners would be absolved of their sins if their dead bodies are cremated with Tulasi twigs [or are wearing Tulasi beads]. If at the time of death one thinks of God and mutters His name and if his dead body is later cremated with Tulasi twigs, he would have no rebirths. Even he who has done a crore of sins would attain moksha [liberation] if at the time of cremating his dead body a piece of Tulasi twig is placed at the bottom of the funeral pyre. Just as all waters become pure by the union with Ganga water, all firewood is made pure by the addition of a small piece of Tulasi twig. If the dead body of one is cremated using Tulasi twigs alone, one’s sins for a crore of Kalpa years [1 kalpa is 4,800,000 years] would be washed away. Yamadutas [the soldiers of Lord Yama, the king of death] would keep away from one whose dead body is cremated with Tulasi twigs and servants of Vishnu would come near. If a light is burnt for Vishnu with a Tulasi stick it would be equal to burning several lakhs of lights for Vishnu. If one makes the Tulasi leaves into a paste and smears it on one’s body and then worships Vishnu for one day, one would be getting the benefit of a hundred ordinary worships and also the benefit of doing a hundred godanas (gifts of cows). (Chapter 24, Padma Purana)
It is also accepted that if ever a person leaves his or her body while wearing Tulasi beads, either around the neck or elsewhere, it creates the same affect as described above as having one’s cremation fire burnt using Tulasi.
The Marriage of Tulasi
And Significance of Shalagrama-shilas
As Elaborated from Brahma-Vaivarta Purana, Prakriti-Khanda, Chapters 21 & 22
This explains the marriage between Lord Vishnu and Tulasi, how Tulasi became both the Gandaki River and the sacred Tulasi tree, and how Lord Vishnu accepted the form of the sacred stones found in the Gandaki River known as shalagram-shilas.
Narada said: “O Lord, please narrate how You (Lord Narayana) impregnated Tulasi”.
Narayana answered: “Hari, in order to accomplish the design of the gods, took the form of Sankhachuda and cohabited with Tulasi. He took the amulet of the demon and approached the house of Tulasi. At the threshold he played upon a drum and through a spy announcing these words, ‘May victory crown the King,’ he convinced Tulasi of the success of her husband. Tulasi, through a window, gladly looked at the royal road. She made gifts to the Brahmins, the bards and the mendicants and caused the performance of many auspicious deeds. Lord Hari subsequently descended from his car and entered into the lovely house of Tulasi constructed with invaluable gems. When Tulasi saw her tranquil husband (whose form Hari had assumed), she wept with joy, washed his feet with water and bowed low to him. She entertained him with betel-leaves rendered fragrant with camphor and considered herself truly blessed, inasmuch as she saw her lord returned victorious from the battle. The licentious Tulasi, filled with joy cast arch glances upon him and sweetly or gently asked him thus: ‘My gracious king, how could you conquer Shiva who destroys numberless worlds? Reveal to me the matter.’ Hari in disguise smiled and concocted a lie thus: ‘O my lady, O my love, this fight lasted for a year and all the demons have been destroyed. Brahma himself came to the scene of fight and reconciled us both. By his command, I returned to the gods their jurisdiction and came home. Shiva likewise returned to his domain.’ So saying, Lord Hari slept. O Narada, Hari cohabited with Tulasi but owing to the transgression of the former method of sexual intercourse she became suspicious and said, ‘O Lord of dissemblers, who are you? You have violated my chastity. I must, therefore, curse you, whoever you are.’ Afraid of a curse, Hari assumed a very lovely form. Tulasi beheld in her presence the Eternal Lord, the god of gods, dark like a new cloud. His eyes were like autumnal lotuses. His face was beaming with smiles. He was decked with gems and yellow garments. His grace was like that of ten millions of Cupids.
“The woman at His sight was excited with lust and fainted, but immediately recovering said to Hari, ‘Lord, you are unkind to me and possess a heart of stone. You have fraudulently violated me and killed my husband. As you are hard-hearted like a stone, you will be worshiped in the world in the form of a stone (shila). Those who call you merciful are deluded. Tell me why You killed an innocent votary of Yours for the sake of others. You are the soul of all and, though all-knowing, You do not realize the pain of others. Therefore, when You will assume a certain incarnation, You will forget Yourself.’ So saying, the chaste Tulasi fell at his feet and wept bitterly in sorrow. The merciful Hari consoled her, using words fraught with counsel thus: ‘O chaste lady, you prayed for me for a long time in Bharata-varsha (India). The lustful Sankhachuda had prayed for you and thereby obtained you as his spouse, and thus he enjoyed your society for a long time. I should now give you the fruits of your devotion.
“‘You should now quit your body, take a celestial form and travel with Me like Rama. You will now be converted into a sacred river called Gandaki. Let the clusters of your hair be converted into a plant called Tulasi or the holy basil. Fair one, the flowers and the leaves of this plant will be consecrated to the worship of the gods. In the course of my worship, Tulasi flowers will be held superior to other flowers in the three worlds and even in Vaikuntha. This sanctifying plant will grow in Goloka on the coast of the Viraja River, on the site occupied by the sphere of the Rasa, in Vrindavana, in the forest of the holy fig tree, the wood of the sandal tree, or the Champak flower, or in the groves of the jasmine, and the screw-pine tree, or in the grove of the climbing plants called Madhavi. All the shrines of the world will converge at the root of Tulasi.’
“‘Fair one, all the gods will preside there to secure the fallen leaves of the holy basil. Anyone who will be anointed or moistened with the waters of the holy basil will reap the benefits of ablutions in all sacred rivers and the performance of all sorts of yagnas or sacrifices. Hari will not be so much pleased with the gift of a thousand jars full of honey as with the offer of a Tulasi leaf. The gift of one such leaf will bring the reward secured by the gift of millions of cows. Anyone who, dying, will get the water of the Tulasi leaf will be redeemed from all his sins and proceed to Vaikuntha. Whoever constantly drinks such water will be redeemed in his lifetime and get the fruits of a dip in the Ganges. Anyone worshiping Me with this leaf every day will reap the benefits of a hundred thousand horse sacrifices. Anyone dying with the Tulasi leaf in his hands [or also in one’s mouth, as is commonly practiced] will be redeemed. Anyone putting on a wreath of the wild Tulasi will get at every step the fruit of a horse sacrifice. However, whoever with the holy basil in his hand will break his vow and perjure himself will go to hell. But anyone who, at the time of his death, will get a drop of the water of the holy basil will proceed to Vaikuntha. Hari will cut off the head of that person who, on the lunar day of the dark night (Amavasya) or the full moon, or on the twelfth or last day of the lunar month, or being anointed with oil just before bath, or in the noon, night, or at day break or sun down, or in a state of impurity, or in his nocturnal dress [sleep clothes] will cull or pluck the Tulasi leaf.
“‘O chaste one, if such a leaf is stale for three nights, it can still be used on the occasion of funeral ceremonies, in connection with vows, gifts, consecration of temples and the worship of gods. Tulasi leaves dedicated to Vishnu, even if they drop to the ground or water, if properly washed may still be used for other holy purposes. The presiding deity of the Tulasi plant will always sport in solitude with Krishna in Goloka which is free from diseases. The presiding deity of the Gandaki River will be the wife of the salt ocean, born of my digits. And personally, O chaste goddess, you will ever remain by My side and enjoy My company like Goddess Lakshmi. I, too, by your curse, will turn into a stone on the coast of the Gandaki. At that place the worms called Vajra-kita will construct [carve] my wheel within the stone. That stone, dark like a new cloud, which contains at one gate four wheels and which is decorated with a wreath of wild flowers will be known as Lakshmi-Narayana. But the stone of the like nature without being decked with a wreath will be called Lakshmi-Janardana. A stone without a wreath but impressed with marks of cow feet will be called Raghunatha. A stone of two wheels, auspicious to the householders, will be called Dudhi-bamana. Such a stone, if decked with garlands, will be called Sridhara and give grace to the householders. A stone without a wreath, but thick and circular and containing two wheels will be called Damodara. A stone, fairly round, assailed by arrows, having quivers and two wheels will be called Rana-rama. A stone of moderate size having seven wheels associated with quivers will be called the king of kings and give royal prosperity to the people. A stone, thick, dark like a new cloud and associated with fourteen wheels will be called Ananta and give four kinds of redemption.
“‘A stone which looks like a cloud and contains two wheels, which is spherical, graceful and moderate in size will be called Madhu-Sudana. A stone which will bear the mark of the Sudarshana on one of its wheels and whose other wheel will remain concealed will be called Gadadhara. The two-wheeled stone with the face of a horse will be called Hayagriva. The two-wheeled stone whose face is expansive and hideous will be called Narasimha. The two-wheeled broad-faced stone, decked with wreaths and pleasing to the people will be called Lakshmi-Narasimha. The stone whose gate is conspicuous by two graceful wheels of equal size will be called Vasudeva fulfilling all desire. The stone having a slender wheel and many holes at the threshold, dark like a new cloud, will be called Pradyumna, and the worship of this stone will give happiness to people. The stone whose wheels are united and whose back is excellent, which brings joy to the householders, will be called Sankarshana. The yellow, beautiful, circular stone delightful to the house-holders, will be styled Aniruddha by the Savants. Fair one, the place where this stone will be discovered will be the resort of Hari and Lakshmi with her attendant shrines and holy places. Nay, Brahmin-slaughter and all other sins of the world are expiated by the worship of this stone. This stone, if it is in the shape of an umbrella, bestows a kingdom; if round, it gives prosperity; if like a cart, it causes pain; if like the front of a spear, it brings about death. If deformed, it causes poverty; if tawny in color, it destroys happiness; if its wheels are joined, it causes disease; if broken or split into fragments, it causes death. All holy deeds, consecration of a temple, performance of a funeral ceremony, worship of gods, etc., can be performed through this Holy stone. Deeds of charity, circumambulation around the world, bath in the sacred rivers, all can be attained by a person by ablution in the waters [the have bathed or washed] of this stone. The touch of such a person will be desired even by the streams. He will be consecrated and redeemed in his lifetime. The worship of the stone will give the same fruit as the study of the Vedas or asceticism.
“‘Whoever will drink the immortalizing water of this stone will sanctify by his touch resorts for pilgrims and be redeemed in his life. He will be the slave of Hari and witness countless dissolutions of the world. Sins as heinous as the murder of a Brahmin will fly at his sight like snakes at the sight of Garuda. The earth will be consecrated by the dust of his feet. By his birth, he will redeem millions of his ancestors. Anyone who, while dying, will drink this water will be emancipated and go to the Vaikuntha. He will be free from the influences of karma and, being redeemed, will merge into the feet of Vishnu. Whoever, by laying hands on the stone, perjures himself or breaks his vow will remain in hell for millions of years. My beloved, whoever will separate the holy basil leaves from this holy stone, will suffer the pangs of separation from his wife from birth to birth. Whoever will dissociate the conches from the Tulasi will be deprived of his wife and health for seven births in succession. A wise person who will maintain the Tulasi, the conches and the stone at one and the same place will be dear to Hari. It is painful for a person to part from his beloved whose society he once enjoyed. You were the favorite of Sankhachuda for one Manvantara. Therefore separation from him has been a source of trouble to you.’”
“As Hari affectionately said so, Tulasi quit her body and went to Vaikuntha in a celestial form. Tulasi frequented the heart of Narayana like Kamala. O Narada, thus Hari happened to have four wives viz., Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganga and Tulasi. When Tulasi died, her body was immediately turned into a river called Gandaki; and on the coast of this stream, a sanctifying hill out of the digits of Hari came into existence. The worms on the hill are constructing stones of various sorts. A stone that drops down into the river from the hill assumes the hue of clouds. A stone that drops from the rock on the dry land becomes tawny-colored through the heat of the sun. Now I told you everything. Please let me know what you want to hear.”
Narada said, “Lord, I gather how Tulasi became the favorite of Hari, how she became holy and was adored throughout the world. Now I want to hear the account relating to her form of worship and her hymn. In olden times, who worshiped her and recited her ode? How did she become adorable in the world? Kindly narrate these matters to me.”
Suta said, Naryana smiled at these words and said, “Hari sported with Tulasi as soon as He got her and made her as blessed and glorious as Rama. Ganga and Lakshmi bore this new acquisition to their society patiently. But it was intolerable to Saraswati. Once the dignified Saraswati in vain quarreled with Tulasi in Hari’s presence and hurt her. Tulasi in shame and disgrace disappeared. That accomplished, wise and adept Tulasi became invisible to Hari also out of anger. Hari thereupon took permission of Saraswati and went to the forest of Tulasi plants. There he bathed and with holy basil leaves reverentially adored Tulasi with the mystic formula of ten letters containing seeds of germinating principles of Lakshmi, Maya, Kama and Vani.
“O Narada, that mantra prepared by Hari ends thus: ‘Swaha to Vrindavani.’ After having uttered this mantra which is efficacious like the Kalpa tree, whoever will worship Tulasi with the light of the ghee lamp, frankincense, sandal flowers and sacrificial offerings will attain all perfection. Tulasi, pleased with the worship, emanated from the plant and took refuge in the lotus feet of Hari. Hari blessed her saying, ‘You will be adored throughout the world’, and said, ‘Beloved, I shall hold you on my head and in my heart. All the gods, therefore, will wield you on their heads.’ So saying, Hari took her home.”
Narada said, “Now tell me about the Dhyana or meditation appropriate to Tulasi, her ode, and her plan of worship.” Narayana answered, “When Tulasi disappeared, the afflicted Hari went to Tulasi-vana (the forest of holy Tulasi), worshiped her and adored her with the hymn, “I adore my beloved Vrinda who in one place grows in the form of plants. I adore the blessed nymph who sprang at first from the forest of Vrindavana and is hence styled Vrinda-vani.
“I worship that goddess, all adorable in the universe, who is so-called as she is adored throughout the world. Being afflicted by Cupid I adore the all-sanctifying goddess so-called as she is always adored in the three worlds. I want to see Pushpa-sara, the goddess, the essence of flowers, without whom the gods are not satisfied with the offer of any number of flowers. I crave the favor of that goddess, also called Nandini, as attainment of Tulasi brings faith and joy. I seek the protection of this goddess called Tulasi, as she is incomparable in the world. May she preserve my life, the goddess who is also called the life of Krishna. Krishna having worshiped her thus manifested Himself to Tulasi who was lying prostrate at His feet. When He saw that the dignified Tulasi was weeping on account of her susceptibilities being wounded by Saraswati, he clasped her to his breast, took her to Saraswati and reconciled them both. He blessed her saying, “You will be adored throughout the world and sustained (carried) by every one on the head. You will be adored and honored by Me as well.
“When Tulasi was propitiated, Saraswati embraced her and seated her by her side. Lakshmi and Ganga also embraced her smiling and took her home. Whoever will adore Tulasi by the above eight names, pregnant with meaning, viz., Vrinda [one who has thousands of sakhis, associates], Vrinda-vani [one who never leaves Vrindavana], Vishwa-Pavani [sanctifier of the whole world], Vishwa-Pujita [whole world worships her], Pushpa-sara [essence of all the flowers], Nandini [gives happiness to everyone], Krishna-Jivani [the life and soul of Lord Krishna] and Tulasi [one with an incomparable form] will reap the fruits of a horse sacrifice. The benefactress Tulasi was born on the lunar day of the full moon in the month of Kartika, hence Hari has prescribed this day for her worship. Whosoever will worship her on this day will be redeemed from all sins and go to Vaikuntha. Whoever gives Tulasi leaves cut in reverence to Vishnu in the month of Kartika will reap the fruits secured by the gift of ten millions of cows. Nay, the recollection of her hymn gives a son to the sonless, a wife to the wifeless, health to the diseased, liberty to the prisoner, sanctity to the sinner, courage to the frightened and a friend to the friendless.
“O Narada, I told you about her hymn, now listen to the subject relating to her meditation and form of worship. You know the meditation (Dhyana) as mentioned by Kanwa-sakha. Without invoking the goddess, reverentially meditate on her and adore her with sixteen ingredients. Now listen to her Dhyana or meditation which destroys sins. ‘The chaste Tulasi, the best of flowers, adorable and lovely, destroys the fuel of sins like a flame of fire, O Muni, she is most sacred of all the goddesses. Being incomparable she is called Tulasi. I adore the goddess who is solicited by all; who crowns the head of all; who is known as the consecrator of the world; who gives emancipation and the bondage of Hari; and who has been herself redeemed in her lifetime.’ Wise men, after this meditation and worship, should read her eulogies and bow to her.”
Eight Names of Tulasi
Vrindavani: One who first manifested in Vrndavana.
Vrinda: The goddess of all plants and trees.
Visvapujita: One whom the whole universe worships.
Puspasara: The topmost of all flowers, without whom Krishna does not like to look upon other flowers.
Nandini: Seeing whom gives unlimited bliss to the devotees.
Krishna-jivani: The life of Sri Krishna.
Visva-pavani: One who purifies the three worlds.
Tulasi: One who has no comparison.
Caring for Tulasi Devi in Your Home
Many people take care of Tulasi plants in their home, or would like to. Yet, Tulasi is a sensitive plant and requires particular growing conditions and care in order to do well. Furthermore, it is considered that how well Tulasi grows is a sign of one’s devotional attitude to Lord Vishnu or Krishna. It is said that regardless of how much care Tulasi devi may receive, without the proper devotion, she will not grow well. On the other hand, I’ve seen many devotees who had plenty of devotion but did not do well in knowing how to take care of Tulasi. So here a few instructions that may assist one in the care of Tulasi.
The following is a portion of a letter sent by Srila Prabhupada, dated October 25, 1976, which answers some important questions regarding the identity of Tulasi.
1) Is each Tulasi a separate jiva soul or a expansion of one pure devotee? Answer by Srila Prabhupada: Tulasi is one devotee who appears wherever there is devotion to Krishna,
2) Where does her spirit soul go when she leaves this body?
Answer: Tulasi’s body is spiritual.
3) May we place jewelry in her soil or just moon stones?
Answer: Yes, jewelry is alright.
4) When Tulasi is being cared for by householders in their home, must two aratrikas still be offered?
Answer: If possible.
5) When Tulasi is being cared for by householders in their home may they use her leaves and manjaris on their home offerings or should they take them to the temple?
Answer: Tulasi leaves should be offered to the Deity.
6) When Tulasi is being offered aratrika by the householders, must she have a ghee lamp?
Answer: If possible.
7) Is it offensive to turn the baby Tulasi’s back into the soil when they appear?
8) There are even questions concerning Tulasi’s aratrikas. We have always offered her incense, ghee lamp and flower. Is this correct?
9) In the manual, it states that Tulasi should not be pruned. Docs this also mean trimming the branches which no longer have leaves or life fluids flowing through them?
Answer: You may cut dead branches, but what is the necessity?
10) We were told you once spoke the “4 regulative principles of Tulasi care” which will keep her from getting sick: (a) keep her moist; (b) keep her clean; c) give her morning sunlight (at least); (d) give her two aratrikas a day. Is this bona fide?
Answer: I never said that,
11) May Tulasi be made into a tea after she has been offered?
12) May devotees carve Tulasi wood for Deity paraphernalia?
13) When Tulasi leaves her body and the body is too soft for carving beads, how should she be used? Should a small fire sacrifice be performed?
Answer: Use the wood for beads as far as possible; the balance may be placed within the earth. [It is also accepted that one can take dead Tulasi and put it in the local river.]
14) We have a letter from you requesting that no sprays be used on Tulasi devi. May we use a spray of buttermilk, whole wheat flour dissolved in water which coats her leaves to keep spider-mites from causing Tulasi to leave her body?
Answer: I said no chemical sprays.
15) Does Tulasi sleep? Should she be left undisturbed after night-fall?
Answer: Undisturbed means what?
16) Is it permissible to use scissors to cut her manjaris; and when transplanting, to use knives to loosen her from her pot?
Answer: Use common sense, and if you have none then consult with others.
17) Is it an offense to step on or across her shadow (or the shadow of any pure devotee?
Answer: (As per letter of Jan. 1977, the answer is yes–it is offensive to step on the shadow of a pure devotee.)
18) For two years we have been waiting permission to use the following two prayers plus translations, and translation of the already existing prayer. [Prayers not reproduced here.] Are these bona fide?
Answer: Don’t try to introduce something new. The most important thing is love and devotion.
Techniques of Caring for Tulasi Devi
If you have just received a Tulasi plant by mail:
1. Repot the plant in a clay pot with soil recommended in the “potting” section.
2. If dry, water thoroughly
3. If soggy, pot in moist soil and allow to dry out to normal moistness.
Tulasis should be repotted immediately when they arrive as well as from time to time when roots occupy the whole inside of the pot. A Tulasi should never have a big pot if she is small as this tends to cause rotting and slow root system drainage should be provided by adding some pieces of broken pot over the hole at the bottom. A pot too small binds the plant, so repot in a slightly larger size pot.
In potting young seedlings, the pot may be partially filled with soil. The plant should then be held in place with the roots spread out in a natural way. The remaining soil should be added, and pressed firmly into place with the fingers. In small pots a space of ½ inch or so should be left on top between soil and rim of the pot. Don’t bury the stem. You can use a good potting soil or make one from one part sand to three parts soil. Water thoroughly and do not place in full sun for a few days. Never pot in plan peat moss.
Light is essential to her growth. Full sunlight is preferable and a south window is excellent. In the summer you can put her in a protected place outside. Florescent plant lights are very good also; place seedlings six inches below and larger plants 6 to 14 inches below the light.
When plants are left in any one position for a long period of time, the leaves and stems will turn toward the light and growth will be unsymmetrical. So turn pots once a week.
They will thrive well in temperature which ranges from 62 degrees to 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and which does not drop below 55 at night. Of course, she is used to a very hot climate and will do well at higher temperatures during the summer. During the winter protect her from frost near windows by a protective covering of newspaper between her and the window.
CONTROLING THE ENEMIES OF TULASI DEVI
For control for aphids, -use black leaf 40 (nicotine sulfate)
Black leaf 40—one teaspoon
Spray every four to five days for one month.
For control of white fly—green house bugs. These are white bugs that fly and lay white eggs, and suck the juice of the plant. Do the same as for aphids.
For control of mealy bugs. These appear to be tiny dots of cotton, but if you look close they are bugs with many legs. These are found on the under sides of the leaves on new shoots. Control by wiping them off with cotton swab filled with alcohol.
Die back is one common, heartbreaking disease that begins on new shoots, gradually drying up and turning them brown until the entire plant dies this way. You should immediately control watering. Sometimes this is caused by bad soil, so check this and repot if necessary. The disease is carried by the soil.
Spider mites. These are tiny white spiders which make webs on the plant and suck her shoots. Control by using a syringe and spray frequently with light soapy water.
These are just a few of the many demons that plague Srimate Tulasi Devi, but you can help by checking her every day, especially the under sides of the leaves. Cut off dead branches and always make sure she is not too dry or too wet. Big beetles are often a problem as well as caterpillars because everyone loves her tender leaves. So destroy these creatures (while chanting Hare Krishna) when they decide to make their home on Tulasi Devi.
1. Buy a Jiffy Grower Seed Starter Kit (or similiar brand) at a garden store. This kit consists of small peat moss seed cups arranged like an egg carton with seedbed soil pre-mixed and sifted. So all you have to do is fill the cups with soil mix and moisten (according to package directions) and press the Tulasi seeds into the soil about 1/16″ deep, about 6 seeds per cup. Keep in warm sunny room, avoiding temp changes, out of strong drafts, and away from gas fumes (the alternative is to mix 2 parts clean river sand (unsalted), sift into seed flat or peat moss pots and water from beneath-don’t sprinkle them-)-This is more expensive, time consuming and not so successful)
2. The first Tulasi sprouts appear in 6 or 7 days, and will continue appearing for several weeks. Keep the plastic seed germination bag from pressing on the seedlings—prop it up inside with sticks if necessary. This will keep the remaining unsprouted cups moist.
3. Buy a dozen 4″-6″ deep peat moss pots and some good planting soil-mix. (If you mix your own planting soil, use 2 parts sifted loam, 1 part clean river sand (unsalted) and 1 part sifted peat moss or leaf mold. Generally it should be slightly fertile, light with good drainage. There is no objection to mixing your own-its cheaper; but these peat moss pots are very nice as they give good ventilation, and simplify the eventual transplanting job.)
4. In late afternoon, in a wind protected spot (preferably just in the vicinity of the seed kit so they’ll be no temperature changes) take a few handfuls of rocks, a water bottle as described herein) lots of tepid water; peat moss, and lots said soil mix. The idea is to simply put the sprouted cups into deeper cups for more root-growing room. Plant the whole cup, just remove its bottom. Begin by lining the bottom of the 4″ peat moss cups with rocks for drainage. Wet the soil mix and fill the peat pots leaving a depression for the seed cups to enter. With knife carefully remove the bottom of peatmoss seed cup. Set the whole seed cup down into the moist depression, pressing down firmly on all sides. This eliminates air gaps. Water thoroughly making a moat or depression around the peat moss cup (planted) but avoid direct watering into the seed cup. (Direct watering may disturb seeds that are still germinating in the seed cups. Use a squirt bottle and tepid (not hot or cold) water. Never hit the tiny seedlings directly with the water stream. (If by accident you do, pick Her up and try to prop Her with soil very gently). When finished leave the pots in the same vicinity as the seed kit. Place the pots 2-3inches apart on ‘oven racks’ or the like so that they get good air circulation and drainage from beneath and sides. Allow light but no direct sun exposure.
5. In a few days, gradually introduce them to filtered sunlight, under a tree out doors or under a lath screen(if weather is nice and nights not very cold) Arrange the pots as above on an oven rack or better yet on old bare bed-springs is the ideal thing-one pot in each wire spiral this also gives good insect protection. Shield them from sun and wind, Protection from wind may be afforded by attaching parrarin cloth, burlap muslin, or plywood, to stakes, building a 4-sided box. Then fiberglass or aluminum window screen can be tacked to the box edge giving protection from sparrows, mynah birds and flying insects. (flies are especially bad, they lay eggs in the leaves, so protect with screen).
6. Water the Tulasi seedlings thoroughly each morning, using tepid water bottle. Keep a large pot of tepid water nearby for refilling the water bottles, as they should be kept nicely moist. If the seedlings start turning purplish or grayish, then they’re getting too much sun and not enough water. If this happens, keep them in shade for a few days till they recover, or else they may wither and disappear.
7. Care for the seedlings regularly in the above manner, offering obeisances and circumambulating twice daily, and in 2-3 weeks they will develop 2 or 3 more sets of leaves. Then if you have pots bearing more than one seedling (and you probably will) you will have to plan on separating them by transplanting each in a separate peatmoss pot (4-6 inches deep). This separation transplanting is difficult but it is necessary. So prepare the required number of peat moss pots as described in #3 and #4 and in late afternoon equip yourself with peat pots, a knife, spade, soil mix, water bottle, and lots of tepid water. Important: the seedlings must be put one to a pot as soon as possible when they have two sets of leaves. Beforehand be sure to water the plants to be transplanted thoroughly. This makes the soil stick to the roots protecting them. In transplanting, avoid breaking and loosing seedling roots. Transplant as quickly as possible because even momentary exposure to the air is damaging and to keep as much moist soil as possible around the roots. After watering, begin by cutting an inch or so deep into the peatpot dividing it into two or more sections, depending on the number of seedlings. Start sections by cutting them carefully, pull the sections apart, trying to avoid root breakage and root exposure as far as possible. Immediately plant the sections in the newly prepared peat pots, pressing down firmly and filling more with moist soil as needed and water thoroughly several times, (two devotees working together can do this part more quickly). Press soil around the plants firmly to eliminate drying air pockets, and water thoroughly several times. Full shade and increased watering should continue for 3 days, and longer if they wilt. If you do it quickly and carefully, there will be little or no wilting or drying up.
8. After three days of shade (simply cover the screened bed with cloth to provide shade) and double watering, gradually introduce them to filtered sunlight and continue caring for them as in #5 & 6. Continue this program for 2-3 weeks, until they have 3 or 4 sets of leaves. When more leaves have appeared, you may check periodically to see if any tiny white roots are coming through the bottom of the pot. One of the advantages pf peat moss pots, aside from easy transplant, is that the roots never become cramped, thus dwarfing Her. When the pot becomes too small the roots just start coming through it. When you begin to see the roots coming through the bottom, its time to transplant Her.
9. Transplanting into Pots: It is advisable to put a few plants in pots for the winter, especially if your center or home is in a cold climate. Large 10-12″ deep cement are sturdy (or redwood.) and porous; clay pots are porous but break easily; plastic pots are non-porous and are not very good. Indoors in cold season with use of a plant lamp you should be able to continue growing Tulasi plants year round, so use durable and large pots. Cement and redwood pots usually have little logs beneath for drainage and air circulation, which is very important.
Soil mix: give Srimate Tulasi Devi a very nice planter and soil mix and she’ll grow and flourish nicely. You can either buy a ready-mixed packaged soil, or mix your own-which is just as good, done properly, and cheaper. A good planter mix is 2 parts garden loam (more or less; depending on whether soil is light or heavy in texture); 1 part compost; 1 part sand (coarse, clean &unsalted); 1 part peat moss/leaf mold; 1 part well-rotted dehydrated cow manure (cow manure must be dehydrated, fresh manure will burn the roots, buy it in a garden store).
Drainage: Be sure the pot drains freely. Place curved piece of crockery (broken clay pat) over the drainage hole, then line pot bottom with 1-2″ of coarse gravel so that dirt will neither sift through holes nor clog them.
Procedure: In late afternoon prepare pot as directed and fill it with moist soil mix leaving a depression in the center of the pot. Water the Tulasi to be potted. Then with knife carefully remove the bottom of Tulasi’s peatmoss pot and set peat pot and Tulasi (together) down into the depression, pressing firmly so there won’t be any air pockets. Leave about 1 inch of room above the soil so there will be ease in watering. Water thoroughly by soaking pot in basin from below.
Care of Tulsi Devi in the Pots: The first thing is to water thoroughly when necessary and allow plant to absorb moisture or water a little each morning (about once every three days seems best). Be careful not to over or under water Her. She likes sun so give Her a sunny window or use a two bulb grow light.
Sec. 1. When planting new seeds from Tulasi Devi, the seed pods must be dissected and the seeds removed from them. Each pod contains 4 seeds. Some might have already fallen from the pod. With fingernails carefully pick apart pods, allowing seeds to fall onto a soft cloth. Don’t smash the pods. Avoid bruising the seeds or exposing them to damp atmosphere. Do not plant more seeds than you can properly maintain
If Jiffy grower seed starter kits are not available in your area, then you can get pre-sifted planter soil mix, and put it into small peat moss pots, then cover with a piece of perforated plastic bag by means of a rubber band • And water from below.
Sec. 10. When plants are a little taller, for wind protection and to give them stability, drive a thin stake into the ground 1″ or so beside the stalk base, and loosely tie stalk to it with a torn strip of soft cotton cloth (a strip at least 1″ wide). Tie it loosely and in a place where won’t obstruct growth of new leaves. This gives the slender delicate stalk good support, even in wind, and makes for more rapid growth. In a few months, the stalk is no more soft and purple, but becomes hard and woody, like a little tree. Still if the area is windy, best to leave the support stake in permanently.
When collecting the leaves, collect the ones that droop before they fall naturally. Don’t cut terminal leaves and wait till plants are big before cutting many leaves from them.
Srila Prabhupad said there are two kinds of Tulasi: Rama Tulasi which is greener, and Krishna Tulasi which is purple. Srila Prabhupada said also there will be little fruits shaped like temples in a year or so. Now, there are flower stalks, which He called Manjaris. His Divine Grace also mentioned that in India, in temple courtyards, there are always Tulasi growing. In temple courtyards they also grow in a 3 foot tall pillar that is like a big pot, and Srimate Tulasi devi is worshipped regularly by the devotees. Especially in villages, the women take very nice care of the Tulasi plant. They water and offer obeisances and circumambulate in the morning and in the evening they offer lamp and incense, like aarati. He said if aarati can be done that is very nice. She is a great devotee and they offer respect. And She is very very important and necessary paraphernalia in our worship. His Divine Grace said the plants will continue to grow for about 5 years.
“The Tulasi leaf is very very dear to Lord Visnu and Krishna. All Vishnu tattva Deities profusely require Tulasi leaves. Lord Vishnu likes garlands of Tulasi leaves. Tulasi leaves mixed with sandalwood pulp and pleced on the Lotus Feet of the Lord is the topmost worship. But we must be very careful that Tulasi leaves cannot be placed on the feet of anyone else except Lord Vishnu and His different forms. Tulasi leaves cannot be placed even on the lotus feet of Radharani or on the lotus feet of the Spiritual Master. It is entirely reserved for being placed on the Lotus Feet of Krishna. We can place, however, Tulasi leaves in the hands of Radharani for being placed on the Lotus Feet of Krishna as you have seen on the Govinda album.” From Srila Prabhupada
Bowing down (pancanga pranam)
Vrindaai Tulasi devyai priyasai kesavasya cha
Vishnu bhaktiprade devi satyavatyai namo namaha
“I offer my repeated obeiances to Vrinda, Srimati Tulasi Devi, who is very dear to Lord Keshava (Krishna). O goddess, you bestow devotional service to Lord Krishna and possess the highest truth.”
When collecting leaves
tulasya mrita janmasi sada tvam keshavapriya
keshavarthi chinomi tvam barada bhava sobine
“O Tulasi, you were born from nectar. You are always very dear to Lord Keshava. Now in order to worship Lord Keshava, I am collecting your leaves and manjaris. Please bestow your benediction on me.”
While offering arotika
narao namo Tulasi krishna preyasinamo namah
radha krsna seva pava ei abhilasi
ye tomara sarana lasa tara vancha purna haya
kripa kari kara tare vrindavanavasi
mora ei abhilasa vilasa kunje dio vasa
nasane heriva sada yugalaruparasi
ei nivedena dhara sakhira anugata kara
seva adhikara kiye kara nija dasi
dina krishna dase kaya ei yenamora haya
sri radha govinda-preme sada yena bhasi
“O Tulasi, beloved of Krishna, I bow before you again and again. My desire is to obtain the service of Sri Sri Radha-Krishna.
“Whoever takes shelter of you has his wishes fulfilled. Bestowing your mercy on him, you make him a resident of Vrindavana.
“My desire is that you also grant me a residence in the pleasure groves of Sri Vrindavana-dhama. Thus, within my vision I will always behold the beautiful pastimes of Radha and Krishna.
“I beg you to make me a follower of the cowherd damsels of Vraja. Please give me the privilege of devotional service and make me your own maidservant.
“This very fallen and lowly servant of Krishna prays ‘May I always swim in the love of Sri Sri Rahda and Govinda.”
While Circumambulating Tulasi
yani kani cha papani brahmahatya dikani ca
tani tani prana syanti pradakshinah pada pade
“By the circumambulation of Srimati Tulasi Devi all the sins one may have committed are destroyed at every step, even the sin of killing a brahmana.”
How To Offer Tulasi Devi Worship (Puja)
Tulasi-puja is relatively simple, consisting of only three articles: incense, a ghee lamp, and flowers. Sooner or later, you will probably get an opportunity to offer puja to Tulasi, so here are the steps that you need to know:
- Acamana (purification)
o Take the spoon from the water (acamana) cup and purify both hands by sprinkling water onto them.
o A spoon full into your right palm, chant om keshavaya namah, and sip.
o A spoon full into your right palm, chant om narayanaya namah, and sip.
o A spoon full into your right palm, chant om madhavaya namah, and sip.
- Offering the incense
o Purify (sprinkle with a spoon full of water) the bell and the incense holder.
o Light the incense.
o Pick up the bell in the left hand; ring the bell throughout the puja.
o Pick up the incense holder in the right hand and offer the incense to Tulasi with seven circles around her whole form.
o Offer to Srila Prabhupada and then all the devotees.
- Offering the ghee lamp
o Purify the ghee lamp.
o Light it.
o Offer it to Tulasi: four circles to the base, two to the middle, three to the top, and seven to the whole.
o Offer to Srila Prabhupada and then all the devotees.
- Offering the Flowers
o Purify the flowers.
o Offer them to Tulasi with seven circles to the whole form.
o Place one at her base (optional).
o Offer them Srila Prabhupada and then all the devotees.
o Now the puja is complete and you can serve the devotees by assisting them to purify their hands before watering Tulasi.
Planting, watering, protecting, maintaining, circumambulating, seeing, bowing down to, praying to, and glorifying are all ways of serving and worshiping Tulasi and are highly beneficial.
Filed under: Gods and Goddesses of Sanatana-Dharma, Preserving Vedic Culture, Traditions of Sanatana-Dharma | Tagged: Tulasi, Tulasi Devi | 1 Comment »