Tulsi in Hinduism

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tulashi
The Tulsi plant
Ocimum tenuiflorum2.jpg
Sanskrit Transliteration Tulasi
Affiliation Devi
Abode The Tulsi plant
Consort Vishnu

Tulsi or Tulasi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) or Holy basil is a sacred plant in Hindu belief. Hindus regard it as an earthly manifestation of the goddess Tulsi, a consort of the god Vishnu. The offering of its leaves is mandatory in ritualistic worship of Vishnu and his forms like Krishna and Vithoba.

Many Hindus have tulsi plants growing in front of or near their home, often in special pots or special small masonry structures. Traditionally, Tulsi is planted in the center of the central courtyard of Hindu houses.[1]

The plant is cultivated for religious and medicinal purposes, and for its essential oil. It is widely known across the Indian Subcontinent as a medicinal plant and a herbal tea, commonly used in Ayurveda.

Plant pathology[edit]

Tulsi flowers

Tulsi belongs in the basil genus in the family Lamiaceae. It is an aromatic plant which is native throughout the Eastern World tropics and widespread as a cultivated plant and an escaped weed.[2] The plant is an erect, much branched subshrub, 30–60 cm tall with hairy stems and simple, opposite, green leaves that are strongly scented. Leaves have petioles, and are ovate, up to 5 cm long, usually slightly toothed. The flowers are purplish in elongate racemes in close whorls.[3] The two main morphotypes cultivated in India and Nepal are green-leaved and purple-leaved.[4]

Ayurveda[edit]

Tulsi has been used for thousands of years in Ayurveda for its diverse healing properties. It is mentioned in the Charaka Samhita,[5] an ancient Ayurvedic text. Tulsi is considered to be an adaptogen,[6] balancing different processes in the body, and helpful for adapting to stress.[7] 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.[8] 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 in stored water, tulsi leaves prevent bacterial growth.[9]

Names[edit]

In Hindu mythology, Tulsi ("matchless") is known as Vaishnavi ("belonging to Vishnu"), Vishnu Vallabha ("beloved of Vishnu"),[10] Haripriya ("beloved of Vishnu"), Vishnu Tulsi. The Tulsi with green leaves is called Shri-Tulsi ("fortunate Tulsi"); also Shri is a synonym for Lakshmi, the principal consort of Vishnu. 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 Tulsi. This variety is considered esspecially sacred to Krishna, as its purple colour is similar to Krishna's dark complexion.[10][11]

Worship[edit]

Left: An idol of Goddess Tulsi. Right: A Tulsi-vrindavan in a courtyard in India

While tree worship is not uncommon in Hinduism, the Tulsi plant is regarded the holiest of all plants.[12] The Tulsi plant is regarded as a threshold point between heaven and earth. A traditional prayer tells that the creator-god Brahma resides in its branches, all Hindu pilgrimage centres reside in its roots, the Ganges flows through its roots, all deities in its stem and its leaves and the Hindu scriptures - the Vedas in the upper part of its branches.[13][14] It is considered as household god particularly referred as a "Women's deity". It is called as "the central sectarian symbol of Hinduism" and Vaishavas consider it as "the manifestation of god in the vegetable kingdom”.[15][9]

The Tulsi plant is grown in or near almost every orthodox Hindu house, especially by Brahmins and Vaishnavas. A house with a Tulsi plant is sometimes considered a place of pilgrimage.[16] Sacred places where they are grown are also known as Vrindavan (grove of Tulsi). Vrindavan is a raised cuboid stone or brick structure often in middle of the house's courtyard or in front of the house.[17]

A person who waters and cares for the Tulsi daily is believed to gain moksha (salvation) and the divine grace of 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 wifehood and motherhood". Though daily worship is prescribed, Tuesdays and Fridays are considered especially sacred for Tulsi 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 Tulsi plant is often worshipped twice in a day: in the morning and in the evening, when a lamp or candle is lit near the plant.[18]

In the 19th century, some families in Bengal regarded the plant as their guardian or family deity. In a British Indian census, North-Western Provinces recorded themselves as Tulsi worshippers and not belonging to Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs.[12][14]

Festivals

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 Tulsi plant to Vishnu, in the form of his image, Shaligram or a Krishna or Rama image. Both the bride and the groom are ritually worshipped and then married as per traditional Hindu wedding rituals. It marks the end of the four-month Chaturmas period, which corresponds to the monsoon and is considered inauspicious for weddings and other rituals, so the day inaugurates the annual marriage season in India.[19][20]

In Orissa, on the first day of the Hindu month Vaishakha (April - May), a small vessel with hole at the bottom is filled with water and suspended over the Tulsi 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 Tulsi 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.[21]

In worship of other deities[edit]

Set of Japa mala, made from Tulasi wood, with head bead in foreground.

Tulsi is especially sacred in the worship of Vishnu and his forms Krishna and Vithoba and other related Vaishnava deities.[15][9] 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 the 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".[22] 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.[10]

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 regarded the worship of 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 taboo in worship of the Devi - the Hindu Divine Mother as the pungent aroma of the Tulsi plant angers her.[16] It is also important for the worship of Hanuman.[11] 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.[23]

Importance in Hinduism[edit]

Every part of the Tulsi plant is revered and considered sacred. Even the soil around the plant is holy. The Padma Purana declares 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).[24] Water mixed with the Tulsi leaves is given to the dying to raise their departing souls to heaven.[9]

Just as Tulsi respect is rewarding, her contempt attracts the wrath of Vishnu. Precautions are taken to avoid this. It is taboo to urinate, excrete or throw waste water near the plant. Uprooting and cutting branches of the plant is prohibited.[25] When the plant withers, the dry plant is immersed in a water body with due religious rites as is the custom for broken divine images, which are unworthy for worship.[9] Though Tulsi leaves are necessary for Hindu worship, there are strict rules for it. Only a male must cut them and only in the daylight. A prayer of forgiveness may also be offered to Tulsi before the act.[25]

The word Tulsi is used in many place names and family names.[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Simoons 1998, pp. 17-18.
  2. ^ Staples, George; Kristiansen, Michael S. (1999). Ethnic Culinary Herbs. University of Hawaii Press. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-8248-2094-7. 
  3. ^ Warrier, P K (1995). Indian Medicinal Plants. Orient Longman. p. 168. ISBN 0-86311-551-9. 
  4. ^ Kothari, S K, Bhattacharya et al. (November/December 2005). "Volatile Constituents in Oil from Different Plant Parts of Methyl Eugenol-Rich Ocimum tenuiflorum L.f. (syn. O. sanctum L.) Grown in South India". Journal of Essential Oil Research: JEOR. Retrieved 2008-09-05. 
  5. ^ NIIR Board, National Institute of Industrial Research (India) (2004). Compendium of Medicinal Plants. 2004. National Institute of Industrial Research. p. 320. ISBN 978-81-86623-80-0. 
  6. ^ Kuhn, Merrily; Winston, David (2007). Winston & Kuhn's Herbal Therapy & Supplements: A Scientific and Traditional Approach. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 260. ISBN 978-1-58255-462-4. 
  7. ^ Botanical Pathways article with clinical trials details
  8. ^ Puri, Harbans Singh (2002). Rasayana: Ayurvedic Herbs for Longevity and Rejuvenation. CRC Press. pp. 272–280. ISBN 978-0-415-28489-9. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Deshpande 2005, p. 203.
  10. ^ a b c Simoons 1998, p. 14.
  11. ^ a b Chatterjee, Gautam (2001). Sacred Hindu Symbols. Abhinav Publications. p. 93. ISBN 978-81-7017-397-7. 
  12. ^ a b c Simoons 1998, p. 8.
  13. ^ Simoons 1998, pp. 7, 9.
  14. ^ a b Littleton & Corporation 2005, pp. 1125-6.
  15. ^ a b Simoons 1998, pp. 11-18.
  16. ^ a b Simoons 1998, p. 17.
  17. ^ Simoons 1998, pp. 18-20.
  18. ^ Simoons 1998, p. 20.
  19. ^ Flood, Gavin D. (2001). The Blackwell companion to Hinduism. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 331. ISBN 978-0-631-21535-6. 
  20. ^ Simoons 1998, p. 22.
  21. ^ Simoons 1998, pp. 20-2.
  22. ^ Simoons 1998, pp. 14-6.
  23. ^ Simoons 1998, p. 16.
  24. ^ Mani p. 798
  25. ^ a b Simoons 1998, pp. 22-3.

Bibliography[edit]