Tulasi plant is one of the most revered plants in India. Tulasi in Sanskrit means “unmatched” or “incomparable”. Tulasi is a symbol of purity. Tulasi is considered as the queen of herbs.
Tulasi is known as Basil in English. Tulasi is also known by other names such as Manjari, Tulshi and Trittavu.
There are two varieties of Tulasi viz., Shri Tulasi, and Krishna Tulasi. Tulasi with green leaves is known as Shri Tulasi or Rama Tulasi. Tulasi with reddish stems and reddish purple leaves is known as Krishna Tulasi. Shri Tulasi and Krishna Tulasi are extensively grown in the Asian sub continent. Another type of Tulasi known as Vana Tulasi whose leaves are hard is grown in the Himalayan region. Tulasi is considered as the consort of Sri Krishna in the form of goddess Lakshmi.
The scientific name of Tulasi is Ocimum tenuiflorum, also known as Ocimum sanctum, and belongs to the family of Lamiaceae. Tulasi belongs to the species known as Ocimum canum. The other related species of Tulasi are: Ocimum basilicum, Ocimum Kilmand, Ocimum scharicum
Sri Tulasi or Ram Tulasi Krishna Tulasi
Description of the plant
The plant grows to a height of 75- 90 cms. Its leaves are oval shaped and generally grow upto 5 cm in length.
During the Samudra Manthan or the churning of the Ocean, Dhanvantri (the divine medico) comes up from the ocean with Amrita (the nectar) in his hands. Dhanvantri sheds tears of joy and when the first drop of his tear fell in the Amrita, it formed Tulasi. Tulasi thus emerged during Samudra Manthan.
There is also a mention of Tulasi in Rig Veda.
According to Devi Bhagavatha, Tulasi was born as a result of goddess Saraswathi’s curse. Devi Saraswathi, Devi Lakshmi and Ganga Devi, all wives of Maha Vishnu were loved equally by the Lord. One day when all the four were sitting, Ganga Devi cast a lustful look at Maha Vishnu, which Devi Saraswathi and Devi Lakshmi noticed. Enraged at Ganga Devi, goddess Saraswathi held goddess Ganga by Her hair and pulled Her to the ground. Goddess Lakshmi tried to prevent goddess Saraswathi from further assault. This further enraged goddess Saraswathi who cursed Devi Lakshmi to be born as a plant on earth. Ganga was angered with the curse, who cursed goddess Saraswathi to be born as a River on earth. Saraswathi in turn cursed Ganga Devi to be born as a river too. Goddess Lakshmi who was cursed for no fault of Hers’ began to feel miserable as She had to leave the abode of Maha Vishnu. Maha Vishnu consoled goddess Lakshmi and said that She would be born as the daughter of King Dharmadhvaja* and would marry a demon known as Sankhachuda who would be carrying Lord Vishnu’s virile strength and then She could come back to Vaikunta. River Padmavati is another form of goddess Mahalakshmi.
Dharmadhvaja* undertook a rigorous penance to please goddess Mahalakshmi. Mahalakshmi who was pleased with his penance was born as his daughter.
Birth of Tulasi
Tulasi was born to King Dharmadhwaja and Madhavi. Goddess Mahalakshmi entered the womb of Madhavi and after a hundred years, Madhavi gave birth to a daughter. The child looked very pretty as a matured girl at the time of birth. She was named as “Tulasi” meaning matchless. (Tula means match). From a very young age, Tulasi was often engaged in the worship of Lord Maha Vishnu. She went to Badarikashram in Himalayas and undertook a rigorous penance seeking Lord Maha Vishnu as her husband. She did the penance for twenty four thousand years surviving only on fruits and water. She continued her penance for another thirty thousand years eating leaves only. Then she did penance for another forty thousand years surviving only on air, and another ten thousand years without eating anything. Lord Brahma pleased with her penance appeared and asked her the intention of doing such a rigorous penance. Tulasi said that she wanted Lord Maha Vishnu as her husband. Lord Brahma said that she would marry the demon Sankhachuda* and later become the wife of Lord Maha Vishnu. Lord Brahma also said that, at the time when Tulasi would leave earth, a divine part of Her body will remain on earth in the form of a plant and be known as Tulasi. The Tulasi plant will be very dear to Vishnu and all worship without Tulasi leaves would be ineffective and incomplete.
Sankhachuda* Sankhachuda was Sudama, in his previous birth. Sudama, the cowboy was a part of Lord Krishna, but due to Radha’s curse was born as a demon on earth.
Marriage of Tulasi
Sankhachuda did penance at Badarikashram and obtained Vishnu Kavacha. He had undertaken the penance with the objective of marrying Tulasi also. Lord Brahma blessed him with the boon that the demon would die only when his Vishnu Kavacha was removed and when his wife lost her chastity. Then Sankhachuda met Tulasi and got married to her. Sankhachuda loved his wife dearly which made even the devas jealous of Sankhachuda. Sankhachuda who was arrogant of his powers created havoc on the devas. Devas sought Lord Brahma’s and Lord Shiva’s help to get rid of the demon. All of them approached Maha Vishnu and sought a remedy. Maha Vishnu sent Lord Shiva to kill the demon. Sankhachuda left Tulasi alone at home and went to fight Lord Shiva. Meanwhile, Lord Vishnu disguised himself as Sankhachuda and engaged in amorous acts with Tulasi. Tulasi suspecting the demeanour of Sankhachuda rose to curse him. She cursed Lord Vishnu in the disguise of Sankhachuda to be a Shaligram. (sacred stone). At that moment, the Lord revealed Himself to Tulasi and said that her husband Sankhachuda would be killed by Lord Shiva and thus would have got rid of the curse of Radha. It was time for him to go back to the spiritual abode of Goloka. He asked Tulasi (who always wanted Lord Vishnu to be her husband), to abandon her body and accompany Him to Vaikunta to be His wife.
Lord Vishnu said “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.”- Brahma Vaivarta Purana, Prakriti Khanda, Ch 21 & 22.
Tulasi changed her form to goddess Mahalakshmi and accompanied Lord Maha Vishnu to Vaikunta. (Skanda 9, Devi Bhagavatha).
There is also a mention of Tulasi in the stories of Meera and Radha immortalised in Jayadeva’s Geeta Govindam.
Benefits of Tulasi
Tulasi has been mentioned in Charaka Samhita, an ancient book on Ayurveda. Tulasi leaves have anti fungal and anti bacterial properties which makes the entire plant a store house of medicinal properties. Thus in Ayurveda, Tulasi is used extensively in the treatment of several ailments. Some of the benefits of using Tulasi are as follows:
- Strengthening of the nerves: Tulasi leaves are used as a tonic in strengthening of the nerves and to improve the memory power.
- Common cold and Fever: Tulasi leaves are used specifically in the treatment of certain types of fever such as malaria and dengue. The leaves when boiled along with tea and consumed are very effective in bringing down the temperature. In cases of acute fever a decoction prepared by boiling the leaves in half a litre of water along with a pinch of cardamom powder and mixed with sugar and milk brings down the fever. This decoction is very effective in treating fever in children.
- Coughs: Tulasi is used extensively in the treatment of coughs. Chewing tulasi leaves gives relief from cold and cough. Tulasi leaves are used in the preparation of Ayurvedic cough syrups and expectorants. The leaves help in clearing the mucus in bronchitis and asthma. They are also effective in the treatment of phlegm from the bronchial tube.
- Sore throat: Water in which Tulasi leaves are boiled is an effective antidote to treat sore throat. The same can be used as gargle also.
- Respiratory disorder: A decoction of Tulasi leaves mixed with honey and ginger is an effective remedy for bronchitis, asthma, influenza, cough and cold. For the treatment of influenza, a decoction of leaves with cloves and common salt is a good antidote.
- Kidney stones: Tulasi leaves consumed along with honey for six months cures kidney stones. The stones will be thrown out of the body through the urinary tract.
- Improves the heart condition: Tulasi leaves are very effective in reducing the cholesterol levels in the body. It helps in strengthening the heart, thereby mitigating the associated cardiac problems.
- Children’s ailments: Tulasi leaves are used in the treatment of children’s ailments such as cold, cough, fever, diarrhoea and vomiting.
- Stress reliever: Chewing of 10-12 leaves twice daily removes stress.
- Mouth infections and oral care: Chewing Tulasi leaves will cure mouth ulcers and infections. Tulasi leaves when dried in Sun and powdered can be used as tooth powder. A tooth paste can also be prepared by adding mustard oil to the powdered leaves. It is very useful in fighting against bad breath and other teeth related disorders.
- Insect bites: The leaves act as a curative against insect bites. Regular application of few fresh drops of Tulasi juice on the affected area along with consumption of the leaves, either in the form of decoction or chewing the leaves will hasten the recovery.
- Skin disorders and hair care: Tulasi leaves are used in the treatment of ringworm and other skin diseases. Chewing of basil leaves daily makes the skin glow. It also removes acne and other blemishes. With its anti bacterial and anti fungal properties, Tulasi effectively prevents the breakout of acne on oily skin. It is also used in the treatment of leucoderma. Tulasi leaves are effective in prevention of hair fall and itching on the scalp. Regular application of Tulasi leaves powder mixed with coconut oil will reduce hair fall. Tulasi leaves paste applied to the face removes blemishes on the face and gives a natural glow. Oil extracted from Tulasi leaves is used in the preparation of herbal toiletry.
- Head ache: Tulasi leaves when mixed with sandal wood paste and applied on the forehead relieves one from headaches.
- Eye disorders: Basil leaves are used in the treatment of eye sores and night blindness.
- Snake Bite: Tulasi leaves are used as an antidote to snake bites.
- Insect bites: Tulasi is known to de pollute the atmosphere and is also used as mosquito repellent, to ward off mosquitoes and other harmful insects.
- Other benefits: Tulasi seeds are used in the treatment of urinary tract infections. Oil extracted from the leaves have anti bacterial properties.
The bark of the plant is used to ward off negative energy. Bracelets or necklaces made out of Tulasi beads have physical and medicinal properties.
Significance of Tulasi
Tulasi plant is the most auspicious plant and most dear to Lord Krishna. The plant, leaves, roots, twigs all are worshipped. The soul of the dead whose dead body is cremated using dried Tulasi twigs will reach Vaikunta. Even the greatest of the sinners (sins of a crore of Kalpa years; 1 Kalpa is a day of Lord Brahma) would be absolved of their sins if at the time of cremation, Tulasi twigs are placed in the funeral pyre.
According to Padma Purana, if one smears the Tulasi leaves paste on one’s body and worships Lord Vishnu even for a day, he would get the benefit of a hundred ordinary worships and also the benefit equivalent to donating a hundred cows. (godhana). If a light made of Tulasi stick is burnt for Lord Vishnu, it is equivalent to lighting several lakhs of lights for the Lord. If a person leaves his body while wearing a necklace or a bracelet made of Tulasi beads, then all his sins will be absolved and he will reach Vaikunta. While performing a Yagna, if Tulasi twigs are used in the Yagna, he will reap the benefit of performing one Agnihotra Yagna for each grain offered in the fire. Anyone who worships the Lord everyday with Tulasi leaves will reap the benefit of a hundred thousand horse sacrifices. All the offerings to the Lord are incomplete without a Tulasi leaf. Every bit of the Tulasi plant, the bark, leaves, roots, twigs, trunk and the shade of the plant are spiritual.
A household which has the garden of Tulasi plants gets the benefit of all charities and of one hundred sacrifices.
Lord Krishna along with other demi gods resides with Tulasi Devi. In Kali Yuga, who ever prays or sings Kirtans of Tulasi will attain Krishna’s abode.
According to Skanda Purana, just by touching the Tulasi plant, one becomes pure.
In the story of Sri Krishna Tulabaram, Satyabhama, the queen of Lord Krishna prided herself about Sri Krishna’s love for her. On the other hand, Rukmini, the principal wife and queen of Sri Krishna was a very humble and devoted wife. Once Sage Narada tricked Satyabhama into performing a vrata (ritual), wherein Satyabhama would give away Lord Krishna in charity to Narada and reclaim the Lord back by weighing him in wealth. Satyabhama, accepted the vrata, gave away Lord Krishna in charity to Narada, and when she tried to weigh Lord Krishna by using all her wealth, the scale did not balance. But when Rukmini placed a leaf of Tulasi on the wealth, the scale balanced perfectly indicating the depth of her devotion and the purity of Tulasi.
Sri Krishna Tulabaram
Tulasi is offered the 6th place among the eight objects of worship in the consecration of a Kalasha.
According to Sristikanda of the Padma Purana, Lord Krishna, for the benefit of the people in the material world brought Vrindadevi in the form of a plant(Tulasi) on earth. Offering of even one Tulasi leaf to Lord Krishna is equivalent to offering all the flowers, sandal paste and fruits to the Lord. Just as the Ganga purifies everyone who bathes in Her, so also Tulasi purifies all her worshippers in three worlds. Offering of Tulasi Manjari to Lord Krishna is equivalent to offering all the varieties of flowers to the Lord.
Tulasi was born on the lunar day of the full moon in the month of Karthika. Whoever worships Tulasi on this day will attain Liberation. Lord Krishna Himself worships Tulasi on this day.
Karthika masa (Oct- Nov) is an auspicious month for the worship of Tulasi. Ghee lamps are lit in front of the Tulasi for the entire month. Worship of Tulasi during Karthika Masa along with signing Her hymns will give immense benefits to the worshipper.
According to Skanda Purana, the wedding of Tulasi with the Shaligram (sacred stone, symbolising Lord Vishnu) is celebrated in the month of Karthika on the twelfth day of the waxing moon. (Shukla Paksha Dwadashi). On this day, the Tulasi pot is decorated with mango leaves, a twig of Amla (symbolising Sri Krishna) is placed beside the Tulasi twig in the same pot and Puja is performed. Lamps are lit on five gooseberries and Aarathi is performed to Tulasi and Sri Krishna.
The festival also marks the end of Chaturya masa and the beginning of the marriage season.
The Tulasi Manas Mandir at Varanasi is a temple where Tulasi is worshipped along with other gods and goddesses.
Tulasi leaves should not be plucked at sunrise, after sunset, noon, night or in the state of impurity, on Amavasya, or on the twelfth or the last day of the lunar month, or being anointed with oil just before bath.
Prayers to Tulasi
Tulasi is worshipped with the following eight names:
Vrinda (Vrinda [one who has thousands of sakhis or 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]
Chanting of the above eight names while worshipping Tulasi Devi is equivalent to performing one Ashwameda Yagna.
While plucking the Tulasi leaves, the following Shloka should be chanted and offered to Lord Krishna.
tulasi amrita janmasi sada twam keshava priya
keshavartham chinomi twam varada bhava sobhane
twadang sambhavai aniyam
pujayami yatha hatim
tatha kuru pavitrangi
kalou mata vinashini
Meaning: “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.”
Following is the Prayer to Tulasi:
Vrindaai Tulasi devyai priyasai kesavasya cha
Vishnu bhaktiprade devi satyavatyai namo namaha
“I offer my repeated obeisance 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.”
“Yenmoole Sarvatheerthaani Yenmadhye Sarvadevatha
Yadagre Sarva Vedaascha Thulaseem-tham Namamyaham”
‘I bow down to the Tulsi at whose base are all the holy places, at whose top reside all deities and on whose middle are all the Vedas.’
Sanctity of Tulasi leaves:
‘pushkaratyathi theerthani gangathyah sarithasthatha
vasudevadayo devah vasanthi tulasi thalae’
‘Sacred waters of all sacred places like Pushkar, River waters of all sacred rivers like Ganges and all Gods starting from Vasudeva are residing in Tulsi leaves.’
Tulasi leaves are not used in any culinary preparations as it is considered to be sacred. Its leaves are eaten raw after offering to the Lord.