Ocimum basilicum or sweet basil is known across the world for its medicinal value as the plant contains immense healing properties for the treatment of cancer, stress, asthma, diabetes, skin disorders etc. But in Indian culture, this plant is also considered extremely sacred and pious. The Basil, known as Tulsi, has a deep spiritual and religious significance in India.
The Indian religion is based on the spiritual scriptures Vedas which are composed by ancient scientists called ‘Rishis’. Hence, various Indian rituals including Tulsi usage in worship is also based on scientific and practical reasoning.
Basil or Tulsi is the first love of Lord Vishnu and it is firmly believed that Vishnu propitiation is incomplete without offering him the sacred Tulsi leaves. It is also a principal herb of Ayurveda, hence known as ‘The Incomparable One’, ‘The Mother Medicine of Nature’, and ‘The Queen of Herbs’.
Tulsi in Sanskrit
In Sanskrit it is said that,
tulanaa naasti athaiva Tulsi
Meaning – The one which is incomparable (in its qualities) is the Tulsi.
The importance of the Tulsi plant stands out above others when it comes to worshipping and paying obeisance to the Hindu deities, especially Lord Vishnu and his various incarnations. The virtue of a Tulsi leaf is such that, once used, it can be washed and recycled in the puja – as the leaf is regarded as self purifying.
Myths and Legends
As one legend goes, Tulsi was the devoted wife of Shankhachud, a celestial being. An untoward incident in her life made her believe that Lord Krishna had somehow tricked her into sinning. Hence, she cursed him to turn into a stone (shaligram).
Seeing her devotion and adherence to righteousness, the Lord blessed her saying that she would become the worshipped plant, Tulsi that would adorn his head. The episode exalted the worthiness of Tulsi and it was imprinted in the Hindu scriptures that all offerings to Lord Vishnu and his various avatars, including Sri Rama and Sri Krishna, would be incomplete without the offering of the Tulsi leaf.
As per another legend, Tulsi got married to Lord Vishnu with all pomp and fervor in one of the historical events. The Lord blessed her to be his consort and subsequently she got symbolized as Goddess Lakshmi, the wife of Lord Vishnu. This event set a benchmark in Hindu worship system and it started getting celebrated as ‘Tulsi Vivah’, the marriage of Tulsi with Lord Vishnu or his incarnate Krishna.
‘Tulsi Vivah’ is performed any time between Prabodhini Ekadashi (11th lunar day of waxing moon) of the Hindu month Kartik to Kartik Poornima (new moon day). The Tulsi wedding also suggests the augmentation of the Hindu wedding season and the end of the monsoon. It is strongly believed that those who wish to be righteous and lead a happy family life should offer puja to the holy Tulsi on this day.
Another story says that once Satyabhama, the third wife of Lord Krishna, weighted Lord Krishna against all her legendary wealth. The scales did not balance till a single Tulsi leaf was placed, along with the wealth on the scale by Rukmini (his first wife). Through this occurrence, Tulsi taught the world a lesson that even a splinter, when offered to the Lord with devotion, weighs more than all worldly materials.
Sloka for Tulsi
Tulsi taam namaamyaham
Meaning – I bow down to the Tulsi, at whose base are all the holy places, at whose top reside all the deities and in whose middle are all the Vedas.
Tulsi, which is also known as “Holy Basil” or “Thai holy basil” has multiple medicinal value. In the world of clinical psychology, Tulsi is hailed as an effective adaptogen, the natural substance which helps in reducing stress. Adaptogen helps the body adjust to different types of stressors e.g. poor lifestyle habits, emotional difficulties, environmental toxins, mental stress. Again, its usage and dosage is minutely customized for each and every individual as its effect varies from person to person. (An adaptogen is a herb that increases the body’s ability to adapt to stress and changing situations.)
The chemical composition of Tulsi is highly complex, containing many nutrients and other biologically active compounds, the proportions of which may vary considerably from plant to plant, irrespective of their strains and varieties.
The nutritional and pharmacological properties of the whole herb in its natural form, as it has been traditionally used, result from synergistic interactions of many different active phytochemicals. Consequently, the overall effects of Tulsi cannot be fully duplicated with isolated compounds or extracts. Because of its inherent botanical and biochemical complexity, Tulsi standardization has, so far, eluded modern science. Perhaps, the best known out of the many active compounds which have been identified and extracted are eugenol (an essential oil) and ursolic acid.
Major Health Benefits
Although, Tulsi is known as a general vitalizer which increases one’s physical endurance, it contains no caffeine or other stimulants. The Tulsi leaf has a great medicinal value and is used to cure various ailments and the most familiar amongst all is common cold.
It has been established via many empirical researches that Tulsi offers remarkable preventative and curative potential with respect to many degenerative disorders, such as cancer, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and neurological dementia. Tulsi protects against and reduces stress, enhances stamina and endurance, increases the body’s efficient use of oxygen, boosts the immune system, slows aging, and provides a rich supply of antioxidants and other nutrients.
A recent data also indicates that Tulsi reduces inflammation, prevents gastric ulcers, protects against radiation, lowers fevers, cholesterol and high blood presssure, enhances periodontal health, displays significant natural antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal activity, improves digestion and absorption of other nutrients, and even repels mosquitoes and other potentially harmful insects.