Why do Hindus worship Tulsi?

Dr. Sethu Raju and Pundit Pramod Sharma (Gaur)

Mythology and holy figures are necessary for any great culture to rest on its stable spiritual foundation and function as a life-giving inspiration and guide. Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma is no exception. It is the Mythology and tradition that bind the vast number of Hindus together as one people, despite caste, space and language that seemingly divide them.

Worshipping tulsi, as a faithful ritual and belief, is a common practice among all Hindus. There are also many legends associated with this worshipping. Hindus, more so the followers of Vishnu, who are called Vaishnavaites
, worship the plant Tulsi and tend it very carefully, believing that it is God’s representative, thus making it sacred. Commonly, the Tulsi is planted on a little mound of soil which is usually called ‘Vrindavana’ (the abode of Lord Vishnu) or on a special square brick pillar of about one meter high, hollow at the top where the plant is raised; the four sides of the pillar represent four major directions of the planet. Often, images of deities are installed on all four sides, and also create a small alcove (space or room) in the special structure for a small earthen oil lamp. Hindus very carefully nurture the plant with reverence, believing that there is “nothing on earth can equal the virtues of Tulsi (tulanaa naasty athaiva tulasi)”. In fact, it is also known to be the only plant used in worship, which can be washed and reused in pooja, as it is regarded as self-purifying. A Hindu household is considered incomplete if it did not have a Tulsi plant in the courtyard in the house. As a daily ritual, the lady of the house waters the plant and lights the lamp; finally, she offers daily prayers to the Tulsi while circumambulating at the same time.

There are many legends in literature that regard Tulsi as sacred. One of the legends is that Tulsi was the devoted wife of Shankhachuda, a celestial being. She believed that Lord Krishna once tricked her into sinning. So, she cursed Him to become a stone (shaaligraama). Recognizing her sincere devotion and adherence to righteousness, the Lord, however, blessed her to become the plant, Tulsi that would adorn His head and also remain worshipped forever.

There is also the legend that Tulsi symbolized Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Lord Vishnu. Those who wish to be righteous and want to have a happy family life must worship Tulsi. Some Hindus also believe that the Lord blessed Tulsi to be His consort.

According to another legend, Satyabhama once weighed Lord Krishna against all her legendary wealth. The scales did not balance until a single tulsi leaf was placed along with the wealth on the scale by Rukmini with devotion. Thus tulsi played a significant role, to demonstrate to the world that even a small object, when offered with devotion, is more to the Lord than all the wealth in the world.

There is a sacred sthotrum in Sanskrit often Hindus recite:

Yanmule sarvatirhaani       Yannagre sarvadevataa
Yanmadhye sarvavedaascha Tulasi taam namaamyaham

(I bow down to Tulasi, at whose base are all the holy places, at whose top reside all the deities and in whose middle are all the Vedas).

The use of tulsi also carries some religious significance and belief. Besides many gods and goddesses in many temples, tulsi plant is also grown separately for worshipping. In fact, the ‘Tulsi Maanas Mandir’ at Varanasi is a well-known temple in India where Hindus go on pilgrimage to worship specially tulsi. While worshipping, Hindus, especially Vaishnavaites, offer Tulsi to please Lord Vishnu, and also they themselves wear beaded necklaces made out of tulsi sprays while praying. When a Hindu is dying, tulsi sprays are placed on his face, eyes, ears and chest. The body is sprinkled with tulsi twig dipped earlier in water (preferably blessed) for purification of the body with the firm hope that the ‘person’ will reach heaven with no sins.

P.S. Besides its religious significance, tulsi also has considerable value in science and medicine. Somewhat similar to a cow, which Hindus consider sacred, there is considerable evidence to regard Tulsi also as sacred! Tulsi is a common plant, native to India. The Latin name of the plant is Ocimum sanctum. (Sans: suvasa thulasi, ajaka, brinda, manjari, parnasa, patrapushpa; Hindi: tulsi; Ben: tulasi; Mar: tulasa; Guj: tulsi; Kan: vishnu thulasi; Tel: thulasi; Mal: trittavu; Tam: thulasi). It is commonly called in English, Holy Basil or Sacred Basil. There are two varieties – the green (also called light or Sri or Rama thulasi), and purple (also called dark or Shyama or Krishna thulasi), the latter variety being medicinally more effective. The leaves and seeds yield essential oil (somewhat similar to clove oil). It possesses insecticidal and antibacterial properties and is also a mosquito repellant. Extracts of leaves, seeds and roots are used in various ailments, skin diseases and genital-urinary disorders in humans. Tulsi is regarded as a medicinally useful plant in ancient Ayurvedic medicine.

It Is No Wonder That Hindus Worship Tulsi!