Tulasi:Revered Goddess and Healing Herb

Tulasi:Revered Goddess and Healing Herb

In Hindu tradition, the Tulasi plant, also known as holy basil or Vrinda, holds profound significance as an earthly manifestation of the goddess Tulasi, consort of Lord Vishnu. Believed to bring blessings and protection, Tulasi leaves are offered in worship to Vishnu and his avatars. Planted at the center of Hindu households, Tulasi symbolizes purity and devotion, purifying the surroundings and bestowing divine grace. Beyond its religious importance, Tulasi is cultivated for its medicinal properties. Nurturing Tulasi is considered a sacred duty, reflecting love and gratitude towards the divine. Through its spiritual symbolism and practical benefits, Tulasi remains an integral part of Hindu culture, embodying devotion, purity, and spiritual connection.


Tulasi, revered in Hindu tradition as a sacred plant, embodies profound spiritual significance and divine symbolism. Known by various names such as Vaishnavi, Vishnu Vallabha, and Haripriya, Tulasi is deeply intertwined with the worship of Lord Vishnu, the preserver in Hindu mythology. Its different varieties, including the green-leaved Shri-Tulasi and the dark-leaved Shyama-Tulasi, are associated with specific avatars of Vishnu, such as Rama and Krishna, as well as with his consorts like Lakshmi. The etymology of Tulasi, stemming from the word “tula” meaning immeasurable, underscores its transcendental nature beyond worldly measurements, signifying divine blessings and auspiciousness. In essence, Tulasi represents devotion, prosperity, and spiritual connection in Hindu culture, embodying the sacred bond between humanity and the divine.

Mythological Legends


According to the Devi Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Devi Bhagavatam), Tulasi is revered as an embodiment of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and the beloved consort of Lord Vishnu. The tale begins with King Vrishadhvaja, a devout follower of Shiva, whose arrogance incurs the wrath of the sun god, Surya, leading to a curse of abandonment by Lakshmi. Generations later, Dharmadhvaja and Kushadhvaja, descendants of Vrishadhvaja, earnestly worship Lakshmi, resulting in her reincarnation as Tulasi and Vedavati, respectively. Tulasi, forsaking her royal comforts, embarks on a penance to win Vishnu’s hand in marriage, only to be confronted with the twist of fate as she must first wed the daitya Shankhacuda. Despite trials and deceptions, Tulasi’s unwavering devotion leads her to transcend earthly bounds, becoming a sacred river and the revered Tulasī plant, symbolizing purity and devotion.

The Curse of Tulasi

Shankhacuda, a daitya (demon) blessed with invincibility, falls prey to his own hubris, sparking conflict with the gods. Vishnu, through divine intervention, brings an end to his tyranny, but not without revealing his true form to Tulasi, who, in her anguish, curses Vishnu, leading to his transformation into the sacred stones known as shaligramas. This poignant moment underscores the complexities of divine relationships and the consequences of human emotions.


According to Skanda Purana, Padma Purana and Shiva Purana, the virtuous Vrinda, devoted wife of the asura Jalandhara, exemplifies unwavering faith in Vishnu. Her chastity becomes the shield protecting her husband, until the intervention of Parvati and Vishnu’s cosmic design leads to Jalandhara’s demise. Vrinda, consumed by grief and anger, curses Vishnu, leading to her own sacrifice and transformation into the tulasi plant. Through her selflessness, Vrinda embodies the enduring power of love and sacrifice in the face of adversity.

Other Legends

According to a Vaishnava legend, the tulasi plant’s origin is intertwined with the Samudra Manthana, the cosmic churning by celestial beings and demons seeking the elixir of immortality, amrita. As the struggle unfolded, Lord Vishnu intervened, ensuring the amrita reached the devas. Legend has it that his tears of joy fell into the amrita, giving rise to the sacred tulasi plant, symbolizing divine grace and protection.


The tulsi plant has been cherished for its healing properties since ancient times, dating back to around 5000 BCE. In Hinduism, it holds a special significance, considered the holiest of all plants. According to tradition, Brahma, the creator-god, resides in its branches, while Hindu pilgrimage centers are said to reside in its roots. The Ganges is believed to flow within its roots, and all deities are said to inhabit its stem and leaves. The tulsi plant symbolizes various aspects of Hindu spirituality, including wifehood, motherhood, and the manifestation of the divine in the plant kingdom.

In Hindu households, particularly among women, the tulsi plant is a focus of religious devotion. It is often grown near homes, especially by followers of the Vaishnava sect. Caring for the tulsi plant is considered a sacred duty, believed to bestow spiritual merit and the divine grace of Vishnu. Daily rituals involve watering the plant, cleaning its surroundings, and making offerings of food, flowers, incense, and holy water. Special reverence is shown on Tuesdays and Fridays, with devotees circumambulating the plant while chanting mantras and offering prayers. The plant is typically worshipped twice a day, in the morning and evening, with the lighting of lamps or candles near it.

Historically, some families in Bengal considered the tulsi plant as their spiritual guide or clan deity. In Orissa, during the month of Vaishakha, a vessel filled with water is suspended over the tulsi plant, symbolizing wishes for a good monsoon and the cleansing of sins. Additionally, a ceremonial wedding known as Tulasi Vivaha is performed, symbolizing the union of the tulsi plant with Vishnu or his incarnations. This ritual marks the end of the monsoon season and inaugurates the annual marriage season in India.

Religious Traditions


In Vaishnavism, Tulasi is very sacred and is used in the worship of Vishnu, Krishna, and other related deities. People offer garlands made of 10,000 Tulasi leaves, water mixed with Tulasi, and food items sprinkled with Tulasi to show reverence to these gods. They also use prayer beads made from Tulasi stems or roots, called Tulasi malas, which are symbols of initiation. These malas are believed to connect the wearer with Vishnu or Krishna and provide protection. Vaishnavas, followers of Vishnu, are often identified as “those who bear the Tulasi round the neck.”


In Shaivism, there are different opinions about offering Tulasi to the god Shiva. While some say Bael leaves are more commonly offered to Shiva, others mention that Tulasi may also be used in worship. Some even suggest that the aniconic symbol of Shiva, the linga, can be made from the black soil found around Tulasi roots, symbolizing Shiva’s omnipresence.


However, in Shaktism, worshipers avoid using Tulasi as it is believed that the strong aroma of the plant might upset the supreme goddess Devi.


Tulasi is not used in the worship of Hanuman because he is celibate, and Tulasi is seen as a goddess. In Orissa, the Tulasi plant represents local deities, and rituals are performed in front of it to honor these deities. Additionally, the Nayars of Malabar offer Tulasi plants to appease evil spirits, indicating its significance in various cultural practices.


Tulasi holds a special place in Hindu tradition, as outlined in the Srimad Bhagavatam and Padma Purana scriptures. Despite the beauty and fragrance of other flowering plants, Tulasi’s austerity and devotion earn her special preference from Lord Vishnu, who adorns himself with Tulasi leaves. Every aspect of the Tulasi plant is considered sacred, including the soil around it. The Padma Purana even promises liberation (moksha) and a place in Vishnu’s abode for those cremated with Tulasi twigs. Using Tulasi sticks to light lamps for Vishnu is regarded as offering countless lamps to the deities, while applying a paste of dried Tulasi wood on one’s body during worship is deemed more beneficial than numerous rituals.

However, disrespecting Tulasi incurs Vishnu’s wrath. Strict taboos prohibit urinating, defecating, or disposing of waste water near the plant, and uprooting or cutting its branches is forbidden. When Tulasi withers, it’s ceremoniously immersed in water, akin to broken divine images. Despite its significance in Hindu worship, Tulasi’s use is governed by strict guidelines, including offering a prayer of forgiveness before plucking its leaves. The reverence for Tulasi is evident in various place and family names incorporating the word “Tulasi,” underscoring its importance in Hindu culture.

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