Tulsi or Tulasi, is a variety of Basil that is considered sacred in the Hindu religion. It is also used for a variety of medicines and other medicinal uses. Most Hindus usually offer daily prayers to Tulsi. However, many people are not aware of the provenance of the Tulasi plant and why it is considered religious. There are many interesting legends about Tulsi, but I am going to focus on the one that I found most convincing according to various religious texts that I have read.
Tulsi Vivah (Tulsi Wedding) – is the mythical union of the Tulsi plant and Krishna. It is quite popular throughout India, but it is celebrated more in South India.
The importance and value of Tulsi
According to the Vedic tradition, there was a Rishi (sage who practices self-cultivation of the mind and comes to obtain knowledge that frees him from mortal problems) named Narada; this was the son of Brahma, the creator of the universe. Narada, had taken on the role of cosmic instigator. Inching where he wasn’t called, he was in and out of people’s stories, usually making wicked suggestions that his prey unaware of his motives often blindly accepted. Obviously, there were all kinds of interesting consequences, and they are what make up the stories that are read today.
When Krishna was here on earth, the gods of heaven decided that he had been absent for a long time, and they missed him. They wanted him to go back to heaven. So with Narada, they hatched a plan for Krishna to return.
During his stay on earth, Krishna had 2 wives; Satyabhama and Rukmini. Queen Satyabhama asked Rishi Narada how she could ensure that she would have Krishna as her husband in the next life. Narada told the queen, and with the truth, that one receives in the next life what he gives away in this life as charity. (Daan / Seeva). Without thinking about it, Satyabhama immediately handed over Krishna to Narada, both of them immediately left so that Krishna could return to heaven as soon as possible.
But Krishna’s wives; Satyabhama and Rukmini missed her husband very much, and they both asked Narada to bring Krishna back. Narada, thinking that mortals would have no idea how to cope, told the wives that if they wanted Krishna to return from heaven, they would have to give the gods something weighing the same as Krishna. Queen Satyabhama, proud of all the jewels and valuables that Krishna had given her, created a great balance. On one side was Krishna sitting, on the other, with great arrogance; she took out all her jewels and vessels of gold and silver and mounted them little by little on the balance. The more she piled on the scale, the more the balance weighed Krishna’s side, reduced to tears of rage, she surrendered.
The queen asked the other wife – Rukmini to do her best. Rukmini, removed all the gold and gems and other things from the scale and pluck a few leaves from the Tulsi plant that grew nearby. The leaves proved to be heavier than Krishna. With a smile, Krishna returned to earth to be with his wives.
Since then, a Tulsi leaf has been added to any auspicious gift. A father when he hands over his daughter to the family in which she is to marry (Kanyadaan), usually puts a Tulsi leaf in her hand.
At the Tulsi Vivaha, tradition calls for dressing tulsi as if it were a figure of a woman. The ceremony between Vishnu is recreated with a puja called Kalyana Utsavam. A delicate wedding pavilion (mandap) is made from the stalks of sugar cane and the tulsi plant is decorated with a yellow wedding sari – although red is also used – a common colour in Hindu weddings. She is adorned with jewels and red kumkum. Krishna is dressed in a gold crown and a traditional wedding dress. The wedding is carried out with the puja (prayer) of a complete wedding. The Tulsi plant is offered a feast of seasonal fruits, new tamarind, turmeric, amla (gooseberry) and rice. Sweets made from milk are offered to Krishna.
The origins of Tulsi
How did Rukmini know that the Tulsi would be the ideal way to get Krishna back? – Because she was actually the goddess Laksmi. And how did she know that she should wear a Tulsi or rather, that the Tulsi would have such value?
As is often the case in Vedic stories, it all starts with a demon who has gained a lot of power and becomes a threat to the gods. Since the gods can’t always beat the demons, they sometimes have to use deception. Obviously, ultimately it is always counterproductive, and the gods have to fix things.
In this story, once upon a time there was a famous demon warrior who went by the name of Jalandhar. By always bothering, fighting and defeating the gods, he made his demon friends happy and more and more of the universe came under his control. He had a wonderful wife named Vrinda who was a pure and dedicated soul and a powerful yogi in her own right. Due to her purity and spiritual strength, Jalandhar became invincible in all three worlds. – (heaven, hell, earth)
Desperately, the gods tried to find some way to defeat Jalandhar. Vishnu; The preserver, developed a plan and send his messengers to tell Vrinda that her husband had died in battle. They showed her a severed head and the body of two monkeys, and after reciting some mantras, Vishnu, through her magical powers, made her believe that it was the corpse of her husband, plunging her into sadness.
Vishnu then sneaked away and took the form of a sadhu and, pretending to be innocent, walked in front of Vrinda. Feigning compassion for her, Vishnu (in sadhu form) recited some mantras and joined the body parts of her apparent husband. Instantly, Vishnu took the form of Vrinda’s husband and rose from the ground. Seeing that her husband was alive and in front of her, she hugged him with passion and relief. However, she quickly realized her mistake and discovered that it was, indeed, Vishnu.
In that conservative era, she immediately lost her virtue and spiritual power by touching the body of a man other than her husband. (When they say about hugging with passion, there was action). She was distraught that she had been cheated on, but her complaints were useless. Having lost her sanctity and purity, Jalandhar was no longer protected and was ultimately defeated in battle by Shiva.
When she came to know the whole truth about her husband’s death, she was mad with rage and cursed Vishnu saying – “Your wife will be taken from you, and you will have to ask the monkeys for help to get her back.” The curse of a wife / sage is very powerful, and not even the gods can escape it. It was, after all, an act of Karma, the result of her own actions returning to Him. As you know, Rama was an incarnation of Vishnu. And this curse came true during the time of Rama and Sita, when she was kidnapped by Ravana and Ram had to ask Hanuman, the monkey god for help.
After cursing him, she also cursed him into a black rock and Vrinda prepared a funeral bonfire for her husband where she cast him, and she threw herself into the fire. Vishnu, whose duty it is to protect everyone in creation, became very sad, because it was the result of his deceptive actions that led the poor widow to commit suicide. He sat by the fire for many days, depressed. The gods concerned about his health and that he was neglecting his cosmic functions, planted three medicinal trees near him; Tulsi, Amala and Jasmine. Of these three plants, the Tulsi was very dear to Vishnu.
Vishnu took the ashes of Vrinda and according to the curse poured the ashes of Vrinda into the Tulsi plant and he itself was turned into a black stone called as Shaligram and both Tulsi and Shaligram were married to each other.
Everything is a cycle
Because Vrinda truly believed that Vishnu was her husband, when Vishnu had taken the form of Krishna (in the story above), Vrinda had taken the form of Rukmini. When Krishna and Rukmini got married is when the Tulsi Vivah is celebrated. (On the 11th in the month of Kartika during the bright half of the month).