Saturday, August 23, 2008

Tulasi the Incomparable

Tulasi - the very name has sanctity about it. One doesn’t call it just ‘basil’ but Holy Basil. Ocimum Sanctum. It is a symbol of purity, divinity and health. Tulasi is believed to be the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi and therefore incomparable. It is so much a part and parcel of Indian life and culture.

Visualize this scene. First rays of morning sun filtering through the trees around. A lady wearing damp clothes after bath stands in front of the tulasi plant in her house. It could be in the front, or in the nadumuttam (inner courtyard). Droplets of water drip down intermittently from her hair. She waters the plant, stands in front of it in prayer with folded hands and does pradishana (circling around).

A tulasi plant in the rain in an inner courtyard.

That is the routine of many an Indian woman before she gets immersed in the daily chores, pure in body and mind. Apart from the veneration part of it, spending time before tulasi is a healthy practice. Emissions from the plant are said to purify the air around it.

Skanda Purana says, "Just by touching Tulsidevi one's body becomes pure. By praying to her, all diseases practically become removed. If one waters her or makes her wet, the fear of Yamaraja (death personified) is destroyed.” (See and similar sites.)

The medicinal values of Tulasi have been known and used in India for thousands of years. The claimed benefits are far too many to be listed here but one must mention that it is said to reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Vastu also recognizes the importance of tulasi. The plant growing in the vicinity of a house is alleged to have highly positive influence.

I was surprised to learn that tulasi has religious significance in Christianity as well. It is said to have been found at Calvary where Jesus was crucified and near His tomb after the resurrection. Some Churches keep basil near the altar. It is also used in making Holy Water which is supposed to cleanse away sins and guard against evils.

Christians have two saints, father and son, named Basil. Tulasi has a prominent place in the Saint Basil’s Day celebrations.

The homeland of the tulasi is India, where it has been known from Vedic times. Later it spread to other countries. This Queen of Herbs is used for many culinary applications too.

Before concluding I must say this. My sister-in-law Rema (Mrs. Antony Tharakan) makes a delicious tulasi tea. It is a great drink first thing in the morning or just before bed time.

Photos by me from Olavipe. Copyright reserved. Click on them to enlarge.

Also see

Divine Strokes


Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

Yes, Tulasi is definitely a special plant!! But i guess it's too tropical to be grown in foreign has to take so much special care of it to survive, as we do here.

Abraham Tharakan said...

lakshmi bharadwaj, thanks for the comment. I think tulasi can be grown in the warmer areas of Europe and US.

Mysorean said...


I visit this blog to read your posts, which unlike others are born out of rich experience (like your 'South Parade' piece). I say with all humility that I have knowledge of Sanskit and Vedas, and your linking to Skanda Puranam is spot-on. I wish I was as good on rich aspects of Christianity. Again, you are right about Tulasi plant in the West. I am reminded about Prof Ranganathan who you may remember as a very distingushed librarian and the inventor of 'Colon Classification'( those days the word 'library. was used and not the fancy terms 'information sciences', which even to me a computer scientist is hot air) His wife, it was said kept a Tulasi plant in their apartment in Switzerland when Professor Ranganathan was working there as a visiting professor there.

Again, you are right about medicinal properties of Tulasi. For example, it is said a few Tulasi leaves muched with a few black pepper corns is a natural remedy for cold and sore throat.

The only other leaf which can remotely match the sanctity aspect of Tulasi is Bilva (vilvam). The great Thyagaraja composed a song in Kedara Gowla, ' Tulasi Bilva... Here again Tulasi comes first.

Again you score!


Such a nice comprehensive post - and the image of the lady in front of the 'thulasi madam' is so evocative.

I know that Italians use basil in their cuisine, so I guess it must be grown in those areas too; like you say - the warmer areas of Europe and US.

Mysorean said...

We live in the West. Tulasi can be grown in a pot indoors as Mrs Ranganathan showed in cool Switzerland.

Abraham, I suggest you write a post on Bilva (vilvam) to complete your pieces on Tulasi and Mallika, to reflect the great composer's composition, " Tulasi, Billva, Mallika kusuma..." for the Lord's worship.

Abraham Tharakan said...

mysorean, thank you, but you are giving me more credit than I deserve. I'm very happy you liked my posts. Experience comes as the years roll by and would naturally reflect in one's writings.
Frankly, your comment inspires me to keep writing more.
I am amazed by the medicinal qualities of tulasi. Have researched into a few medicinal plants, but none of them come anywhere near tulasi. It does, indeed, seem to be a divine plant.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Raji, thank you.

Abraham Tharakan said...

mysorean, thank you for the suggestion. I had made a post on malligai on January 4 at the link:

By 'billva' do you mean bael?

Kariyachan said...

It is said that Tulasi emits ozone, and for that reason it could being cultivated widely to prevent ozone depletion?

Abraham Tharakan said...

Kariachan, I think you are right.