TODAY -

Tulsi - our courtyard plant

Tarun Nongthombam *

An old Manipuri woman praying in front of Tulsi
An old Manipuri woman praying in front of Tulsi



Every Manipuri household who follow vaishnavism has a tulsi plant adorning their courtyard. The name tulsi implies "the incomparable one". A household is considered incomplete if it doesn't have a tulsi planted in the courtyard or sumang. Tulsi was planted in early days in small earth mounds, which we refer as tulsi makhong, latter substituted by concrete altar but now many have shortened it into planting in flowerpots.

So, what is this plant which we all have but know very little of? Tulsi has a scientific name Ocimum Sanctum popularly known as holy basil. It is a tropical plant with lot of branches and can be about half a meter tall or even more, distinguished by its oval aromatic leaves. Tulsi flowers are small reddish purple in colour, present in cylindrical clusters, in a long stalk. Normally, it comes in two varieties-the one with light green leaves which is known as Ram Tulsi and the other variety which is called as Krishna or Shyam Tulsi since Krishna is believed to be darker in colour. Shyam Tulsi is important item for Hanuman worship. The former one seems to be more popular here in Manipur.

Tulsi besides its religious importance is also known for its medicinal values and used as household remedy for cough, cold, flu and many use it for applying in cuts and bruises. Tulsi contains a chemical composition, which produces a peculiar odour and this wards off mosquitoes and flies.

Manipuri Vaishnavs worship this holy plant every morning and evening as a ritual. In morning, worshiping tulsi and sun god is done with offerings, which include water in a vessel, incense sticks and flowers. In evening, people shortened it with incense sticks but many are happy to include a flame generally in the form of a lantern.

According to Hindu Mythological Tulsi was accused of infidelity and shunned by all. Finding no one for herself, she looked to Vishnu for solace. Door of Vaikunth (Vishnu's Abode) was closed as Lakshmi refused to let her in. Tulsi stood in the courtyard, under the open sky, helpless and humiliated. Her feet turned into roots, her arms sprouted leaves, and she turned into a delicate wild plant, her fragrance spreading all around. Lord Vishnu said: " Despite all the troubles, she stood with all her devotion, Tulsi has become my beloved, 'Vishnupriya'. She should be treated with dignity at all times - not as an unchaste woman, but as a venerable housewife. Worshiping of Vishnu will remain incomplete without an offering of Tulsi sprigs". And so, the Tulsi plant is nurtured in the courtyard of every house, and is identified as Vishnu's Vrinda or Vrindarani or Krishna's Radha, women whose devotion for the Lord, though unrequited, never waned.

Vaishnavs wear urik or tulsi necklace, which is made with strands of beads made from the wood of the sacred tulsi plant. It is also used as rosary beads for chanting mantras of Hindu Gods. The urik is commonly made of 108 beads and it is usually worn around the neck. As tulsi is considered as goddess, the belief is, wearing it will increase the devotion towards Lord and spiritual growth.

Tulsi has occupied an important place among the Manipuri Vaishavs' households, still reminding her ultimate devotion to the Lord.


* Tarun Nongthombam is a frequent contributor to e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at nong_tarun(at)rediffmail(dot)com
This article was posted on October 07, 2012.



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