In Indian Culture Why do we worship tulasi?Either in the front, back or central court yard of most Indian homes there is a tulasi-matham - an altar being tulasi plant. In the present day apartments too, many maintain a potted tulasi plant. The lady of the house lights a lamp, waters the plant, worships and circumambulates it. The stem, leaves, seeds and even the soil, which provides it a base, are considered holy. A tulasi leaf is always placed in the food offered to the Lord. It is also offered to the Lord during poojas, especially to Lord Vishnu and His incarnations.
Why do we worship the tulasi?
In Sanskrit, tulanaa naasti athaiva tulasi - that which is incomparable (in its qualities) is the tulasi. For Indians it is one of the most sacred plants. In fact, it is known to be the only thing used in worship which, once used, can be washed and reused in pooja - as it is regarded so self-purifying.
Why is tulsi sacred?
As one story goes, Tulasi was the devoted wife of Shankhachuda, a celestial being. She believed that Lord Krishna tricked her into sinning. So she cursed Him to become a stone (shaaligraaama). Seeing her devotion and adherence to righteousness, the Lord blessed her saying that she would become the worshipped plant, tulasi that would adorn His head. Also that all offerings would be incomplete without the tulasi leaf - hence the worship of tulasi.
She also symbolises Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Lord Vishnu. Those who wish to be righteous and have a happy family life worship the tulasi. Tulasi is married to the Lord with all pomp and show as in any wedding. This is because according to another legend, the Lord blessed her to be His consort.
Satyabhama once weighed Lord Krishna against all her legendary wealth. The scales did not balance till a single tulasi leaf was placed along with the wealth on the scale by Rukmini with devotion. Thus the tulasi played the vital role of demonstrating to the world that even a small object offered with devotion means more to the Lord than all the wealth in the world.
Shri Hari adorns wreaths of Tulsi leaves and also greately adores its fragrance. Seeing this, flowers such as mandar, parijat, jasmine, champak, karavir, punnaga, nagkesar, bakul, lotus, though themselves fragrant, highly regard tulasi; that she performed greater penance (n her previous birth) than any of them. [Bhagavatam 3/15/19]
A Sanskrit sloka describes tulasi's sancrtity:
tulasi taam namaamyaham.
I bow down to the 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 Brahmavaivart Puran (Prakritikhand 21/40) lauds tulasi's glory:
Sudhaghatasahasrena sa tushitrna bhavedwarehe,
ya cha, tushtirbhanevennrunam tulasipatra danatah.
- He (Bhagwan) is not so pleased after bathing with a thousand pots of amrut, as he is when he is offered even a single tulsi leaf.
In Vaishnavisim, it is obligatory to place a tulasi leaf when offering food and donation.
A special utsav - The Tulsi Vivah, is also observed in all Vaishnav mandirs, when Tulasi is married to Vishnu, with pomp and bhakti.
It is also a ritual to place a tulasi leaf in the mouth of a person, as the first antyeshti rite at the time of death. This ensures his transmigration to Vishnu's abode.
In Ayurveda, tulasi is considered a divya aushadhi - divine herb. The Tulasi leaf has great medicinal value and is used to cure various ailments, including the common cold.
1] Excerpts from the book on"In Indian Culture why do we .. written by Swamini Vimalananda & Radhika Krishnakumar.
2] Excertps from the book on "Hindu rites and rituals [Sentiments, sacraments & symbol] written by Sadhu Mukundecharandas, Swaminarayan Aksharpith.