tulanaa naasti athaiva tulasi – that which is incomparable (in its qualities) is the tulasi. Tulasi is very dear to lord Vishnu and Krishna. In Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.15.19 it is said that the special position of the Tulasi plant: “Although there are numerous flowering plants full of transcendental fragrance in the spiritual realm, they are aware that Tulasi is given special preference by the Lord, who garlands Himself with Tulasi leaves.”
Tulasi or Holy basil, also known as Vrinda is a sacred plant and an earthly manifestation of the goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Lord Vishnu. The offering of its leaves is mandatory in the worship of Vishnu and Krishna, without which Vishnu or Krishna do not accept any offerings. Many hindus have a Tulasi plant growing in front or near their home. Aarti and watering of the plant is performed everyday by devotees. A person who waters and cares for the Tulasi daily is believed to gain moksha (salvation) and the divine grace of Vishnu, even if he does not worship it. Traditionally, the daily worship and care of the plant is the responsibility of the women of the household. Though daily worship is prescribed, Tuesdays and Fridays are considered especially sacred for Tulasi worship. Rituals involve watering the plant, cleaning the area near the plant with water and cow dung (considered sacred), and making offerings of food, flowers, incense, Ganges water etc.
The Devi Bhagavata Purana mentions a story of King Vrishadhvaja—a devotee of Shiva who banned worship of all other deities except for his patron god Shiva, This angered the sun god who cursed the king that he would be abandoned by Lakshmi. Seeing his devotee get cursed by sun god, shiva pursued him. In fear sun god ran for shelter of lord vishnu. Who told the them that earth years had already passed and Vrishadhvaja and also his heir-son were dead and his grandchildren—Dharmadhvaja and Kushadhvaja—were now worshiping Lakshmi to please her. Pleased by the devotion Lakshmi rewarded their efforts by being born as their daughters Tulasi meaning “matchless to Dharmadhvaja and Vedavati. In time, Tulasi gave up all her royal comfort and went to Badrinath to perform penance to please Brahma and ask for a boon so that she could get Vishnu as her husband. Brahma was pleased with her penance but told her that she would have to marry the demon Shankhachuda before she could marry Vishnu. On the other hand Sankhchuda, a mighty demon underwent terrific penance to please Brahma to gain the boon of invincibility. Brahama being pleased gave him the Vishnu kavacha, the armor of Vishnu, and told him that no one could kill him as long as he is wearing the armor.
Shankhachuda and Tulasi were soon married. Shankhachuda practiced the laws of dharma religiously but was also prone to commit sins because of his nature. He attacked the three worlds and became the sole ruler. Seeing the universe in trouble shiva challenged Shankhachuda to war. Vishnu appeared in his true form and urged Tulasi to abandon her earthly body and return to his celestial abode. In her anger and grief, she cursed Vishnu to be turned into stone. Vishnu turned into a stone and reside on the riverbank Gandaki River. People and devotees will call it a chunk of shaaligrama. Tulasi’s mortal remains decayed and became the Gandaki River, while her hair transformed into the sacred Tulasi plant.
Another legend replaces Shankhachuda with Jalandhara and the name Tulasi with Vrinda. It concentrates on the tale of Vishnu destroying Vrinda’s chastity to lead to the death of Jalandhara by Shiva. In this legend, Tulasi is distinct from Lakshmi. The legend ends with Vrinda cursing Vishnu to become a stone, turning him into the Shaligram stone (which are found only in the Kali Gandaki River of Nepal) and Vishnu transforming Vrinda into the Tulasi plant. In a variant, Vrinda immolated herself in her husband’s funeral pyre but Vishnu ensured that she got incarnated in the form of Tulasi plant on the earth. In both versions, she gain the status of a goddess named Tulasi, while her earthly form is the Tulasi plant.
A Vaishnava legend relates Tulasi to the Samudra Manthana, the churning of the cosmic ocean by the gods and asuras (demons). At the end of the churning, Dhanvantari rose from the ocean with Amrita (the elixir of immortality). Vishnu procured it for the gods, when the demons tried to steal it. Vishnu shed happy tears, the first of which fell in Amrita and formed Tulasi.
Every part of the Tulasi plant is revered and considered sacred. Even the soil around the plant is holy. The Padma Purana mentions if a person is cremated with Tulasi twigs in his funeral pyre gains moksha and a place in Vishnu’s abode Vaikuntha. If a Tulasi stick is used to burn a lamp for Vishnu, it is like offering the gods lakhs of lamps. If one makes a paste of naturally dried Tulasi wood and smears it over his body and worships Vishnu, it is worth several ordinary pujas and lakhs of Godan (donation of cows). Water mixed with the Tulasi leaves is given to the dying to raise their departing souls to heaven.
Just as Tulasi respect is rewarding, her contempt attracts the wrath of Vishnu. Precautions are taken to avoid this. It is taboo to urinate, excrete or throw wastewater near the plant. Uprooting and cutting branches of the plant is prohibited. When the plant withers, the dry plant is immersed in a water body with due religious rites as is the custom for broken divine images, which are unworthy for worship. Though Tulasi leaves are necessary for Hindu worship, there are strict rules for it. A prayer of forgiveness may also be offered to Tulasi before the act.