One of Krsna's most intimate servants comes in a special form to bless us with extraordinary fortune.
Devotees of Krsna worship a little tree. But she's not an ordinary tree. She's Tulasi Devi, Krsna's favorite plant.
Tulasi has delicate purple and green leaves, flower tassels like miniature temple spires, and an arresting, sweet fragrance famous for attracting the minds of yogis to Krsna's service.
Tulasi's wood is carved into the japa beads on which devotees chant Krsna's name. Devotees wear strands of Tulasi beads around their necks. Her leaves and flowers decorate the Deity of Krsna in the temple and are placed on food offered to Him. She has taken the form of a tree so that everyone, even the poorest person, can offer something wonderful to Krsna.
MY FASCINATION with Tulasi Devi began very soon after meeting Srila Prabhupada in 1967. I searched Indian stores all over New York City to find a set of Tulasi japa beads. One clever man sold me rosewood beads, assuring me they were Tulasi.When I presented them to Srila Prabhupada, he held them and looked at them with scrutiny, then simply said, "No, not Tulasi." But he chanted on them anyway.
Later, in 1968, as I was cleaning Srila Prabhupada's room I found his Tulasi japa beads lying near his bead bag on his cushion. As I carefully put them back into their bag, I was mesmerized by their smooth touch and golden glow. They were large, round beads, shiny from years of use, with a mystical quality that still sticks in my mind.
In 1969, Srila Prabhupada sent me to Honolulu to open a temple. I spent much time at the research library of the University of Hawaii's East-West Center. I found many ancient texts from India, some by Srila Prabhupada's guru and other Vaisnava saints. And I found information on Tulasi Devi her botanical names, her history, and ways to grow her. My desire to grow Tulasi became an obsession, and somehow I got seeds from India.
The first set of seeds did not grow. I daily worshiped a thin green sprout until it became painfully evident that it was a blade of grass. The second batch of seeds proved fruitful, however, and tiny heart-shaped seedlings spread their delicate leaves in our Honolulu home. That was the beginning.
I still didn't know why growing Tulasi was important to Srila Prabhupada or his mission. But when I later presented two small Tulasi plants to him in Los Angeles, he was delighted. He held one of the small pots in his hand for a long time, gazing at the seven-inch seedling, noting that she was indeed Srimati Tulasi Devi.
Prabhupada talked on and on about the glories of Tulasi Devi, and he was in such joyful spirits! Srila Prabhupada's servant, Kartikeya Dasa, was astonished. He later told me that he had not seen Srila Prabhupada so light-hearted and happy in over a year.
At one point, Srila Prabhupada told us that Tulasi Devi was a great devotee of Lord Krsna, and that her husband, a demon, was killed by Krsna. Then Prabhupada stopped short and became thoughtful. My intuition was that he had given us as much as we could then understand.
So my understanding became quite basic: somehow, growing Tulasi made Srila Prabhupada very, very pleased. That was enough. I proceeded to cultivate Tulasi plants on a large scale. I wrote a booklet entitled "How to Grow Tulasi Devi," sent seeds and booklets to every temple, and tried to offer advice and assistance to devotees in their efforts to cultivate Tulasi.
Later, I came across the following purport by Srila Prabhupada in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.8.55):
It is specifically mentioned herein that tulasi leaves are very dear to the Supreme Personality of Godhead and devotees should take particular care to have tulasi leaves in every temple and center of worship. In the Western countries, while engaged in propagating the Krsna consciousness movement, we were brought great unhappiness because we could not find tulasi leaves. We are very much obliged, therefore, to our disciple Srimati Govinda Dasi because she has taken much care to grow tulasi plants from seeds, and she has been successful by the grace of Krsna. Now tulasi plants are growing in almost every center of our movement.
Only then did I become truly aware of the importance of cultivating Tulasi plants. I realized that my initial attraction to Tulasi and my obsessive desire to grow Tulasi plants, though not inspired by a direct instruction from Srila Prabhupada, were communicated from within the heart by the Lord to please and assist Srila Prabhupada in his mission. I felt humbled and joyful that even in my ignorance I had been given an opportunity to serve him in this way.
Learning Respect for Tulasi
In 1968, before Tulasi made her appearance in the West, Srila Prabhupada sometimes talked about her. I recall him saying that in India every-one considers Tulasi plants sacred, and no one will cut or uproot them. Even non-Hindus, he said, will not destroy Tulasi to build a house on a spot where she is growing they'll look for a place not inhabited by Tulasi. When Bhaktivinoda Thakura discovered the birthplace of Lord Caitanya, it was so overgrown with Tulasi that no one had settled there, thinking it to be a sacred place. Even non-Hindus considered that disturbing Tulasi plants would bring ill fortune.
When Prabhupada came to Hawaii in 1971, he admired our lush Tulasi garden in front of the entrance to the temple. Because these Tulasis had grown far larger than we had expected (some nearly seven feet tall and with stalks two inches in diameter), we had a problem. The Tulasi branches were beginning to cover the entrance, and people unavoidably brushed up against her. We pointed this out to Srila Prabhupada and asked his permission to trim some of the branches. He became alarmed and exclaimed, "You cannot cut Tulasi that is the greatest offense! You must never cut her. But you can tie back the branches obstructing the entrance."
Even after tying back the branches, Tulasi kept growing, and the problem continued. When we told Srila Prabhupada that people had to bend down when passing through the Tulasi archway on the way into the temple, he was delighted. He smiled, his eyes sparkled, and he said, "That's good. It is good that they have to bow to Tulasi before entering Krsna's temple."
When Srila Prabhupada came for a later visit, he carefully entered the Tulasi archway by going through sideways to avoid brushing against her leaves and branches. And while walking along the walkway to the temple, which was lined with more Tulasi plants, he told his secretary, Syamasundara, "Don't step on her shadow." In these ways Srila Prabhupada showed great respect for Tulasi Devi.
In his books, too, Srila Prabhupada called attention to the exalted position of Tulasi Devi. He writes in a purport to the Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.16.21):
The goddess of fortune, Laksmi, is sometimes envious of the tulasi leaves which are placed at the lotus feet of the Lord, for they remain fixed there and do not move, whereas Laksmiji, although stationed by the chest of the Lord, sometimes has to please other devotees who pray for her favor. Laksmiji sometimes has to go to satisfy her numerous devotees, but tulasi leaves never forsake their position, and the Lord therefore appreciates the service of tulasi more than the service of Laksmi.
In The Nectar of Devotion, Srila Prabhupada quotes from the Skanda Purana:
Tulasi is auspicious in all respects. Simply by seeing, simply by touching, simply by remembering, simply by praying to, simply by bowing before, simply by hearing about, or simply by sowing this tree, there is always auspiciousness. Anyone who comes in touch with the tulasi tree in the abovementioned ways lives eternally in the Vaikuntha world.
Srila Prabhupada taught us never to think of Tulasi as an ordinary plant. She is a great devotee standing before us in the form of a small tree. She appears as a delicate tree in this world to serve the Lord and uplift human society.
Tulasi Devi can be used in many ways to please the Supreme Lord, but never for gratifying one's senses. To offer Tulasi Devi with a material incentive to destroy one's enemies, to remove anxieties, to make medicine will be the bridge by which one enters the hellish regions.
Tulasi Devi has come to the West to give us the opportunity to serve her for our benefit. If we care for her nicely, she can grant us love for Krsna.
Serving Tulasi's Home
In November 1989, I met "Vrnda Kunda Baba," or Madhava Dasa, a renowned scholar and Vaisnava saint, and a great devotee of Srimati Tulasi Devi. He had spent years in Vrndavana working to restore and develop Vrnda Kunda, the eternal home of Vrnda Devi, the cowherd-girl form of Tulasi Devi. Madhava Baba's knowledge of the scriptures, especially those relating to the glories of Tulasi Devi, was vast. Not surprisingly, I felt an immediate connection.
Because Baba had become old and ill, he wanted to leave his work to reliable people who were also devoted to Tulasi Devi. Somehow, by the divine arrangement of the Lord, he ended up at ISKCON's Krishna-Balaram temple.
On meeting him, I felt a strong urge to assist him and began by helping with his medical expenses. Later, when he became bedridden in February and March of 1990, I worked with Vidya Devi Dasi, Muralidhara Dasa, and Mohana Dasa to help provide nursing and medical care for him in his final days.
At that time, I was inspired to paint a picture of Vrnda Devi. Madhava Baba knew all the scriptural references to Vrnda Devi, and he carefully supervised the tiniest details of this painting. The scriptures describe Vrnda Devi as having a beautiful complexion like molten gold, a shimmering golden effulgence, and an enchanting pearl on her nose. A gentle smile decorates her lips.
She wears blue garments and is decorated with pearls and flowers. Her right hand is raised in blessing the devotees, and on her left hand she holds her yellow parrot, Daksa, who has thousands of parrot disciples of various colors: red, green, yellow, blue, white. The parrots serve Vrnda Devi by carrying messages to various parts of Vrndavana.
Vrnda Devi is in charge of the Vrndavana lila the pastimes of Radha and Krsna. She decides which flowers will bloom, which birds will sing, which songs will be sung, which breezes will blow, which food will be served, which games will be played, which musical instruments will be played.
Lord Krsna and Srimati Radharani have given Vrnda Devi her role as queen of Vrndavana. Vrnda Devi may be likened to a grand director or choreographer of the Vrndavana lila, and her parrots are her communication service. She always stays in Vrndavana, absorbed in love for Radha and Krsna. Her great yearning is to expertly arrange Their meeting, and by doing this she feels the greatest joy.
When the painting was finished, I would hold it up before Baba daily, and he would chant his prayers to Vrnda Devi, his worshipable deity. Often he would cry when he saw her.
Once he looked up at me and very humbly said, "Thank you, Mataji. You have made just the exact replica of Vrnda Devi."
I told him, "Baba, because you are now unable to walk and go see your beloved deity, Vrnda Devi has arranged to come to see you."
We pressed Baba to tell us his life story so we could tape it for future publication. He was reluctant.
"No Mataji, I don't want name and fame."
We persisted, imploring him that it would be a necessary part of continuing the development of Vrnda Kunda. We pleaded that name and fame would come after he had left this world. He finally agreed, for the service of Vrnda Devi, and we began documenting his life story and the story of the development of Vrnda Kunda.
Srila Prabhupada had told us that Vrndavana is named after Vrnda Devi. It means "forest of Tulasi."
Baba explained, "This Vrndavana-dhama belongs to Sri Krsna. It is the shining crest jewel of all the Vaikunthas, and Srimati Radharani, the daughter of King Vrsabhanu, has made Vrnda Devi the ruling monarch of Lord Krsna's opulent and auspicious abode of Vrndavana."
Every day Baba talked to us of the glories of Vrnda Devi as described in the Skanda Purana, Brahma-vaivarta Purana, Padma Purana, Garuda Purana, Narada Purana, and other Vedic texts. He carefully translated the Vrnda-devyastakam by Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, and he told us about the mercy of Lord Caitanya. We learned that the Lord would have a Tulasi tree carried before him in His sankirtana party.
During this time, I visited Vrnda Kunda. There is a small, simple temple there, and a lovely pond lined with Tulasi trees. The atmosphere was surcharged with a unique spiritual essence. I sat quietly and chanted and meditated beside Tulasi Devi. In my mind I had a fleeting "glimpse" of a beautiful palace, with winding crystal staircases and shimmering decor. I wondered at this, and when I saw Baba I asked him about it. He began to describe such a palace from various scriptural quotations. I was stunned.
In a miraculous way that only Lord Krsna could have designed, this aged saint, who was born in a highly situated brahmana family and who had spent his entire life as a sadhu, was now being cared for by a small crew of American and European disciples of Srila Prabhupada. Witnessing his love and devotion for Vrnda Devi was our greatest gift. It was as if Srila Prabhupada had arranged for us to receive further instruction and opportunity to serve Srimati Tulasi Devi by sending Baba into our midst.
A Divine Soul Departs
Baba's passing away was glorious. It was early, just after mangala-arati, on March 27, 1990. Vidya and I were in the temple making Tulasi garlands when Baba's nurse rushed in, telling us to come quickly. On the way to his room I grabbed the painting of Vrnda Devi to take to him.
As I entered the room, I was a bit shaken by the hanging presence of impending death. Death is a powerful, compelling force, hard to describe, yet almost tangible.
I held the painting for Baba to see and said, "Vrnda Devi has come."
He focused on the beautiful form of Vrnda Devi and tried to say his Sanskrit prayers to her. His last audible words were "Krsna! Krsna!"
We sat beside his bed and chanted Hare Krsna on our beads. Dinabandhu Dasa arrived and began playing the harmonium and singing. It was a soft and gentle kirtana, penetratingly sweet and melodious. The whole room was filled with a golden glow. Baba's eyes were fixed on Vrnda Devi, and when he could no longer see externally, his eyes were shining in ecstasy and focused on some other world. It was as if he was clearly seeing Krsna and his beloved Vrnda Devi.
A beautiful smile was on his lips. His breath came in tiny gasps, and with each breath his ecstasy increased. His face shone with a remarkable radiance. Then he was gone. It was a moment of incredible awe and ecstasy! We were seeing a divine soul depart for the realm of Goloka, and we cried for joy.
Baba's departure left on indelible imprint on my mind. I saw the energy of death in action compelling, relentless, moving forward like a bulldozer, pushing the soul out of the body. It was fierce and final, frightening and overwhelmingly real. This was the essence and inner meaning of time. I tasted the divine words of the Gita: "I come as death."
Then I saw the devotee's response to death: full surrender at the Lord's lotus feet with pure love and trust. And I witnessed the Lord's divine protection of His devotee. What may be fearful and horrible for others was for Baba a joyous reunion with his beloved Lord. Krsna came and filled the room with His love and radiance, and Baba left with Him to eternally serve Vrnda Devi at her home in Vrnda Kunda.
Baba's work at Vrnda Kunda was left unfinished. I believe it was his gift to us, Srila Prabhupada's generations of disciples. Because of Srila Prabhupada's efforts in spreading the glories of Tulasi Devi all over the world, Vrnda Devi led Baba Madhava Dasa to choose ISKCON to continue her service at Vrnda Kunda.
The small crew of us who cared for Baba all feel deeply committed to carrying on his work at Vrnda Kunda. By Krsna's grace, the daily worship of Vrnda Devi is still going on. We promised Baba that a compound wall will be built around Vrnda Kunda and other improvements will be made. Through this work, our spiritual strength will be increased and our understanding of krsna-bhakti will become mature. There is great spiritual merit accrued from caring for holy places. And of all holy places, Vrnda Kunda is one of the most auspicious.
Govinda Dasi became a disciple of Srila Prabhupada in 1967 in San Francisco. She now lives in Hawaii.
Our thanks to Manjari Devi Dasi of Oakland, California, for her help in putting together this article.
Worshiping Tulasi Devi
The following list was compiled from scriptures and from Srila Prabhupada's instructions.
• Tulasi's body is spiritual. Although Tulasi appears as many individual trees, she is one person, and she comes wherever she sees devotion to Krsna.
• Every morning devotees should water and pray to Tulasi Devi and circumambulate her three times.
• Worship Tulasi with nice food, flowers, incense, a ghee lamp, and other traditional articles of worship.
• Protect the delicate Tulasi seedlings from birds and insects. It is an offense to turn the seedlings back into the soil.
• In places where Tulasi cannot survive the winters when planted in the ground, provide a suitable house for her.
• Every day provide Tulasi fresh air, water (as needed be careful not to water too much), and sunshine (or plant lights).
• Neglecting to care for or water Tulasi properly is a great offense. Do everything carefully.
• When picking Tulasi leaves, chant the following mantra:
sada tvam kesava-priya
kesavartham cinomi tvam
varada bhava sobhane
"O Tulasi, you were born from nectar. You are always very dear to Lord Kesava. Now, in order to worship Lord Kesava, I am collecting your leaves and manjaris. Please bestow your benediction on me."
Pick only the leaves that grow next to the manjaris (flowers) and the leaves that are ready to drop they will turn a pale color not the new, green ones. Pick the manjaris as soon as they blossom. Avoid letting them go to seed, which takes much energy from the plant that can be used to make more leaves and flowers for Krsna's service. Pick the leaves one at a time with your fingertips. Don't shake or stroke the branch and damage healthy leaves. Pick with care and attention. Avoid using cutting tools.
• Never cut or prune Tulasi Devi. This is a great offense. Remove dead branches if absolutely necessary. If branches obstruct a passageway, tie them back, but don't cut them.
• Pick Tulasi leaves and flowers in the morning, never at night (from sunset to sunrise).
• Never use chemical sprays on Tulasi.
• Collect leaves once in the morning for worshiping Krsna and for putting on the plates of food to be offered to Him. Put at least one leaf on each preparation. Never pick Tulasi leaves for any other purpose than to offer to the Lord.
• Lord Krsna likes garlands of Tulasi leaves. Tulasi leaves mixed with sandalwood pulp and placed on the lotus feet of the Lord is the topmost worship. Do not place Tulasi leaves on the feet of anyone other than Lord Visnu in His various forms. Srimati Radharani can be given a Tulasi leaf in Her hand for offering to Lord Krsna.
• Krsna accepts even dry Tulasi leaves.
• Tulasi wood (taken after a plant has fully dried naturally) can be used to carve worship paraphernalia, such as beads. Place leftover Tulasi wood within the earth.
• Never use Tulasi leaves or flowers to make teas or juices, even after they've been offered to Krsna. It is a great offense to cook or heat Tulasi, or to use her for mundane purposes, such as medicines and ointments.
• Never cut down or pull up living Tulasi plants. This is a great offense.
• Avoid stepping on Tulasi Devi's shadow.
• Tulasi Devi is very, very dear to the Lord. Therefore, most important is to serve her with love and devotion.
Benefits of Worshiping Tulasi Devi
Although we can never fully describe the glories of Tulasi Devi, an eternal associate of Lord Krsna, the scriptures give us a hint of the value of worshiping her. The following list comes from the Padma Purana.
Tulasi is the essence of all devotional activities.
The leaves, flowers, roots, bark, branches, trunk, and shade of Tulasi Devi are all spiritual.
One who with devotion applies the paste of Tulasi wood to the Deity of Krsna will always live close to Krsna.
One who puts mud from the base of the Tulasi tree on his body and worships the Deity of Lord Krsna gets the results of one hundred days' worship each day.
One who offers a Tulasi manjari to Lord Krsna gets the benefit of offering all other varieties of flowers, and he goes to the abode of Krsna.
One who sees or comes near a house or garden where the Tulasi plant is present gets rid of all his sinful reactions, including that of killing a brahmana.
Lord Krsna happily lives in the house, town, or forest where Tulasi Devi is present.
A house where Tulasi Devi is present never falls on bad times, and it becomes purer than all holy places.
The fragrance of Tulasi Devi purifies all who smell it.
Lord Krsna and all the demigods live in a house where mud from the base of the Tulasi tree is found.
Without Tulasi leaves, Lord Krsna does not like to accept flowers, food, or sandalwood paste.
One who worships Lord Krsna daily with Tulasi leaves attains the results of all kinds of austerity, charity, and sacrifice. In fact, he has no other duties to perform, and he has realized the essence of the scriptures.
One who puts into his mouth or on his head Tulasi leaves that have been offered to Lord Krsna attains Lord Krsna's abode.
In Kali-yuga, one who worships, remembers, plants, keeps, or performs kirtana before Tulasi burns up all sinful reactions and quickly attains Lord Krsna's abode.
One who worships Lord Krsna with Tulasi leaves releases all his ancestors from the realm of birth and death.
One who remembers the glories of Tulasi or tells others about them will never take birth again.
The Tulasi Arati Prayers
Srila Prabhupada gave his disciples the following prayers for worshiping Tulasi Devi.
Sri Tulasi Pranama
(Recite when bowing to Tulasi.)
priyayai kesavasya ca
satyavatyai namo namah
"I offer my repeated obeisances unto Vrnda, Srimati Tulasi Devi, who is very dear to Lord Kesava [Krsna]. O goddess, you bestow devotional service to Lord Krsna and possess the highest truth."
Sri Tulasi Kirtana
(Sing during the arati. This song is in Bengali.)
namo namah tulasi! krsna-preyasi
radha-krsna-seva pabo ei abhilasi
je tomara sarana loy, tara vancha purna hoy
krpa kori' koro tare brndavana-basi
mor ei abhilas, bilas kunje dio vas
nayane heribo sada jugala-rupa-rasi
ei nivedana dharo, sakhir anugata koro
seva-adhikara diye koro nija dasi
dina krsna-dase koy, ei jena mora hoy
sri-radha-govinda-preme sada jena bhasi
"O Tulasi, beloved of Krsna, I bow before you again and again. My desire is to obtain the service of Sri Sri Radha-Krsna.
"Whoever takes shelter of you has his wishes fulfilled. Bestowing your mercy on him, you make him a resident of Vrndavana.
"My desire is that you will also grant me a residence in the pleasure groves of Sri Vrndavana-dhama. Thus, within my vision I will always behold the beautiful pastimes of Radha and Krsna.
"I beg you to make me a follower of the cowherd damsels of Vraja. Please give me the privilege of devotional service and make me your own maidservant.
"This very fallen and lowly servant of Krsna prays, 'May I always swim in the love of Sri Sri Radha and Govinda.' "
Sri Tulasi Pradaksina Mantra
(Sing while circumambulating Tulasi.)
yani kani ca papani
tani tani pranasyanti
pradaksinah pade pade
"By the circumambulation of Srimati Tulasi Devi all the sins one may have committed are destroyed at every step, even the sin of killing a brahmana."
Eight Names of Vrnda Devi
Vrnda Devi: She has thousands and thousands of sakhis (associate maidservants).
Vrndavani: She never leaves Vrndavana.
Visvapujita: The whole world worships her.
Visvapavani: She is the sanctifier of the whole world.
Puspasara: She is the essence of all flowers.
Nandini: She gives happiness to everyone.
Tulasi Devi: She has an incomparable form.
Krsna-jivani: She is the life and soul of Lord Krsna.
Serving Vrnda Kunda
In a letter requesting contributions for Vrnda Kunda, Madhava Baba once wrote, "Vrnda Devi is known as Srimati Tulasi Devi and is worshiped by all Sanatanists. The worship of Tulasi Devi is the life of Sanatana Dharma. Negligence of Tulasi sevameans the negligence of entire religion…. Sri Vrnda Devi Temple and its twin Kundas (Vrnda Kunda and Gupta Kunda) are glorified in sixty ancient Sanskrit and Bengali books."
The following are plans for the upkeep and development of Vrnda Kunda:
• Build a boundary wall around the two-acre site.
• Build a samadhi (tomb) for Baba Madhava Dasa.
• Build a good road to the site.
• Level the site.
• Build steps around the Kunda.
• Deepen the Kunda.
• Renovate and expand the temple.
• Dig for fresh drinking water.
• Plant trees.
• Buy land for growing vegetables and keeping cows for self-sufficiency.
• Build guestrooms for pilgrims.
To contribute for this work, please write to:
1504 Riverton Road
Cinnaminson, NJ 08077
Sri Krishna-Balaram Mandir
Bhaktivedanta Swami Marg
Raman Reti, Vrindavan, UP India