WHEN WE DECIDED to start a Sunday school for children at our ISKCON center in Boise, Idaho, an Indian guest told us, "I'd like to send my child for all your planned activities, except for the plant worship at the end."
He was referring to the worship of Srimati Tulasi Devi, who, unbeknown to him, the Vedic scriptures tell us is a great devotee of Lord Krsna. Though present in this world in the form of a sacred plant, Tulasi Devi's original spiritual form is that of a gopi, or cowherd girl, named Vrnda Devi, an eternally liberated associate of Lord Krsna. In fact, Vrndavana, Lord Krsna's abode in the spiritual world, is named after Vrnda Devi. She helps arrange the pastimes of Radha and Krsna.
Tulasi worship is an ancient part of the Vedic tradition, dating back thousands of years and continuing to the present day. Every morning, families throughout India offer water and flowers to Srimati Tulasi Devi before going about their daily duties.
Vaisnavas, devotees of Lord Visnu or Lord Krsna, chant on beads made from the wood of the Tulasi plant and wear Tulasi beads around their necks. During the holy month of Karttika (October-November), devotees in some Vaisnava lines daily offer one thousand Tulasi leaves one by one to the lotus feet of Lord Krsna. And in November one can still find people celebrating with great pomp the marriage of their Tulasi with a neighbor's Saligrama-sila Visnu in the form of a stone. (The Padma Purana relates how Vrnda Devi once came to this world and performed great penance to obtain Lord Visnu as her husband.)
We can find glorification of Srimati Tulasi Devi throughout the Vedic literature. While describing the transcendental Vaikuntha planets, the Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.15.19) explains the special position of the Tulasi plant: "Although flowering plants like the mandara, kunda, kurabaka, utpala, campaka, arna, punnaga, nagakesara, bakula, lily, and parijata are full of transcendental fragrance, they are still conscious of the austerities performed by Tulasi, for Tulasi is given special preference by the Lord, who garlands Himself with Tulasi leaves."
In her form as a plant, Tulasi always stays at the Lord's lotus feet and around the neck of the Lord. The Vedic scriptures say that Krsna accepts only food adorned with a Tulasi leaf. The Gautamiya Tantra says, "Sri Krsna sells Himself to a devotee who offers Him merely a Tulasi leaf and a palmful of water."
Many Indians are unaware of the exalted position of Tulasi and the benefits of worshiping her. She is meant only for the pleasure of Lord Visnu, so using her for one's own sense gratification is offensive to her and the Lord. Unfortunately, today people use Tulasi for tea, perfume, medicine, flavoring, hedges, and topiary.
But for one who worships Tulasi with faith, the benefits are unending. The Skanda Purana describes a few:
Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto the Tulasi tree, which can immediately vanquish volumes of sinful activities. Simply by seeing or touching this tree, one can become relieved from all distresses and diseases. Simply by offering obeisances to and pouring water on the Tulasi tree, one can become freed from the fear of being sent to the court of Yamaraja [the king of death, who punishes the sinful]. If someone sows a Tulasi tree somewhere, certainly he becomes devoted to Lord Krsna. And when the Tulasi leaves are offered in devotion at the lotus feet of Krsna, there is the full development of love of Godhead.
The four sages known as the Kumaras became pure devotees by smelling the aroma of the Tulasi leaves offered at the lotus feet of the Lord. The great devotee Haridasa Thakura, an associate of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, changed the life of a prostitute by having her chant the holy name and offer obeisances to the Tulasi plant. And Lord Krsna descended to earth five hundred years ago as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu because His devotee Advaita Acarya invited Him by offering Him Tulasi leaves mixed with Ganges water.
The worship of Srimati Tulasi Devi is an opportunity we must not miss and a heritage we must not lose.
Ravi Gupta, age fifteen, lives at the Hare Krsna center in Boise, Idaho, USA. The center is run by his parents. Ravi, who was schooled at home, is a third-year student at Boise State University.