Tulsi (Ocymum sanctum) is a species of plant resembling European basil that is sacred to the Vaishnavites (worshippers of VISHNU) and is culti-vated by them for use in PUJAS (worship services) and offerings. It is often put on a four-sided ped-estal placed in a special location in one’s house or near a place of worship. It is sometimes seen to be the wife of Vishnu, LAKSHMI herself.
   One popular legend explains its origin: once Lakshmi and SARASVATI quarreled and cursed each other. Sarasvati’s curse turned Lakshmi into a tulsi plant and forced her to live on Earth for-ever. Vishnu, however, intervened and modified the curse, saying that Lakshmi would remain on Earth as tulsi until the river Gandaki flowed from her body.
   In another story tulsi is understood to be the plant incarnation of Vrindadevi, the primary and archetypal “forest goddess.” She beautifies the flora and fauna of the ultimate spiritual forest, Vrindavana (BRINDAVAN). She appears in this world so that her leaves may be used in the worship of KRISHNA.
   Tulsi is offered daily in Vaishnavite pujas, whether in the temple or at home. When an orthodox Vaishnavite BRAHMIN male dies, a tulsi plant is worshipped and a bit of root is placed in his mouth and leaves are placed on his face and eyes; he is sprinkled with a tulsi sprig that has been dipped in water. This ritual is said to guar-antee heaven. Some say that even looking at this sacred plant confers release from sins.
   Any illness or pollution from contact with pol-luting people or substances is said to be removed by worship of the plant. Tending the tulsi plant is said to assure liberation from birth and rebirth. Sprigs of tulsi are offered to Vishnu especially in the month of Karttika (October–November). Tulsi dipped in saffron will please Vishnu. A twig of tulsi given to someone can lift his or her troubles and anxieties.
   Tulsi leaves are aromatic, and the plant is thought to help with coughs; it is taken as a folk medicine. Orthodox Vaishnavite Brahmins take it after meals to help digestion. It is also taken before and after rituals.
   Further reading: Abbé J. A. Dubois, Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies. Translated by Henry K. Beau-champ, 3d ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959); Yash Rai, Holy Basil, a Herb: A Unique Medicinal Plant. Trans-lated by K. K. Sata (Ahmedabad: Gala, 1992).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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