Tulasi worship is integral to Hinduism. Devi Bhagavatam, Skanda Purāna and Padma Purāna shed light on the origin, status and glory of Tulasi. While Lord Nārāyana Himself narrates the worship of Tulasi to Narada in Devi Bhagawatam, the Kanva Shākha branch of Shukla Yajurveda cites the method of worship. Tulasi vivāha is celebrated on the 12th day of the bright half of the lunar month of Kārtika.
The eighth chapter of the Kārtikamāsa Mahātmya section of Vaishnava Khanda in Skanda Purāna summarises the origin of the basil plant. At the time of churning of Ocean, Mahavishnu appears in the form of Dhanvantari with a pot of nectar that offers immortality and immunity from old age. Glancing at the pot, tears of joy roll down the cheeks of Vishnu and fall into the pot of nectar, thus forming circular figures that become Tulasi.
Skanda Purāna narrates the battle between devas and Jālandhara. Once upon a time, after seeing Rahu with his head cut-off, the king of daityas living in the netherworld ask Shukra about the cause of the chopped off head. Shukra retells the story of the churning of oceans, the defeat of dānavas and how the treasures are taken away by the devas. Jālandhara, the head of daityas and son of Ocean, turns violent when he hears about the fate of his father. Following this, Jālandhara sends a messenger to devas, seeking an explanation for the churning of Ocean. The talks fail to bring a satisfactory outcome and it culminates in a war between Jālandhara and the devas.
Jālandhara was married to Vrinda. Due to Vrinda’s chastity and devotion, Jālandhara becomes invincible. During the war between devas and Jālandhara, Vishnu appears in the guise of Jālandhara before Vrinda. She is overwhelmed with her husband’s return from the battlefield victorious.
In some time, she realises it is Nārāyana who has taken the form of Jālandhara. She rebukes Mahavishnu for committing adultery. After cursing Vishnu, Vrinda enters into the fire. The Lord tries to prevent Vrinda as He is attached to her. Lord Hari gets covered with the ashes to which Vrinda was reduced. In spite of the counsel from suras and siddhas, Hari does not get peace of mind thereafter. The devas lament Lord Nārāyana’s ‘delusion’ caused by the beauty of Vrinda.
Parameswara then directs them to invoke Maya, the Mohini. Following Shiva‘s command, the devas sing paeans to Mulaprakriti who is fond of devotees. As the devas eulogise, they see a mass of splendour spreading in the heaven and yielding red flames all over. A voice emanates from the centre and says, “I alone stand in the three different forms characterised by the three gunas. I am Gauri, Lakshmi and Svara characterised by the gunas of rājasa, satva and tamasa respectively. Therefore, go to them. They will do your work.”
The devas stand with beaming eyes. The refulgence vanishes thereafter. On being urged by Shakti, devas approach Gauri, Lakshmi and Svara and bow to the goddesses with great devotion. On seeing the devotion of the suras, the deities give them the seeds and instruct them to sow those where Vishnu is present.
Suras and siddhas take the seeds and scatter them on the earth where Vishnu stayed following Vrindā without happiness. From the seeds sown, Tulasi, Dhatri and jasmine grow up.
According to Padma Purāna, after Rudra defeats Jālandhara in the war, the body of the latter falls from the chariot with a thud. The refulgence from his body fuses into Rudra. The refulgence from Vrindā’s body merges in Gauri.
Tulasi is born of Gauri. After seeing Tulasi, Vishnu forgets all his miseries. He then takes her to Vaikuntha. Hence, while concluding the Kārtika vrata, Vishnu is worshiped at the root of the Tulasi plant since it is very dear to Nārāyana.
After recognising that due to Lord Hari, she had lost her chastity, the angry Vrindika curses Vishnu. As Jālandhara’s existence was doubtful, Vrindā leaves the kingdom and proceeds to a forest. The devasted wife of Jālandhara goes into a lake and washes her body. Sitting on Padmasana, Vrindā tries to detach herself from the object of senses and lets her body, ‘polluted’ due to the contact with a purusha other than her husband, wither.
As she continues the severe penance, a host of celestial nymphs approaches Vrindā and pleads her to go to heaven. They pacify Vrindā, telling her that her husband was killed by an excellent arrow of Shiva and suggest she becomes the ornament of heaven obtained through religious merit. Hearing them out, Vrindā concedes that the Lord Vishnu, the great hero, had left his young wife and come down from heaven, honoured her and made her a receptacle of pleasures. Afterwards, she decides to obtain an immortal state.
Finally, Vrindā through the practice of abstract meditation and having withdrawn her mind from the objects of senses, obtains the highest position. Having made a heap of dry pieces of wood, Vrindā’s friend, Smaraduti, puts on it the (dead) body of Vrindā and kindles the fire. The round image of the particles of the body gets burnt. Smaraduti throws the remaining ashes into River Mandakini. At the place where Vrinda cast her body is Vrindavana near the Govardhana mountain.
Devi Bhagavatam gives an account of Tulasi’s birth, her glory and the method of worship. Tulasi is born to the king Dharmadhwaja and Madhavi on the full moon night of the month of Kārtika, the incarnation part of Lakshmi. Her beauty is unparalleled. In spite of an adverse counsel from everyone, Tulasi goes into the forest of Badri for tapasya for her desire to get Nārāyana as her husband. Devi Bhagavatam describes her tapas: “In summer, she practises panchatapa (surrounded by fire on four sides and on the top); in the winter she remains in the water and in the rainy season she remains in the open air and endures the showers of the rain for 20,000 years. She feeds on nothing but fruits and water. For 30,000 years she subsists only on the leaves of trees. When the 40,000th year arrives, she subsists only on air and her body becomes thinner and thinner day by day. Then for 10,000 years more, she stops eating anything whatsoever and without any aim, stands on only one leg.”
Impressed with Tulasi’s tapas, Brahma appears to grant her boons and asks whether she wants devotion to Hari, servant-ship to Hari or freedom from old-age and death for her boon.
Tulasi then reveals her previous birth. She was a cowherd who dwelt in the Goloka and a dear servant of Radhika. She was born of Radhika in part. Once during rasa mandala, seeing Tulasi in an unconscious state, Radha rebukes Govinda and curses Tulasi to be born as a human being. Govinda advises Tulasi to go to Bharata and do tapasya so that Brahma is pleased to grant her a boon.
Brahma recounts the story of Sudama who was born of Sri Krishna’s body. He too, under the curse of Radha, had taken birth among danavas. His name is Shankhachuda. In Goloka, he was attracted towards Tulasi but could not embrace her out of Radha’s influence. Both Sudama and Tulasi know about their previous births and earn the epithet Jatismara and Jati Smara respectively. Brahma blesses Tulasi that she will become Shankachuda’s wife and get Nārāyana later. Brahma explains,
“You will be transformed into the world-purifying Tulasi tree. You will be the foremost amongst the flowers and will be dearer to Nārāyana than His life. No one’s worship will be complete without Thee as leaf. You will remain as a tree in Vrindāvana and you will be widely known as Vrindāvani. The Gopas and Gopis will worship Madhava with your leaves. Being the presiding deity of the Tulasi tree, you will always enjoy the company of Krishna, the best of the Gopas.”
Brahma then gives a 16-letter Radha mantra, stotra, kavacha and the mode of worship to Tulasi. By the boon of Brahma, Tulasi attains siddhi and, out of the siddha mantra, she gets her boon and accomplishes various pleasures. Eventually, the toils of tapasyā disappear, Shankhachuda and Tulasi get married according to the gandharva tradition.
As Tulasi is an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu, the gods approach Hari for a solution. During the battle between Shiva and Shankhachuda, Lord Hari disguised himself as Shankhachuda and embraces Tulasi. Thus, she loses her chastity. Upon discovering His true identity, she curses Vishnu.
After knowing Vishnu’s treacherous plan, Tulasi curses Vishnu to turn into a stone. Seeing a grief-stricken Tulasi, Vishnu pacifies her and reminds her about her previous birth, tapasyā and the boon. Hari consoles:
“O Rame! Be like Lakshmi. This body of yours will be known by the name of Gandakî, a very virtuous, pure and pellucid stream in this holy land of Bharata. Your hair will be turned into sacred trees and as they will be born of you, you will be known by the name of Tulasi. All the three worlds will perform their pujas with the leaves and flowers of this Tulasi. Therefore, O Fair-faced One! In Heavens, earth, and the nether regions, and before Me, O Fair One, you will be reckoned as the chief amongst leaves and flowers.” Thus, Tulasi reigns as the chief amongst all flowers and leaves.
Vishnu pleads with Tulasi to quit her terrestrial body and assume a divine body to marry Him. The Lord says further he will turn into stone by Tulasi’s curse and will remain close to the banks of the river Gandaki.
Devi Bhāgavatam says, “Thus Lakshmi, Sarasvati, Gangā, and Tulasi, all the four came so very dear to Hari and are recognised as Îshvaris. On the other hand, the mortal coil of Tulasi no sooner left by herself gets transformed into River Gandaki. Bhagavan Hari, too, gets converted into a holy mountain, on the banks thereof, yielding religious merits to the people.”
In the Uttara Khanda section of Padma Purāna, Lord Shiva explains the innumerable significances of the Tulasi plant. The religious merit of Tulasi is boundless. Everything of Tulasi, including its leaves, flowers, fruits, roots, branches, skin, stem, is purifying so also the clay where Tulasi plant grows.
Parvati had planted a hundred of Tulasi trees in the Himalayas for Shankara. Lord Sankara bows to Tulasi. In whichever village, house, or grove there would be the Tulasi plant, Vishnu, the Lord of the world, would gladly make it His abode. Men who plant Tulasi will eternally get Vishnu’s position. When Tulasi is devoutly worshipped, Lord Hari pacifies the portents, fearful diseases and many ill-omens. At its root is Brahma, in the middle is Vishnu and Rudra stays in the sprout.
Three-day vow of Tulasi
Chapter 25 of the Uttara Khanda of Padma Purāna prescribes a three-day vow starting from the ninth of the bright fortnight of Kārtika be observed for Tulasi.
Padma Purāna gives a detailed account of the rituals to be followed for the vrata. Earlier in the Raibhyantara Kalpa, there was a king named Prajapati. His well-known chaste wife Chandrarupa practised this vow, giving away the fruits of all desires. Her vow, yielding the fruits of righteousness, worldly prosperity and sensual enjoyment lasts three nights.
It is believed that the life of those who listen or observe the vow is freed from all sins and they turn fruitful.
Anybody who is initiated and installed with the Tulasi leaves-touched water is bestowed with the fruits of being initiated in all the sacrifices. Whatever pleasure Hari gets when thousands and thousands of jars filled with water are offered to Him, The same pleasure He gets when one Tulasi leaf is offered to Him. The fruits acquired by giving ayuta cows as presents, those are obtained by offering Tulasi leaves. If one drinks or gets the Tulasi leaf water at the momentous time of death, the person is freed of all sins and is worshipped in the Vishnu Loka. The Tulasi leaf kept in the night is considered sacred. It is considered good in the shraddha vow ceremony, in the making over of any gift, in the installation of any image or in worshipping any deva. The house in which there is a grove of Tulasi becomes a sacred place and the servants of Yama do not visit there.
In the month of Kārtika whoever worships Tulasi and Hari attains the highest position.
Nārāyana is the protector of the universe and Tulasi is His favourite beloved. Like Vishnu, Tulasi is worshipped by all devas. Lord Hari duly worshipped and elevated her to the status of Lakshmi and made her glorious and giver of fortune.
There is another story where once Tulasi becomes angry and turns invisible to even Hari. He goes to the Tulasi forest, takes a bath and performs the rites and worships the chaste Tulasi and then begins to meditate on her with devotion. Whoever worships Tulasi duly with the 10 lettered mantras — “Shrim Hrim Klim Aim Vrindaavanyai Svaaha” the King of mantras, yielding fruits and all gratifications like the Kalpa tree — attains all siddhis.
At the time of worship, a lamp of ghee is lighted and dhup, sindura, sandal, offerings of food, flowers, etc., are offered to her. Thus, recited by Hari, Tulasi comes out of the tree, pleased. And she gladly takes refuge at His lotus feet. Vishnu then grants her a boon that, “You will be worshipped by all; I will keep you in My breast and in My head and the devas also will hold you on their heads.” And He then takes her to His own abode.
Nārāyana assures that whosoever worships her with her eight names Vrinda, Vrindavani, Visvpujita, Visvapavani, Tulsî, Pushpasara, Nandani and Krisna Jivani and their meanings and sings this hymn of eight verses duly, acquires the merit of performing Ashwamedha Yajna (horse sacrifice).
Especially, on the full moon night of the month of Kārtika, the auspicious birth ceremony of Tulasi is performed. Vishnu had worshipped her at that time. A devotee worshipping with full faith on that full moon combination is freed of all sins and he attains the abode of Vishnu. One can meditate on the Tulasi plant, without any invocation (avahana) and then worship her with devotion, presenting all sorts of offerings as required to her. In the Vedas, it is stated that the plant is called Tulasi because there can be made no comparison with her amongst all the flowers. She is the holiest of them all. The passage in Devi Bhagavatam concludes that she is placed on the heads of all, desired by all and she gives holiness to the universe.