Wherever Lord Krishna is worshiped, the tulasi plant is present. She is an essential part of the practice of bhakti-yoga. Devotees wear necklaces made from her wood, they chant japa meditation on beads made from her wood, and they offer her leaves to Lord Krishna as part of their daily worship.
This article explains the significance of the tulasi plant and how you can grow tulasi in your own home.
What is Tulasi?
Tulasi is known by the botanical name of Ocimum tenuiflorum, which is a plant in the same family as basil, the common household herb. In English, tulasi is commonly referred to as “holy basil.” The plant originates in India and is also widespread in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world whose climate is suitable. Many devotees of Krishna grow tulasi indoors using grow lights and other objects to create a comfortable environment.
Tulasi the plant is actually an avatar of a spiritual personality named Tulasi-devi who is one of Krishna’s dear devotees in the spiritual world. She is the goddess of Vrindavan and is also known as Vrinda-devi.
Tulasi in the Vedic Scriptures
The Vedas are filled with verses that glorify tulasi and strongly encourage worshiping the tulasi plant as part of one’s practice of bhakti-yoga. Here are some examples:
sarvvoṣadhi rasanaiva purā hi amṛtamanthane
sarvvasattvopa kārāya viṣṇunā tulasī kṛtā
Long ago, at the time of the churning of the ocean of milk, for the benefit of all living entities, Lord Viṣṇu created tulasī, which contains the essence of all medicinal herbs. (Hari-bhakti-vilasa)
gandhe ’rcite tulasikābharaṇena tasyā
yasmiṁs tapaḥ sumanaso bahu mānayanti
“Although flowering plants like the mandāra, kunda, kurabaka, utpala, campaka, arṇa, punnāga, nāgakeśara, bakula, lily and pārijāta are full of transcendental fragrance, they are still conscious of the austerities performed by tulasī, for tulasī is given special preference by the Lord, who garlands Himself with tulasī leaves.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 3.15.19)
nīlotpala sahasreṇa trisandhyaṁ yor’ccayeddharim
phalaṁ varṣaśate nāpi tadīyaṁ naiva labhyate
vidvan sarvveṣu puṣpeṣu paṅkajaṁ śreṣṭham ucyate
tatpuṣpeṣvapi tanmālyaṁ koṭi koṭi guṇaṁ bhavet
viṣnoh śirasi vinyastam ekaṁ śri tulasīdalam
ananta phaladaṁ vidvan mantroccāraṇa pūrvvakam
One who worships Lord Hari three times every day with offerings of thousands of blue lotus flowers for one hundred years cannot obtain as much merit as can be achieved by worshipping the Lord with tulasī leaves. O learned one, among all flowers, the lotus flower is the best. A garland of tulasī leaves is millions of times better than a garland of lotus flowers. By offering a single tulasī leaf on the head of Lord Viṣṇu while chanting an appropriate mantra, one achieves unlimited piety. (Agastya Purana)
varṇāśrama itarāṇāñca pūjāyāścaiva sādhanam
apekṣita arthadaṁ nānyat jagatyasti tapodhana
O great ascetic, for the members of all varṇas and āśramas, there is no other offering in the worship of the Lord that yields as much merit as the offering of tulasī leaves.
pūrvvam ugra tapaḥ kṛtvāvvaraṁ vare manasvinī
tulasī sarvvapuṣpebhyaḥ patrebhyo ballabhā tataḥ
The wise Tulasī-devī had previously performed severe austerities and then had asked for a benediction. Because of this, she has become the most dear to Lord Kṛṣṇa among all kinds of flowers and leaves. (Agastya Samhita)
yogināṁ viratau vāñchā kāmināñca yathā ratau
puṣpeṣvapi ca sarvveṣu tulasyāñca tathā hareḥ
nirasya mālatī puṣpaṁ muktāpuṣpaṁ saroruham
gṛhnnāti tulasīṁ śuṣkām api paryyuṣitāṁ hariḥ
Just as yogīs are very attached to renunciation and lusty people are very attached to sex—Lord Hari is more attached to tulasī leaves than all the other plants. Lord Hari renounces mālati, muktā, and lotus flowers and longs for tulasī leaves, even if they are wilted and dry. (Skanda Purana)
How to Worship Tulasi in Your Home
Because tulasi is indispensable in the worship of Krishna or any of His expansions, such as Vishnu, Rama, Nrsimha, etc. many devotees choose to grow tulasi in their home. She can be grown just like any other plant, but she should receive special care because she is a special devotee of Lord Krishna.
It is a good practice to sing kirtan of the Hare Krishna mantra for her everyday. You can also offer a simple daily tulasi puja, which is an offering of incense, a tiny ghee lamp, and a flower.
The best way to serve tulasi is to regularly take her leaves and offer them to Krishna. The Vedas explain that all food items offered to the Lord should have a tulasi leaf.
A Complete Guide to Growing Tulasi
Below are eight simple steps for growing tulasi in your home. For a detailed overview of these steps as well as instructional videos, check out tulasisevamrta.com. If you want to buy tulasi seeds you can do so here.
Step One: Get a small dish
This is for sprouting the seeds.
Step Two: Put high-quality potting soil in the dish.
The quality of soil will impact how well Tulasi-devi will grow. Try to find a potting soil that is free of pesticides, chemicals, and animal-derived fertilizers.
Step Three: Place two to three tulasi seeds in the soil.
Take one seed at a time on the tip of your finger and gently press it into the soil. You don’t need to put her beneath the soil at all.
Step Four: Each day gently spray the seeds with water.
You want to keep the soil lightly moist at all times, but not sopping wet. A spray bottle works well for this. Purified water is best.
Step Five: Cover the dish.
The dish should be covered at all times to help keep a humid, warm atmosphere for the seeds to sprout. However, you have to use a transparent cover, such as a ziplock bag or plastic wrap.
Step Six: Wait for the seeds to sprout
You’ll want to keep the tulasi dish near a window where it will get some light, but will not become too cold or too hot. Typical indoor temperature is fine. If the conditions are right, you should see a sprout within several days.
Once you notice a seed has sprouted, you can remove the clear covering from the dish.
Step Seven: Place the seedlings outside in the sun or inside beneath a grow light.
Tulasi-devi needs a lot of direct light in order to grow properly. Outside is best if your climate allows. However, she can also be grown indoors using an LED light.
Check out this guide to tulasi lighting.
Step Eight: Transfer your Tulasi-devi to a pot.
After your Tulasi-devi has sprouted two sets of leaves it’s time to transplant her to a pot. Be careful not to damage her roots in this process! You will need to take the soil beneath her in order to avoid harming her roots. Fill the pot with potting soil and leave a small place in the center for Tulasi, and then put her in the pot and fill in the space around her with extra soil.
Once she has been transplanted, she should receive a minimum of twelve hours of sunlight each day and she can be watered every several days until water drips from the bottom of the pot.
#4: Aloof from the Drama of the World
A self-realized person does not give much importance to the temporary social, political, and historical events of the world. Everything happening in human society today is but a blip in time. None of it is particularly new or important, especially when compared with the pressing task of disseminating spiritual knowledge.
Because a self-realized person recognizes this material life is temporary, like a dream, he is aloof from the concerns of ordinary men and women. This is not to say that a guru is utterly disinterested in the affairs of this world; rather, his concern lies with the spiritual welfare of his fellow beings, and not in their relative material prosperity or indigence.
#5: Always Acts for the Sake of Krishna
A self-realized person employs their senses, including the mind, only in the service of Krishna, and never for any selfish purpose. According to the renowned saint of ancient India, Sage Narada, this is the definition of mature bhakti yoga:
sarvopādhi-vinirmuktaṁ tat-paratvena nirmalam
hṛṣīkeṇa hṛṣīkeśa-sevanaṁ bhaktir ucyate
“Bhakti, or devotional service, means utilizing one’s senses fully in the service of the Lord, the Master of all the senses. When the soul thus engages in divine service, there are two side effects: one’s false ego is dissolved and his senses are freed from their affinity for matter.”
In addition to these five items, a truly self-realized person generally has a guru. This means that they belong to a disciplic-succession. This is known as the system of parampara. If a doctor does not receive training from a certified medical school, how can he practice medicine? Likewise, there are no “self-taught” gurus. A true saint cannot be rubber-stamped or elected through the democratic process. He must be thoroughly trained by one who has already mastered the spiritual science.