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Tulsi Puja

 

|| Tulsi Puja ||

 

The Tulsi plant is found in every Hindu home. It is a species resembling the basil that grows in Europe.

The following episode was written by Huyler as he witnessed Tulsi worship in an Orissan home. It conveys the intimate relationship the Hindu has with Tulsi, and it teaches, through exquisite example, how we may worship Her.

"'O Tulsi, you who are beloved of Vishnu, You who fulfill the wishes of the devout, I will bathe You. You are the Mother of the World. Give me the blessings of Vishnu.' The high, cracked voice of Manjula pierces the damp predawn hush. Joining her voice, other women also sing the praises of the Goddess. They all kneel before a meter-high terracotta planter shaped like a miniature temple adorned with sculptures, and containing a green-leafed Tulsi [photo, page 32]. Rising to her feet, Manjula pours holy water from a small, brightly polished brass pot into the cupped palm of her right hand and sprinkles it upon the leaves of the bush. Her expression is one of adoration but also one that portrays many years of close association, of friendship. For Manjula, the Goddess is incarnate in this herb, representing the duty and dedication, the love, virtue and sorrow of all women. She is a link to Manjula's own soul.

 

"Manjula's actions are repeated by the other women. Beneath their feet are designs of flowers and conch shells painted directly onto the ground with white rice powder and sindur (vermilion). Placing the brass pot on the ground amid the paintings, Manjula lights camphor incense in a clay pot and waves the clouds of sweet smoke over and around the bush and its container. Holding a clay lamp filled with lighted ghee in her right hand, she rotates it in a large circle three times in front of the tulsi plant. Bowls of fruit (bananas, apples, guavas and the meat of dried coconuts) and hibiscus and marigold flowers are placed on the ground before the terracotta.

"Incense sticks are lit as Manjula once again presses her hands together in reverence, singing: 'O Tulsi! Within your roots are all the sacred places of the world. And inside your stem live all the Gods and Goddesses. Your leaves radiate every form of sacred fire. Let me take some of your leaves that I may be blessed.' With her right hand clasped around the stem of the small bush, she shakes it gently, causing three leaves to flutter to its base. Thanking the Goddess, she places a single leaf between her palms and prostrates herself before the planter. After lying in this posture of absolute supplication for several minutes, Manjula again kneels before the Tulsi shrine and lovingly asks the Goddess if she may be allowed to dress Her. Taking a length of red cotton cloth from a basket, she wraps it around the bush. Then she places bright red hibiscus flowers in the upper leaves and hangs garlands of marigolds around the stem and the planter. Culminating the ceremony, Manjula puts the tulsi leaf in her mouth, taking into her body the spirit of the Goddess. Followed by the other women, she walks seven times around the elaborately sculpted planter, chanting: 'O Goddess Tulsi, You who are the most precious of the Lord Almighty [Vishnu], who live according to His Divine Laws, I beseech you to protect the lives of my family and the spirits of those who have died. Hear me, O Goddess!'

 

"As the first rays of the rising sun hit the tulsi's top leaves, the ritual has ended. Every morning and every evening of the year, Manjula prays to Tulsi at the shrine on the doorstep of her house, but that worship is usually simple and straightforward, entailing sprinkling the bush with holy water, adorning it with a few hibiscus blossoms, and shaking down a few leaves to eat as part of her prayers. This morning's elaborate ritual celebrates the first day of Kartika, a month particularly sacred to Vishnu and his Goddess-consort Tulsi. By caring for and honoring this sacred bush, Manjula creates a bond with the Goddess. Representing honor, virtue and steadfast loyalty, this humble bush of herbal leaves is the archetype of Hindu femininity, revered by men and emulated with empathy by women. She is Tulsi, Mother of the World."

 
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