The Flight of Gods 4. Tulasi Vrindavan


The Flight of Gods
by Mohan Pai


One of the most enduring icon of the Hiduism is Tulasi or the Holy Basil plant (Ocium Sanctum).Tulasi has a special place in the Indian psyche -it has held the supreme place among the various herbs and has been worshipped as a divinity in the Indian household since the early Vedic times for thousands of years. Usually there is ashrine for Tulasi plant in the courtyard having images of deities on all four sides and an alcove for a small earthen lamp.
In Goa, this icon is very visible wherever you goin a multitude of varieties, often brightly painted versions, some quite elaborately constructed. Others are quite small and plain, decorated only with a painted ‘OM’. There is every graduation in between and, in less prosperous circumstances, a rough, baked clay version serves the purpose.

Vrindavan in a courtyard, Keri in Sattari – Pic by Mohan Pai
But even this simple household shrine which was a symbol of Hindu culture, was not tolerated and during the first fire of conquest, the Portugese evangelists ordered destruction of these shrines in every household in the conquered territories.

But even this simple household shrine which was a symbol of Hindu culture, was not tolerated and during the first fire of conquest, the Portugese evangelists ordered destruction of these shrines in every household in the conquered territories.

Poor man’s simple, mud Vrindavan
In most temples of Goa, Tulasi Vrindavans are an essential part of the layout. Usually it is located to one side of the front entrance to the mandapa. The Vrindavans vary from the majestic example of seven metres high Baroque inspired structure at the Mahalasa Temple at Mardol to the elaborately tile-decorated pedestal at the Mangueshi Temple.
The plant is termed “Vishnupriya”, the beloved of Vishnu. There are many Puranic legends according to which Tulasi is ceremonially married to Lord Vishnu annually on the 11th day of the month of Kartika in the Lunar Calendar and the ritual is called “Tulsi Lagna”which is celebrated in Goaespecially by the Gaud Saraswat Brahmin familieswith elaborate ceremony in which the image of Vishnu is richly decorated and then carried to the Tulasi Vrindavan and there the marriage is rituallysolemnised. On this occasion while Tualsi Plant is the bride, Jino Bodi (leca sambuce folia) represents the groom, Vishnu. Sugarcane represents the best man (dedo) and tamarindthe brides maid (dedi). Tulasi Lagna is part of the overall Deepavali festival and the Vivah day itself is called Greater Deepavali (Vodli Diwali) in Goa. This event inaugurates the marriage season in India.

7 meter high Tulasi Vrindavan at Mahalasa temple before it was demolished


According to the story about Tulasi related in Padma Purana, she was Vrinda in her former birth, the faithful wife of demon Jalandhar who born in water, claimed sovereignty over the ocean. He demanded 14 treasures churned out of the ocean in Vishnus’s second incarnation of the boar. Jalandhar declares war and becomes a threat to the Gods. More so because of a boon that assures that he would be free from death till his wife Vrinda remains chaste. As a last resort, Vishnu beguiles Vrinda by assuming her husband’s form. When she realises the deception, infuriated Vrinda curses Lord Vishnu who is turned into a black stone (Shaligram). Lord Vishnu also retaliates but in admiration of her impeccable chastity and piety he turns her into the sacred Tulasi plant and promises to marry her annually on this day of Kartika month.

Pic: courtesy ‘Parmal’
Another story states that Tulasi was the paramour of Lord Vishnu. Out of jealousy Goddess Lakshmi cursed her and turned her into a plant. The Lord transferred himself into the sacred Shalagram stone to keep her company. The origin of the ammonite black stone found on the river bed of Gandaki may be attributed to this legend.
The cultural mythology of Tulasi plant and its medicinal uses are intricately linked. Holy basilhas been traditionally used in Ayurveda to treat many ailments. This plant of Indian origin gradually spread all over the world as an unique herb.
Traditional Hindu women worship the holy plant every morning and evening with ‘pradakshana’ (Circumambulation) to promote well-being of the household.

Pic: courtesy ‘Parmal’

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