Jai Shree Krishna!
Today is Krishna Janmashtami – The birthday of the beloved Lord Krishna.
Krishna was the son of Prince Vasudeva and Princess Devki of Mathura. Devki’s brother Kansa, the crown Prince of Mathura, loved her a lot but he was an arrogant tyrant to his subjects. At the time of the ceremonial adieu to the Bride and Bridegroom, an Akaashvaani (Heavenly announcement) told him that the eighth son of this very Devki will be his nemesis. Kansa immediately arrested the newlyweds and threw them in prison. He even arrested his father, the king of Mathura, for trying to stop him form this atrocity. In time, Devki had sons and he went on killing all of them one by one. Their seventh son, Balrama, survived by being transferred to Vasudeva’s first wife, Rohini. When it was time for the eighth child to be born, Vasudeva had a dream that told him that his eighth son was no mean human. This child was the supreme Godhead himself, who was descending not just to eliminate Kansa, but to purge the earth of atrocious tyrants and to show humanity the right way to live and the right way to come closer to the divine.
At the stroke of Midnight the baby was born and immediately took the form of the supreme Godhead in all His majesty to make his parents aware of who He really was.
Please click on the pictures to enlarge them.
He directed Vasudeva to take him out in a basket to the other bank of the river Yamuna, and replace him with the newborn girl of his friend Nandkumar. By divine intervention, Vasudeva was able to reach the bank of the Yamuna unharmed and returned with the infant girl. When Kansa found out that Devki had had a girl, his wife and his relatives tried to stop him saying “The Akaashvani was about a boy. She has delivered a girl, do not kill this baby”. Kansa however, did not want to take any risks, and he took the girl by her foot and decided to throw her on the opposite wall to kill her just as he had killed her six brothers. The baby however, jumped and turned into the Goddess of Destruction and announced to Kansa that his nemesis was alive and happy elsewhere.
This, is the story of the birth of the beloved Krishna. The day is celebrated with much fanfare across the world where Krishna’s devotees reside, especially in the areas of Mathura and Vrindavan in UP, India; which have been associated with his childhood in folklore. While millions will celebrate this festival, I will celebrate it on the blog in my own way.
As most of you would know, Krishna’s worship or Pooja is not considered complete without the leaves of the Tulsi (Holy Basil) plant. Today I will discuss about Tulsi – its relationship with Krishna, the folklore; and the religious and Ayurvedic importance of Tulsi for an Indian household.
Tulsi in Sanskrit means “The incomparable one” and its botanical name is Ocimum Sanctum. It holds immense religious importance for the Hindus. Hinduism as we know it today, is not just a religion; it is a way of life. Religious practices, Yoga and Ayurveda are inseparably intertwined. Most of the religious practices were built around the premises of Yoga or Ayurveda to ensure that even if people followed these practices in daily life in the name of religion without really understanding them; they would still reap the benefits. For example, the Sashtanga Namaskara is basically a Yog Asana and the practice of using Tulsi in worship is linked to its Ayurvedic importance. When the holy water, to be distributed to devotees at the completion of Pooja is prepared, Tulsi is an integral part of it. This way, you drink Tulsi infused water every day.
This must have been the reason for making Tulsi an indispensable part of the worship of Krishna. The folklore suggests that Krishna is bound by His word that Tulsi will always be His companion. The story goes such:
Once upon a time, there was an Asura (not meaning Devil literally, but rather a person with traits unbecoming of a human) named Jalandhar who was a tyrant and who attacked and killed innocent people for fun. He could not be killed however, by anyone, because his wife, Princess Vrinda, was a very pious and spiritual woman. She was a great devotee of Krishna and prayed for her husband’s well-being and his long life everyday. The strength of her Tapa was such that it formed a shield around Jalandhar and he couldn’t be hurt. The humans and the Devas went to plead to Krishna to help them out of this situation. Krishna knew that the only way to do this was to break Vrinda’s virtue and hence He impersonated Jalandhar and as his doppelganger, went to Vrinda. After spending the night with Vrinda, even though she thought she was with her husband, her virtue was broken and it was possible to penetrate Jalandhar’s shield and kill him. When Vrinda found out, she was livid and cursed Krishna to become a stone – since His heart was of stone and He could do such injustice to His greatest devotee. Krishna accepted her curse and blessed her that she will be born as Tulsi, and His worship will never be complete without her. As penance for His act, He promised to marry her as Tulsi and said that He will keep trying to make it up to her forever. Even though this act was wrong, Krishna chose this route for the welfare of the world. He knew that His devotee will be hurt and will probably curse Him, but He chose to accept the curse since He loves His devotees truly.
Thus was born Shaligram, the stone form of the Lord, and His marriage with Tulsi is celebrated in an elaborate ceremony every year in the month of Kartik on the 11th day of the Shukla Paksha (The fortnight of the waxing moon) and goes on for five days culminating on the Poornima (Full moon). This is known as the Tulsi-Shaligram Vivah (Tulsi-Shaligram wedding) and marks the beginning of the auspicious marriage season for the Hindus.
Another story is such that one of Krishna’s wives, Satyabhama, was proud of the wealth of her father and of being the wife of the King of Dwarka. She wanted to show off and declared that on Krishna’s birthday, she will give away gold worth His weight. Krishna sat on one side of the beam balance and gold was kept on the other. They kept on piling gold but Krishna was still heavier even after all gold of the treasury, and even Satyabhama’s own jewellery was over. Then Krishna’s first wife, Rukmini, suggested to Satyabhama to take a Tulsi leaf, and pray to Krishna for forgiveness for her arrogance and deposit on the balance with the last gold ring left on her finger. Immediately, as this was done, the balance tilted. Krishna can never ignore a sincere prayer and the offering of his favourite Tulsi.
As I said earlier, Tulsi is not just religious but also a very highly medicinal herb. It is indeed known as the “Queen of herbs”. The most common forms of Tulsi in India are the Rama Tulsi and the Shyam Tulsi or the Krishna Tulsi. The Tulsi with the Purple-Black leaves is known as Shyam Tulsi or Krishna Tulsi; since the words Shyam and Krishna both have the literal meaning “Black”. Rama Tulsi is the more common variety of Tulsi with green leaves.
Tulsi is known as “The Elixir of Life” in ancient Ayurvedic texts and is found in the Charak Samhita, one of the oldest texts on Ayurveda. Its benefits are multi-fold – for skin and hair, for general health and immunity, for specific ailments and complaints. Ingested or topically applied; the leaves, flower seeds and even roots of the Tulsi plant are useful.Tulsi is known to help in cough, cold and respiratory infections; a decoction of the leaves mixed with milk and cardamom is used to bring down high fevers; it is a stress reliever by lowering down cortisol; it purifies air by giving out oxygen even at night. It is a diuretic and helps in kidney stones – it also prevents the formation of kidney stones by reducing the amount of Uric Acid in the body. It is helpful in prevention and control of some serious lifestyle diseases viz. Diabetes, Cancer and heart related ailments. It has anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory properties which give it its multiple uses for the skin. It lightens scars, brightens skin, helps in skin irritations – rashes, insect bites, eczema; you name it. It has a high amount of the anti-oxidants Vitamin C and Eugenol; which make it an ideal anti-ageing herb. You can even apply Tulsi oil or paste on your hair, it gives relief from dry scalp, dandruff and fungal problems and even arrests hair fall.
For all this and more, my household has and will always have, a Tulsi plant. Even when I was a student in temporary accommodation, I always maintained a Tulsi. I have Rama Tulsi, and am looking for a Krishna Tulsi plant. Krishna Tulsi was more common where I grew up, and I miss the purple black leaves.
Pardon the quality of the picture, it was taken in bad light in my phone.
Tulsi, the Queen of Herbs, will always be good for you – whether you apply it or ingest it. You can powder its leaves, seeds or roots and mix it in tea and drink; you can apply the powder or paste or juice on your face; you can apply Tulsi oil for your hair or face or even as an essential oil for stress relief. The benefits it gives are endless. Not for nothing then, is it called Ma Tulsi (Mother Tulsi) 🙂 Looks like our ancestors were wiser than we give them credit for 🙂
In case you want to read in greater detail about the health benefits of Tulsi, I suggest the following links:
This has been an extra long post, I know. But the subjects of this post, Krishna and Ayurveda, are both very close to my heart. Let me know in the comments what you did for Janmashtami, and how you use Tulsi for its medicinal properties.
Until then, Hare Krishna! May Krishna show you light.