December 14 2008

Srimati Tulasi devi

A few months back I got a question from Samatma Gour das in the CIS about Srimati Tulasi devi that I couldn’t answer:

“I heard recently that Tulasi should not be worshiped on dwadashi (take off leaves, touch etc).

tulasi leaves

I do not trust any “new” information (that appeared after passing away of Shrila Prabhupada) reg. the process of devotional service. So I decided to ask you. Is there any authoritative information about this and what did Shrila Prabhupada say about this?”

At the time I answered non-committally:

“Sorry prabhu, I don’t know anything about this topic. I never heard this before, that Tulasi cannot be touched or leaves picked on dvadasi. Maybe there is some shastric injunction but if there isn’t I wouldn’t give much credence to it unless someone can show some authoritative source to back it up.”

I recently put out the question on the Prabhupada Disciples conference on  and got this excellent answer from Sriman Gaura Kesava prabhu, an old friend and fellow disciple of Srila Prabhupada from Australia and an expert on various forms of Deity worship and pujas:

“Good question. This is/will be dealt with in the Pancaratra Pradipa.

As you know Srila Prabhupada received and authorized the printing and adoption of Arcana Paddhati on April 11th,1977 in Bombay.

Tamala Krishna: The Deity worship book will be printed by Jayatirtha dasa without BBT funds.” This is that book. I forget the Sanskrit name, Srila Prabhupada.
Devotee: Hari-bhakti-vilasa.
Tamala Krishna: Hari-bhakti-vilasa. So Jayatirtha wants to print it on his own. Means he doesn’t want to take BBT funds. So the trustees felt that that was very good, since funds were scarce; he does a nice printing. He said that he would take responsibility for printing and distributing it. Because it is a very limited edition, it’s not going to be sold to the common people, just to devotees.
Prabhupada: No. Few copies.

As you know this book was compiled from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s book by the same name (which also states the no picking Tulasi on Dvadasi rule) which is compiled from Hari Bhakti Vilasa.

Arcana Paddhati by Gaura Kesava dasa

The Original ISKCON Arcana Paddhati Page 21 states:

Devotees are restricted from picking tulasi on dvadasi, the day following Ekadasi. Even if the tulasi leaves have become dry due to having been cut on the previous day or cut in the morning, they may be used in Deity worship.

The rules for collecting tulasi leaves are found in Hari Bhakti Vilasa. Here are some quotes from Hari Bhakti Vilasa on this subject:

(Hbv 7/354 from VISNU DHARMOTTARA)

Oh brahmanas, a Vaisnava never picks Tulasi leaves on Dvadasi, (the day after Ekadasi).

(Hbv 7/355 from GARUDA PURANA)

A scripturally learned person, if he does not want to decrease his duration of life, he should not pick Durva grass on Sundays or Tulasi leaves on the Dvadasi day.

(Hbv 7/356 from PADMA PURANA conversation between Lord Krsna and Satyabhama)

Any person who picks Tulasi leaves on Dvadasi or Amalaki leaves inKartika month will fall into hell.


Of course there are more complex rules but they have not been mentioned in Arcana Paddhati, but have been mentioned in Hari Bhakti Vilasa:


saMkrAntyAdau niSiddho’pi tulasyavacayaH smRtau
paraM zrI viSNu bhaktastu dvAdazyAm eva neSyate HBV 7.353

The picking of Tulasi on Sankranti, (Purnima, Amavasya, Dvadasi, Sunday) is prohibited in the Smrtis, but the picking of Tulasi by devotees of Visnu is only prohibited on Dvadasi

 Commentary by Sanatana Goswami (Dig Darshini Tika)
Sanatana Goswami indicates that saMkrAntyAdau means Sankranti, Purnima, Amavasya, Dvadasi and Sunday, all days that are forbidden in the Smriti Sastra, however he adds the word “kevalam/only” to his explanation of the last part of the sloka indicating that Vaisnava devotees need only refrain on Dvadasis.

This last section is from an email discussion I had with Nrsimha Kavacha prabhu (ISKCON’s Deity Worship Minister) who asked me to confirm other days but dvadasi as forbidden in HBV. As you can see there are other days forbidden in the Smritis and some Vaisnavas observe those also but it would seem that Sanatana Goswami only insisted that Vaisnavas need to refrain from picking tulasi on Dvadasis. He (Nrsimha Kavacha prabhu had been aware of the Dvadasi rule but not of the last sloka above because it comes before the OFFICIAL section in HBV dealing with this. The translations have all been confirmed by Matsya Avatara of the Govardhana Sanskrit School.

Just as a last point I thought I would share my thoughts on this subject. Tulasi is a Vaisnavi. Therefore she like other Vaisnavas would be considered to be following ekadasi vratam (fasting).
Therefore she as other Vaisnavas may be in a weakened state on the day after “fasting”. It is not surprising that a rule is in place to allow her one day after ekadasi vratam free from having her leaves plucked. (The other days mentioned are also days that Orthodox Vaisnava Brahmins have extra duties to perform. But perhaps not so much Gaudiya Vaisnavas for whom only the Dvadasi prohibition is mandatory).

your servant
Gaura Keshava das
To recap then, we shouldn’t pick Tulasi leaves on Dvadasi; That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be offered, only that they cannot be picked on that day. All offerings to Lord Krsna are considered incomplete without Tulasi leaves being added so the leaves should be picked the day before, or on any day previous, since Tulasi is transcendental and is offerable in any condition-fresh, old, green, brown, dry etc.

Srila Prabhupada was once sent a set of questions from the Tulasi pujari in LosAngeles and his replies give many valuable practical instructions about the worship of Srimati Tulasi devi:

 [TD5] October 25, 1976 Vrndavana

There was an interesting letter today from Vidya dasi, the pujari for Srimati Tulasi devi in Los Angeles. She wrote at length asking about the care of Tulasi plants. She has been experimenting with trying to grow Tulasi in the open ground but has not met with much success. She asked if they should build a special Tulasi house.

Prabhupada replied to the affirmative. “If it is not possible for Tulasi to survive the winters when planted in the ground, then a suitable house should be provided for her.

tulasi green house

Even the Canadian temples, which are in a much colder climate, are keeping Tulasi nicely. Why should there be so much difficulty in Los Angeles, which has such a nice climate? Just do everything very carefully. Tulasi Flourishes where there is love and devotion.”

Vidya dasi also included a series of eighteen specific questions, some of which, I gathered from Prabhupada’s reaction, he considered a bit trivial, but he answered them nevertheless. As he sat in the sunshine on a straw mat in the back garden receiving his massage, surrounded by Tulasi plants growing around the perimeter of the lawn, he listened carefully as Jagadisa asked the questions and replied them one by one.

Q1) Is each Tulasi a separate jiva soul or an expansion of one pure devotee?
A: Tulasi is one devotee who appears wherever there is devotion to Krsna.

Q2) Where does her spirit soul go when she leaves this body?
A: Tulasi’s body is spiritual.

Q3) May we place jewelry on her soil or just moon stones?
A: Yes, jewelry is all right.

Q4) When Tulasi is being cared for by householders in their homes, must two arotikas still be offered?
A: If possible.

Q5) When Tulasi is being cared for by householders in their homes, may they use her leaves and manjaris on their offerings, or should they take them to the temple?
A: Tulasi leaves should be offered to the Deity.

Q6) When Tulasi is being offered arotika by the householders, must she have a ghee lamp?
A: If possible.

Q7) Is it offensive to turn the baby Tulasis back into the soil when they appear?
A: Yes.

Q8) There are even questions concerning Tulasi’s arotikas. We have always offered her incense, ghee lamp, and Flower. Is this correct?
A: Yes.

Q9) In the manual, it states that Tulasi should not be pruned. Does this also mean trimming the branches which no longer have leaves or life Fluids Flowing through them?
A: You may cut the dead branches, but what is the necessity?

Q10) We were told that once you spoke the “four regulative principles of Tulasi care” which will keep her from getting sick: a) keep her moist; b) keep her clean; c) give her morning sunlight (at least); d) give her two arotikas a day. Is this bona fide?
A: I never said that.

Q11) May Tulasi be made into a tea after she has been offered?
A: No.

Q12) May devotees carve Tulasi wood for Deities’ paraphernalia?
A: Yes.

Q13) When Tulasi leaves her body and the body is too soft for carving beads, how should she be used? Should a small fire sacrifice be performed?
A: Use the wood for beads as far as possible; the balance may be placed within the earth.

Q14) We have a letter from you requesting that no sprays be used on Tulasi devi. May we use a spray of buttermilk and whole-wheat Flour dissolved in water, which coats her leaves to keep spider mites from causing Tulasi to leave her body?
A: I said no chemical sprays.

Q15) Does Tulasi sleep? Should she be left undisturbed after nightfall?
A: Undisturbed means what?

Q16) Is it permissible to use scissors to cut her manjaris and when transplanting, to use knives to loosen her from her pot?
A: Use common sense and if you have none, then consult with others.

Q17) Is it an offense to step on or across her shadow (or the shadow of any pure devotee)?
A: You can step over the shadow, but not on it.

Q18) For 2 years we have been waiting permission to use the following 2 prayers plus translations and translations of the already existing prayer. Please tell us if these are bona fide:

Om govinda-vallabham devim bhakti caitanya karinim
snapayami jagad-dhatrim hari-bhakti-pradayinim
“Now I am bathing the mother of the Universe, the bestower of Krsna bhakti, the enlivener of the living force of the devotees and the dear one of Govinda.”

cayanod bhava-dukhan ca yad hrdi tava vartate
tat ksamasva jagan-matah vrnda devi namo’stu ‘te
“O mother of the universe, please forgive whatever misery exists in your heart caused by the cutting of your leaves. O Vrnda devi, let me offer my obeisances to you.”

Om tulasy amrta-jamasi sada tvam kesava-priya
kesavartham cinomi tvam barada bhava sobhane
“O Tulasi, you are born from nectar and are always dear to Lord Kesava. Now, for the service of Lord Kesava I am cutting your leaves, O one who is shining brightly.”

A: Don’t try to introduce something new. The most important thing is the love and devotion.

I was particularly interested in the answer to question 17. There are many Tulasi plants growing in the garden here, and when Srila Prabhupada comes out to take his massage,

Srila Prabhupada being massaged in his back garden in Vrndavana November 1976

her shadow casts across the pathway. I have never considered that it might be an offense to tread on it. Now I know and will take special care to step over but not on it.

So there you go, I hope all this helps all the Tulasi lovers, if you haven’t already seen these instructions.

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