Why are tulsi leaves offered to Sri Vishnu?



Ritualistic worship of Vishnu is prevalent since the Vedic period. The greatest Vaishnav is Shiva and the greatest Shaiva is Vishnu because They worship each other.

1. According to the Vaishnavite doctrines

‘Vishnu is also worshipped in sixteen steps (shodashopachar puja) like the other deities. Tulsi leaves are essential for His worship. If lotuses are available, it is even better. Khir (a sweet delicacy made from milk and rice or vermicelli) or shira (a sweet delicacy made from semolina, pure clarified butter and sugar) is Vishnu’s favourite holy sacrament (naivedya). The main ritualistic worship is performed as follows: The worship should be done throughout the year using a different Name every month. It should be done on the twelfth day (dvadashi) of the Hindu lunar month. Keshav in the month of Margashirsha, Narayan in Poush, Madhav in Magh, Govind in Phalgun, Vishnu in Chaitra, Madhusudan in Vaishakh, Trivikram in Jyeshtha, Vaman in Ashadh, Shridhar in Shravan, Hrushikesh in Bhadrapad, Padmanabh in Ashvin and Damodar in Kartik should be the Names used in the worship. The idol made of gold should be draped in white cloth and installed on a pot (kalash). Every substance in the worship should be offered chanting the twelve letter mantra, “Om Namo Bhagvate Vasudevaya (ॐ नमो भगवते वासुदेवाय ।)”. The flowers and fruits offered every month should be different.’

Some information as to why a different Name should be used every month, why the idol should be of gold, clothing white, different flowers and fruits should be offered every month will be obtained from point ‘2.1 Why are tulsi leaves offered to Vishnu?’ and point ‘3. Vishnu and time’.

Since devotees have humanised Vishnu a great deal, as part of His worship the doors of a Vishnu temple are kept closed with the reasoning that He is eating, sleeping, etc.

2. Tulsi

‘Tulsi’ is a sacred plant. The plant grows to a height of two to three feet. There are two varieties – the black (krushna) and the white. This plant has vertical springs which bear small flowers. Most probably its root name is tulas (तुळस) and tulsi (तुलसी) is its Sanskrut version.

नरा नार्यश्च तां दृष्‍ट्‌वा तुलनां दातुमक्षमा: ।
तेन नाम्‍ना च तुलसी तां वदन्‍ति पुराविद: ।। – ब्रह्‍मवैवर्त पुराण, प्रकृतिखंड १५

Meaning: Man saw this plant but could not compare it to any other. Hence archaeologists began calling it tulsi. – Brahmavaivarta Puran, Prakrutikhand 15

If one worships Vishnu without tulsi leaves then it is in vain because without offering tulsi leaves or without sprinkling food with water using them, Vishnu does not partake of the offering. Looking at, touching, meditating upon, praying to, worshipping, planting or eating tulsi leaves can cleanse one of sins committed in several births in the bygone eras. It is said that all deities reside in this plant right from the roots to the shoots.’

2.1 Why are tulsi leaves offered to Vishnu?: Commonly it is said that in the ritualistic worship of a deity, it is offered its favourite item; for example, Ganapati likes red flowers, Shankar bel and Vishnu tulsi. Then a story as to why that deity likes that particular substance is narrated. In reality superior deities like Shankar, Vishnu, Ganapati do not have any likes or dislikes. Yet the reason for offering certain substances to certain deities is as follows.

One of the objectives of ritualistic worship is that the idol which is to be worshipped should get charged with divine consciousness (chaitanya) and that it should help one in making spiritual progress. In order to generate that divine consciousness, the substance which is offered to that idol has more ability to attract the pure particles (pavitrakas) [most subtle spiritual particles] of that deity, from as far as the maha region as compared to other substances. Red flowers have the ability to attract the pure particles of Ganapati, bel of Shankar, tulsi of Vishnu, etc. Hence tulsi leaves are offered to Vishnu. A tulsi plant is planted on a pedestal in front of the house and tulsi is even wedded to Krushna.

2.2 Yatha Haristhatha Haraha (यथा हरिस्‍तथा हर: ।)

Meaning : Vishnu and Shiva are one and the same.

The similarity with respect to ritualistic worship is as follows: According to the time, the qualities of a substance change. On the eleventh day of the Hindu lunar month of Kartik (Kartiki ekadashi), tulsi leaves can absorb the pure particles of Shiva and bel those of Vishnu. Hence on that day Shankar is offered tulsi and Vishnu is offered bel. The psychological explanation for this is that this is done to illustrate the non-duality (advait) between Hari (Vishnu) and Har (Shankar).

2.3 An icon of detachment (vairagya): A tulsi plant symbolises detachment. Once when performing the ritual of tula (weighing with food grain, gems, etc.) of Shrikrushna despite putting diamonds, precious stones, gold, etc. in one pan, the other pan with Krushna seated on it refused to balance it. Finally only after a tulsi leaf was placed on all the wealth did the pan balance. Through this incident Krushna taught that He could be won over only with detachment and not with wealth. ‘Placing tulsi leaves on the house’ depicts sacrifice of the home.

3. Vishnu and time

On a certain day, date (tithi) and month the frequencies of a particular deity reach the earth in greater quantities. That day is considered as the day for that deity. For instance Monday for Shiva, Thursday for Datta, the fourth day (chaturthi) of the Hindu lunar month for Ganesh, the eleventh day (ekadashi) of the Hindu lunar month for Vishnu, etc. If one considers the months then on the eleventh day of the Hindu lunar months of Ashadh and Kartik the Vishnu frequencies are more than in any other month; hence ekadashis assume great significance with respect toVishnu. On this day if one fasts and increases one’s sattvik (sattva predominant) nature then one can absorb Vishnu frequencies in a greater quantity.

4. Some mantras

4.1 Chanting of ‘Hare Rama’ (हरे राम)

The Kalisantaran Upanishad is a part of the Krushnayajurveda. Its other name is Harinamopanishad. This Upanishad was narrated by Lord Brahma to Sage Narad towards the culmination of the Dvaparyug. In short, it says mere chanting of Lord Narayan’s Name eliminates the ill effects due to the influence of Kali. This mantra consists of sixteen words –

Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Hare Krushna Hare Krushna Krushna Krushna Hare Hare
हरे राम हरे राम राम राम हरे हरे।
हरे कृष्‍ण हरे कृष्‍ण कृष्‍ण कृष्‍ण हरे हरे ।।

These sixteen words are associated with the sixteen kalas of the embodied soul. Thus it is a mantra which destroys the covering of the embodied soul. Some sects worshipping Lord Krushna chant the second half of the mantra first.’

4.2 ‘Om namo Narayanaya (ॐ नमो नारायणाय)’, ‘Om namo Bhagvate Vasudevaya (ॐ नमो भगवते वासुदेवाय ।)’ and ‘Om namo Ramaya (ॐ नमो रामाय)’

These are taken from Kriyayogasar, a Vaishnavite sub-(upa) Puran. ‘Om namo Narayanaya’, the eight letter mantra is named Narayan mantra. A synonym for it is mantraraj. This mantra is believed to symbolise the eight images of Vishnu, namely the five cosmic elements, the sun, the moon and the host performing the sacrificial fire (yadnya), as also the eight matras of the Omkar. The Vaishnavite saint, Ramanujacharya was initiated with this mantra.’

4.3 Vishnu Gayatri

नारायणाय विद्महे । वासुदेवाय धीमहि । तन्‍नो विष्‍णु: प्रचोदयात्‌ ।।

Meaning : We are quite familiar with Narayan. We meditate on Vasudev. May that Vishnu inspire our intellect benevolently.

5. Sandalwood paste (gandha)

To represent the 108 (narayan) frequencies emerging from The God principle (Isham) the Vaishnavites apply sandalwood paste on their foreheads vertically. Shaivites on the other hand apply holy ash (bhasma) horizontally to represent the 360 frequencies revolving around the earth.

[For more information on ritualistic worship refer ‘Science of Spirituality : Chapter 7 – Path of Devotion (Bhaktiyoga)’.]

6. Sects

6.1 Narayaniya

Its other names are Pacharatra, Satvat, Ekantik. Narayan in this context is originally Savita Suryanarayan. He is also known as Yadnyanarayan. Sage Narayan is His human form. After performing the Sarvamedh sacrificial fire (yadnya) Sage Narayan became the Supreme Soul pervading the entire universe, Narayan. Nara, Narayan, Hari and Krushna are His four idols. Nara-Narayan perform austerities in Badrikashram. Since Sage Narayan performed the Sarvamedha sacrificial fire for five nights, this sect is called ‘Pacharatra dharma’. This being its origin according to the Vaishnavite sect the Narayaniya or Pacharatra dharma is totally Vedic. This sect is not against sacrificial fires but against the violence that is the sacrifice of living beings involved in them. The Vedas, Aranyakas, Sankhyas, Yogas and Pacharatra are the five components of this sect. The Absolute Being (Purush) beyond the three components or the knower of the soul (kshetradnya) is the soul pervading the cosmic elements. The manifest form of the Absolute Being beyond the three components is itself called the unmanifest Great Illusion (Prakruti). It manifests the Absolute Truth (sat) as the cause (karan) and the non-truth (asat) as His mission (karya). Ritualistic worship of deities, ancestors and the five great sacrificial fires are advocated by this sect. He inspires one to undertake rituals to appease deities or ancestors. When performing this He should be remembered in lieu of the deity or the ancestor. His main special characteristic is devotion without expectation (nishkam bhakti). This sect propounds the faith that The Lord assumes incarnations to destroy evildoers who torment society. Though in this sect devotion is given prime importance yet it is based on the school of thought of materialism (pravrutti) and not that of detachment (nivrutti). In the present times this sect has dwindled to a large extent.

Vyuhavad (philosophy of constellation of deities) of the Satvat or Bhagvat sect: The Shantiparva of the Mahabharat describes the Narayaniya sect. This sect was first preached by The Lord to Arjun and then to Sage Narad (Mahabharat Shantiparva 346.10-11; 348.6-8). Later Sage Narad formulated the doctrine of the array in the Narayaniya sect. Vasudev, Sankarshan, Pradyumna and Aniruddha together were the four parts of the doctrine. Here Vasudev is The Supreme God and the Creator of the universe. At the beginning of the kalpa (period of time) when Lord Vasudev creates an universe along with the unmanifest basic Great Illusion (Prakruti), He also creates Sankarshan, a particular embodied soul. The mind manifests through the union of Sankarshan and the Great Illusion. The mind itself is Pradyumna. It is from Pradyumna that Aniruddha, ego, is generated. From the latter are created the cosmic elements and their components. Lord Brahma too is created at that time and along with the elements He creates the universe consisting of living beings.

6.2. Ramanuj

Adi Shankaracharya preached the philosophy of total non-duality known as advait or purnadvait. It can be summarised as: ‘Only The Supreme God (Parmatma or Parabrahman) is the ultimate truth. The embodied soul doing spiritual practice (jivatma) and The Supreme God are one and the same. The apparent difference seen in the objects composed of the Great Illusion (Prakruti) is false. This distinction is experienced because of the Great Illusion (Maya) or nescience (avidya). It is only through spiritual knowledge that the Final Liberation (Moksha) is attained. Hence acquisition of absolute spiritual knowledge of non-duality rather than devotion or love should be considered to be the ultimate target’. This concept was unacceptable to the Vaishnav teachers, so they propounded their doctrines as, ‘The embodied soul doing spiritual practice (jivatma) and the universe are in reality both attributes of The Supreme God. It is through them that the non-dual form of The Lord manifests itself’.

6.3 Sanak (Nimbarka)

Refer point ‘6.9. Comparison between some sects’.

6.4 Brahman (Svatantrata-Svatantravad) – the philosophy of independent existence

Madhvacharya was the propounder of this sect. Both the Sankhya philosophy and this sect advocate duality; however according to the Sankhyas the Absolute Being (Purush) and the Great Illusion (Prakruti) are two separate entities which are eternal and the absolute truth, while in Madhvacharya’s philosophy of duality, two principles – the independent and the dependent exist. For example, Sri Vishnu is independent while the embodied soul (jiva) and the gross universe are dependent. The relationship between Brahman and the embodied soul is that of a master and a servant. Madhvacharya preaches two kinds of spiritual practice, study of the scriptures being the first and meditation, the second. By the first type of spiritual practice indirect spiritual knowledge (aparoksha dnyan) is acquired and by the second, as a result of remaining engrossed in continuous remembrance of The Lord, one attains Liberation (Mukti). After acquiring indirect spiritual knowledge, intense devotion is generated. Devotion is a kind of flow of love. Followers of this sect believe that it develops spontaneously after Self-realisation (sakshatkar). They treat the followers of the Shaiva sect with equality. Between other Vaishnavite and Shaivite sects however there is some amount of animosity. This sect has spread in Karnataka.

6.5 Pushti (Grace of The Lord)

Vallabhacharya’s commentary on the ‘Brahmasutra’ is known as ‘Anubhashya’ and thus formulated the theory of pure non-duality ‘shuddhadvait’ (shuddha advait). According to Him, Brahman Itself is the unparalleled principle. All other living and non-living beings are indistinct from It and hence are permanent. Since The Lord cannot remain in only one state He divided Himself into the Great Illusion (Prakruti), the embodied soul doing spiritual practice (jivatma) and the Omniscient Soul. Just as sparks fly off from fire so also these three principles have emerged from Him. It is only because of His wish that the Great Illusion lacks Absolute Consciousness (Chit) and Bliss (Anand) and the embodied soul doing spiritual practice lacks Bliss; however the third principle is in the form of the Absolute Truth (Sat), Absolute Consciousness and Bliss. Actually the world is imperishable and eternal. However due to the Great Illusion of Vishnu it is created (avirbhav) and destroyed (tirobhav). (Tirohit means dissolved or obscure). The Great Illusion being The Lord’s Divine Energy (Shakti) both the Energy as well as the possessor of that Energy are not distinct from each other. The embodied soul under the sway of the Great Illusion cannot attain knowledge about the Final Liberation (Moksha) without the grace of The Lord. This grace, is referred to as‘pushti’. On account of this grace devotion and spiritual emotion (bhav) are enhanced and the embodied soul merges into the absolute principle. In this sect more importance is given to the theory of materialism (pravrutti) than to detachment (nivrutti).

6.6 Mahanubhav

About 800 years back Chakradharswami founded this sect. According to Him the embodied soul, the universe, worldly life and The Lord are four independent, permanent aspects. Both spiritual knowledge and devotion play a role in this sect. Poetry like the Lilacharitra are famous in the sect. This sect had a large following in Maharashtra, in India.

6.7 Varkari

Saints have blessed us, and the temple (the Bhagvat sect) is complete
Lord Dnyaneshvar laid the foundation to raise the temple,
Nama was the musician who spread it far and wide,
Janardan and Eknath hoisted the flag of Bhagvat,
Carry on your devotion steadily,
Now Tuka has become the dome.

The presiding deity of this sect founded by Saint Dnyaneshvar seven hundred years ago, is Viththal. The spiritual practice of this sect consists of wearing a mala (a kind of rosary) of tulsi seeds, fasting on the eleventh days (ekadashis) of the months of the Hindu lunar calendar, reading or listening to the Haripath and Dnyaneshvari, a pilgrimage (vari) to Pandharpur on Ashadhi and Kartiki ekadashis, etc. This sect is widespread in Maharashtra.

6.8 Samarth

This was founded by Samarth Ramdas Swami in the sixteenth century. Spiritual practice is more important than politics saying thus, He advocated the importance of politics for protection of one’s own religion and prosperity, after following Spirituality. Narration of stories of Hari, politics, continued vigilance and intervention are the fourfold doctrines of this sect. He guided Shivaji Maharaj in the latter’s mission of reinstatement of Righteousness (Dharma) both through spiritual and worldly guidance. Rama and Maruti were His deities of worship. Dasbodh is a holy text of this sect. This sect is widespread in Maharashtra.

6.9 Comparison between some sects

Name of the
Advait Ramanuj Sanak
1. Founder Shankar-
2. Birth of
700-800 1016 or
1197 1479
3. Birth
place of
Near Udupi,
4. Name of
the philo-
(total non-
(duality –
Dvait (duality) Shuddhadvait
or shuddha
advait (pure
5. School of
objects are
only beca-
use of the
Brahman is
all pervad-
Both the
soul doing
and the
universe are
attributes of
The Lord.
It is through
them that
the nondual
Lord acqu-
ires a
embodied soul,
the universe
and God
are distinct
from each
other (hence
dual). The
between the
soul and
the universe
and their very
existence is
on The
Lord’s wish
[hence non-
There is a
between the
soul, The
Supreme soul
and the Great
Without the
grace of The
Lord, the
soul in the
Great Illusion
cannot attain
about the
6. Spiritual
A. Main
Path of
Path of
Spiritual emo-
tions of
Serenity, a
servitor, a
friend, motherly
affection and
Study of the
control over
the mind
control over
the senses
surrender and
Path of
grace of
The Lord.
B. The
Vishnu Bal-
C. Method
of appli-
cation of
A vertical
Application of
with a black
spot in the
Two vertical
stripes of
A black line
with a mixture
of sandalwood
paste and holy
ash (bhasma)
in its centre
and a spot of
turmeric over
7. Propa-
out India
In the outskirts
of Mathura
and in Bangal
South India Gujarat

* Based on Panch Upasanapanth, pages 167 – 186.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: