Friday, September 25, 2009

The Sixth Night - What is Brinda doing in Your Medicine Cabinet? (Or for that matter, Gauri? Madhavi?)

Some would call her a herb but that would be the most inadequate of labels because she is so many things. Medicine, antiseptic, health food, tonic, insect repellant, air purifier. And as many think her to be, even your passport to heaven. She has been a part of our homes, our temples, our rituals, our everyday lives for centuries.
We name our daughters after her.
And she even figures in India’s most watched television serial.
But, lest we forget, she is also a Goddess.
Today is the 6th night of Navratri and the last one dedicated to the Goddess Laxmi. So what better occasion than today to tell you about Her most wondrous avatar.



Its English name “basil” is derived from Greek basileus which means “imperial” because the  fragrance of this herb is considered royal. In Latin, it is called Ocimum sanctum , ocimum said to be from the Greek word 'to smell,' and sanctum meaning holy or sacred. But it is in India, the place of its birth, where it has not one but many, many beautiful names.
Patrapuspha, Brinda, Gauri, Haripriya, Krishnamula, Madhavi, Manjari, Vaishnavi.
And of course - Laxmi

Nature’s GP
Remember that now almost extinct species of doctor called the general physician? Whom you went to not only to treat your ingrown toenails and your baby’s influenza, but also your mother-in-law’s dicky heart? Whose bedside manner was almost as healing as his medicines? Well, you could say that the tulsi plant is Mother Nature’s GP. Just look at the vast range of ailments that it can treat – coughs, colds, bronchitis, asthma, influenza, headaches, skin diseases like ringworm, bad breath and pyorrhea, digestive problems, heart disease and insect bites.
Impressed? Wait – how about that if I tell you that it can sharpens your memory, is a nerve tonic, anti-malarial drug and painkiller!
Its wide-spectrum curative powers seem to be coming primarily because of the presence of two things. First, a chemical in tulsi’s volatile oil called Eugenol, which basically acts the way many anti-inflammatory medications including aspirin and ibuprofen work. This along with a whole host other chemicals in tulsi’s volatile oil, also makes it a very potent anti-bacterial agent, effective against all kinds of nasty microbes including Staphylococcus aureus (the food poisoning villain), Escherichia coli O:157:H7, (causes stomach problems like dysentery and diarrehea) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, (the lung infection baddie).
Secondly, tulsi is rich in antioxidants, particularly beta-carotene, which is the source material from which the human body produces vitamin A. And it is the presence of this that makes tulsi so effective in the treatment of heart disease, lowering cholesterol and treating eye disorders like night blindness. Incidentally, along with vitamin A, tulsi is also a good source of iron (7.15 % of your daily requirement in just 2 teaspoons of leaves) and calcium (6.3 %) and of potassium and vitamin C.


I know – many of you are going, “huh?” As I did too. Well, put in layman’s terms, an adaptogen is anything that helps prevent the onset of illnesses by strengthening the body’s immune systems and make you able to adapt and cope with a wide range of physical, emotional, chemical and infectious stresses. Did I just use the word “stress”? Yes I did! And this perhaps is the tulsi’s least talked about but most impressive attribute. That it is considered as a powerful adaptogen, a stress buster, strengthening the immune system by increasing antibody production with its antibiotic, antiviral, and antifungal properties. Dr. Andrew Weil, that high-profile, high priest of integrative medicine in the West talks of a “study, published in 1991 in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology, compared tulsi to Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) and found that holy basil was the most potent anti-stress agent of the three, and also had the highest margin of safety. However, this study, as well as a dozen others I found in a search of the medical literature, was conducted in laboratory animals, not humans….”

Well, laboratory animals or not, I for one don’t need more research to convince me. Because I think that with that spectacular bio-date of nutritional and medicinal properties, it’s more than likely that the tulsi is indeed a potent tonic.
Which is why like the rudraksha, it is worn – especially by Vaishnavites – as a necklace so that it remains constantly in touch with the body. Which is why often, Hindu and Buddhist japamalas are made of tulsi wood. And why among with all the protective mantras or “kavacham” that supplicate Durga, Narayana, Mahalakshmi, Gayatri, Shamugan there is one for the Tulsi as well….
Holy Herb
There are so many references to the tulsi in the Hindu ancient texts, both medicinal and religious, that it is the subject of a thesis and a book. But, the essence of it is that the tulsi plant, avatar of the Goddess Mahalakshsmi, was churned out of the ocean along with Kamadhenu the cow, the parijata and Dhanwantri, the deva who became the preceptor of Ayurveda. Considered so sacred that in the Padma Purana it is said even the soil in which it grows is sacred. That just one twig, is enough to cleanse the soul of the most heinous sinner, when placed near the dead body. So pure that many consider that it purifies the air around where it grows.
And since the Goddess Laxmi is Lord Vishnu’s consort, so the tulsi is His most beloved, so much so that it is also called Vishnupriya.
Which is how Brindvan got its name.
IMG_2090 You see, Lord Krishna, his most favourite playground was a spot near Mathura, which  – as one story goes -  was a lush tulsi grove. And  'Vrinda' is also one of tulsi’s many names. And so, to this day, the traditional pot in which the tulsi is grown is called a vrindavan.
I end with this beautiful little legend. It is said that Krishna, after completing his work on earth, continued to live in Dwarka with his wives. But the gods therefore wanted him back in heaven. So they kidnapped him. Rukmini and Satyabhama were inconsolable without their beloved Krishna. So, Narada, that Grandsire of Negotitions, brought the ladies a celestial deal. It was this. That the gods would return Krishna to them if Rukmini and Satyabhama could outweigh him when he sat in one pan of a weighing scale {tula).
”Done!” said the ladies and Satyabhama had the first go, heaping all of her vast riches onto the pan of the scale. But to no avail – it floated up light as a feather! Now it was Rukmini’s turn. She first cleared away all Satyabhama’s riches, then plucked a few leaves of tulsi and put it in the scale. The pan dropped down immediately, the one in which Krishna sat went up….
And he got to stay with his beloved wives.
Namastulsi  Kalyaani
Namo  Vishnupriye  Shudhe
Namo  Mokshaprade Devi
Namaha  Sampat  Pradaayike
Happy Navaratri!

1 comment:

pushpee said...

Happy Navratri 2 u Ratna, Thank u soooooooo much for sharing your stories, I am hearing them for the first time in my life...never knew about this at all..... Blessing to u...:))