Sri Tulasi Pranama
priyayai kesavasya ca
satyavatyai namo namah
vrndayai–unto Vrnda; tulasi-devyai–unto Tulasi-devi; priyayai– who is dear; kesavasya–to Lord Kesava; ca-and; krsna-bhakti– devotional service to Lord Krsna, prade–who bestows; devi–O goddess; satya-vatyai–unto Satyavati; namah namah–repeated obeisances.
I offer my repeated obeisances unto Vrnda, Srimati Tulasi-devi, who is very dear to Lord Kesava. O goddess, you bestow devotional service to Lord Krsna and possess the highest truth.
Soon after our move to the McKinley Street Temple, Srimate Tulasi Devi graced us with Her presence. Every since we were in New York with Srila Prabhupada in 1967, I had been trying to find out more about Tulasi Devi. I had often admired Srila Prabhupada’s golden-colored Tulasi japa beads, polished and glowing from so many years of chanting.
We still had the big red wooden hippy beads at that time. They were our initiation beads, so I still treasure them, but they were so heavy and clunky! If a mugger were to try to rob you in the streets of New York, those beads could even serve as a weapon!
So Goursundar and I went to an Indian import shop in New York, searching for Tulasi beads. One nice Indian gentleman sold us two sets of japa beads, already strung with 108 beads, and assured us they were definitely Tulasi. Of course, they weren’t. We excitedly took them back to Srila Prabhupada at his New York apartment, and showed him our new “Tulasi” beads. He looked at them carefully, turning them this way and that in his hands, and said simply, “No, not Tulasi.” Later I learned they were rosewood beads from India. He chanted on them anyway, and they were a great improvement from the big reds.
But I was always trying to find out more about Tulasi Devi. In the summer of 1967, Goursundar and I illustrated the story of Haridas Thakur for Back to Godhead magazine, while Srila Prabhupada was in India. And my curiosity grew even more.
Then, later, when we traveled with Srila Prabhupada all during 1968, I often had the opportunity to see his golden Tulasi japa beads. Sometimes while cleaning his room or making his bed, I would find them sitting on his desk or bed, slightly hanging out of his bead bag. When I reverently touched them to move them, I would always yearn for Tulasi beads.
When we moved near the University, I would often go to the East West Center Library to explore and search for sacred texts. There I found books by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur, and other Vaishnava saints. There were also many scholarly translations of the Sanskrit scriptures, like Garuda Purana, Vishnu Purana, and others. These were of interest to Goursundar, since he was now studying Sanskrit and Bengali, and doing the transliteration for Srila Prabhupada’s Chaitanya Charitamrita. The East West Center Library was a treasure house of fascinating books.
In my foraging through the library shelves one evening, I found a book called “Firminger’s Gardening in India.” It was written by an Englishman during the time of the British Raj. In it I found information about growing Tulasi Devi, called “Sacred Basil,” and most importantly, with the botanical name–Ocimmum Sanctum. This was a big breakthrough!
Since there was very little communication between India and the United States in the late 60’s, it was very difficult to find out anything or obtain anything from India. Mail service was slow and unreliable, and phone service was almost a joke.
In early 1970 I met one British lady who had a small India import shop. She traveled back and forth to India perhaps once or twice a year. So I purchased items from her shop, befriended her, and persuaded her to bring me Tulasi seeds on her next trip abroad. She brought me a small vial of seeds, and I studied the planting guide carefully, and tried to grow them.
However, for some reason the seeds were not viable. We were bowing down daily to the tiny green shoots pushing up through the soil, only to finally realize they were just small blades of grass.
So I again persuaded the British lady to bring me Tulasi seeds on her next trip to India. Some months later, I received another small vial of seeds, and again tried to grow them. This time, they grew! And we were blessed with many heart-shaped seedlings, that gradually grew into small Tulasi trees.
When they were about six inches tall, we took two of them to Srila Prabhupada in Los Angeles, as we were still unsure of their identity. As I set the two plants on Srila Prabhupada’s desk, his eyes lit up with pure joy, and he exclaimed, “Ah, yes, this is Tulasi!”
Srila Prabhupada then began to talk for a long time about Tulasi Devi, how Her husband was “one very big demon,” and how She had great devotion for Lord Krishna. He stopped short while telling the story, however. He did not elaborate on the details of the whole story, as perhaps we may not be able to understand it in a proper spiritual context.
At this time, there was some very troublesome political turmoil in Iskcon among the leaders. Since I was in Hawaii, I knew nothing at all about it, but later learned that Srila Prabhupada was very disturbed. I was unaware of all this, since my visit with Srila Prabhupada was focused on the Tulasi plants and the new instructions he gave me at that time.
His servant told me later that he had not seen Srila Prabhupada so happy in many weeks, and urged me to come and visit again.
Several years later, while traveling with Srila Prabhupada to the Mississippi Iskcon farm, an interesting thing happened. During Srila Prabhupada’s lecture, he mentioned the Tulasi plants, and how pleased he was to have Tulasi now growing at all the centers. He then said, “and I sent her the seeds.” For a moment my mind reeled, then I realized, “Yes, of course, he did send me the seeds!”
namo namah tulasi! krsna-preyasi
radha-krsna-seva pabo ei abhilasi
je tomara sarana loy, tara vancha purna hoy
krpa kori’ koro tare brndavana-basi
mor ei abhilas, bilas kunje dio vas
nayane heribo sada jugala-rupa-rasi
ei nivedana dharo, sakhir anugata koro
seva-adhikara diye koro nija dasi
dina krsna-dase koy, ei jena mora hoy
sri-radha-govinda-preme sada jena bhasi
(1) O Tulasi, beloved of Krsna, I bow before you again and again. My desire is to obtain the service of Sri Sri Radha-Krsna.
(2) Whoever takes shelter of you has his wishes fulfilled. Bestowing your mercy on him, you make him a resident of Vrndavana.
(3) My desire is that you will also grant me a residence in the pleasure groves of Sri Vrndavana-dhama. Thus, within my vision I will always behold the beautiful pastimes of Radha and Krsna.
(4) I beg you to make me a follower of the cowherd damsels of Vraja. Please give me the privilege of devotional service and make me your own maidservant.
(5) This very fallen and lowly servant of Krsna prays, “May I always swim in the love of Sri Radha and Govinda.
Being himself an eternal resident of Vrindavana, Srila Prabhupada naturally wanted his followers to gain entrance into Vrindavana, and therefore he introduced the worship of Tulasi-devi in ISKCON. Every morning, all over the world, ISKCON devotees gather around Tulasi-devi at 5 a.m. and sing that bhajan.
ri Tulasi Pradaksina Mantra
yani kani ca papani
tani tani pranasyanti
pradaksinah pade pade
yani kani–whatever; ca–and; papani–sins; brahma-hatya–killing of a brahmana; adikani–and so on; ca–also, tani tani–all of them; pranasyanti–are destroyed; pradaksinah–(by) the circumambulation (of Tulasi-devi); pade pade–at every step.
By the circumambulation of Srimati Tulasi-devi all the sins that one may have committed are destroyed at every step, even the sin of killing a brahmana.