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Stories from Purana

Why do we perform Puja

Puja gharHindu practices and mythology can be interpreted in several ways. The pujas were prescribed for married women ages ago and have been passed down across generations. Women in the earlier days were mainly confined to home (read kitchen) with minimal socializing. Most of them may not have been educated beyond school and were probably married off in their teens. Essentially, all they did was take care of the home and family and cook.
Possibly, these pujas were intended to provide multifold benefit. For one, its a way of socializing. Women exchange 'tambulam' - betel leaves and some fruits, flowers. Betel leaves are rich in calcium, which is essential for all women. The puja process comes with its food restriction, ensuring food discipline.
Pre-pooja arrangements and puja process also ensure that women set aside all their everyday issues and take time out to do something that ensures well-being of the family. Chanting of mantras brings in calmness and positive vibes in the house.
It is said that every family has its own specifications for the puja, that is usually passed on from the mother-in-law to her daughter-in-law. This improves communication between the two.
Other talents such as floral decorations, singing and cooking also improve as one performs these pujas year after year.

Story of Brahma's four heads - Tripura Rahasya

BrahmaBrahma is originally said to have five heads. The story goes that Brahma and Vishnu were competing for superiority when a column of light appeared in front of them. They decided that whoever reached either end of the column of light is to be accepted as superior. Vishnu assumed the form of a boar and dived down to the bottom whereas Brahma sought to reach the top of the ray of light. Neither could find the end of the ray.

Brahma, desperate at not finding the end of the ray, found a flower and asked the flower from where it was coming. The flower answered that it was just falling in the space. Brahma presented the flower as a false witness to claim that he had reached the top of the column of light. Shiva, upon learning this destroyed Brahma's one head that spoke this lie, and hence Brahma is left with four heads. Legend has that it was indeed Shiva who appeared before them as the ray of light.

Tulsi Vivah

TulasiAfter the razzmatazz of Diwali, comes Tulsi Vivah – the sacred marriage of Tulsi & Lord Vishnu. My childhood memories take me back in time, when we used to watch my Dad fervently chanting Mangalashtak in front of a Tulsi Vrindavan in our building courtyard. The marriage is celebrated in great pomp and glory on either Kartik Ekadashi or Pournima (also called Dev Diwali). Often seen in towns and cities, a Tulsi Vrindavan, is a specially constructed structure with carvings of Gods and Goddesses and a place for lighting a lamp. A Tulsi (Holy Basil) plant is grown in it. Some days before in preparation to the marriage, this vrindavan is freshly painted and decorated beautifully with flowers, mango leaves, sugarcane, bangles & saree to take the form of a bride. Tulsi is then and married to Shaligram (stone form of Lord Vishnu) on the Vivah day. Performing this literal mock marriage helps in retaliating the importance of love and devotion of Lord Vishnu for Tulsi.

The story behind Tulsi being a sacred plant to Hindus is linked to this celestial marriage as mentioned in our Padma Puranas. Tulsi was Vrinda, daughter of a giant named Nemi, and the faithful wife of demon King Jalandhar. Being born in water Jalandhar claims sovereignty over the ocean and demands the 14 treasures churned out of the ocean in Vishnu's second incarnation (Lord Krishna). He declares war and becomes a cause of danger to the gods. He had a boon that he would be free from death till his wife Vrinda was chaste. Finally, the task of killing King Jalandhar fell on Lord Vishnu. He disguised as Jalandhar and lived with Vrinda. Now, Jalandhar was killed because Vrinda’s chastity was broken. Vrinda was furious on Lord Vishnu and so cursed him and turned him into Shaligram, a Black stone. But Lord Vishnu was pleased by her righteousness, devotion, virtues of great chastity and piety, and therefore turned her into the sacred and auspicious Tulsi plant.

The plant symbolizes purity and therefore divine spiritual power. Tulsi means Incomparable one. Lord Vishnu is believed to be near a tulsi plant and therefore worshiped daily by Hindus. Also the practice of never offering anything to Krishna without a Tulsi leaf is linked to this very fact. He is pleased utmost by a simple tulsi garland. The story of the Tulsi leaf placed by Rukmini being worth more in weight than that of Satyabhama's wealth, explains the significance of Tulsi and how a humble offering to God is greater than any material wealth.

Even the person who performs the Tulsi Vivah gets the credit of a supreme Kanyadan just for pretending Tulsi to be his daughter or Kanya.

"Leaves, flowers, fruits, root, branches and the main stem and everything about tulsi is sacred; even the soil under the tulsi plant is holy." --excerpt from the Padmapurana

It is such a unique aromatic herb that has medicinal values which are widely used as a home remedy for curing many ailments. It repels mosquitoes, insects and even snakes if planted near dwelling houses. It is known to purify the environment. Its cleansing action is due to its property to release high amount of oxygen, which minimizes the adverse impact of industrial and refinery emission. In a joint exercise being undertaken by the Uttar Pradesh forest department and Lucknow-based ORGANIC INDIA Private Ltd, one million Tulsi saplings would be planted in the vicinity of the Taj Mahal to help protect against the ill-effects of environmental pollution. Its leaf extract is known to be an effective fungicide against three kinds of fungi that cause disease in rice crops and crops of various vegetables. It is also known that these plants send electro-magnetic waves which bring positive influences on our lives. Not only the leaves but the stem, seeds, roots all have different aromatic and medicinal values, therefore truly called ‘Queen of the Herbs’.

Different medical, religious and culinary uses of Tulsi have also been documented in China and the rest of Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Australia. It grows profusely in the Vrindavan forest in Mathura (Lord Krishna’s birth place), hence the name Vrinda-van(forest). Tulsi is native to tropical Asia, likely having originated in India. It grows wildly in Indonesia, Malaysia, North Africa (Mt. Kilimanjaro) to East Africa. Tulsi traveled west to Europe along the early trade routes from the Orient. After a period of cultural assimilation, the plant became known to Europeans as “Sacred” or “Holy Basil”, and was hailed as “The King of Herbs” by European herbalists and physicians, as well as cooks. The word basil comes from the Greek (basileus), meaning "king", as it is believed to have grown above the spot where St. Constantine and Helen discovered the Holy Cross. Holy Basil became routinely included in legends, offerings and worship rituals of many of the Christian churches of Europe – perhaps most noteworthy being the Greek Orthodox Church. The sacred plant is given an especially festive central role in the annual celebration of the birth of St. Basil. It is also known as St. Joseph’s wort and is looked on by many as a gift of Christ. In India, the ancient rishis ensured the integration of Tulsi into daily life by incorporating it into religious rituals. In this way, people at all levels of Indian society routinely consumed Tulsi for health benefits during worship in their temples and homes.

Tulsi is mentioned in the ancient scriptures of India. In the Padmapurana (24.2) Lord Shiva tells the sage Narada about this power: “Oh Narada, wherever Tulsi grows there is no misery. She is the holiest of the holy. Wherever the breeze blows her fragrance there is purity. Vishnu showers blessing on those who worship and grow Tulsi. Tulsi is sacred because Brahma resides in the roots, Vishnu resides in the stems and leaves and Rudra resides in the flowering tops.”

Wish you all a Happy Tulsi Vivah and hope it restores righteousness, good virtues and peace as we go ahead in the present economy.

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