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The great value of the basil plant

Basil's Usages Both Practical and Spiritual
Nepalese value plant for religious, medicinal properties … rint=print

Since ancient times, as far back as the Vedic Age, nature and religion have freely intermingled in many ways. For example, a number of plants and trees have come to be regarded as sacred or auspicious, sometimes bringing good luck, health and prosperity to people. The basil plant (Ocmium Sanctum), known as Tulasi in Nepali, is one that has come to be highly regarded by the people of Nepal and India.

Hindus respect and worship basil, and people in other parts of the world believe in it, as well. For example, in Greece and Italy, it is thought to have mystical properties. The people of Thailand believe in basil's medicinal properties. In addition, it is believed that basil grew on top of the grave of Jesus Christ. No less a poet than John Keats has dedicated a poem to this popular plant named "Isabella: The Pot of Basil."

Among Hindus, basil is believed to be an embodiment of the goddess Laxmi (Goddess of Wealth), consort of Vishnu (God of Preservation). Basil is grown in courtyards and temples -- even, sometimes, in a special structure called a Tulasi Ghar, or basil house.

Another name for basil is Brinda. In the great Hindu epic Mahabharata, we learn that Krishna lived in Brindaban, a forest named after the plant, when he was a child. The Ramayana epic mentions that basil grew in the garden of Bibhishan, one of the supporters of Rama (God who killed the demon Ravana).

Hindus worship basil with offerings of de-husked and wet rice, seasonal flowers, vermilion powder, and sweets. Some Hindu women will not eat their morning meal until after they have worshipped and watered their basil plant. To earn religious merit, many people will circle the basil plant seven times a day. It is taboo to pluck basil leaves on Sundays and Tuesdays, or after sunset.

The proper way to grow basil is to sow the seeds, a few days before the eleventh day (Ekadashi in Nepali) of the bright moon fortnight, which falls in the month of Jestha (May/June). On Ekadashi, the seedlings are transplanted to pots or lands being accompanied by religious rites. Traditionally, it is done by men only, not by women.

For four months, beginning with Harishyani Ekadashi, the bright moon of Ashad (June/July), the plant is worshipped with special prayers, arati (butter lamps), circumambulations, and other rituals. During the month of Kartik (October/ November), on the eleventh day of the bright moon (called Haribodhani Ekadashi), the basil plant is married to the Shaligram, a fossil found in the Kali Gandaki river. Three days later, devotees offer one thousand basil's leaves to a sacred river or water.

The Bhagavad Gita (holy book of Nepal) tells us that keeping a basil plant in one's house is auspicious, for it will drive evil spirits away and help the devotee achieve great religious merit. These scriptures also mention that many people became great saints simply by tasting basil leaves after offering them to God. In fact, the scriptures say that by offering God a basil leaf or flower a devotee can have any wish fulfilled.

Some believe that the plant will also deter the agents of Lord Yama, the God of Death. Worshippers of Vishnu believe that by offering basil to the god, they will achieve Mokshya, i.e. they will be free from the cycle of rebirth. Therefore, there is a tradition in Nepal that if the person has died, he/she will be taken near a basil plant. Worshipping basil brings devotees wealth, children, good health and prosperity, as well as everything the devotee wishes for. It is also supposed to cure the sick, exonerate the accused, and protect the weak and helpless.

The plant can also be used for medicinal purposes. The leaves work as an expectorant. The juice can be used as eardrops to cure earaches and as a means of getting rid of ringworm. A paste of basil mixed with limejuice is used to treat certain kinds of skin disease, while an infusion of the leaves is used to alleviate gastric problems. Tea leaves having the leaves of basil are also found in Nepal, which has dual advantages -- one is to cure many diseases and the other is to improve the taste of tea. The list of basil's medicinal benefits goes on and on.

Throughout Nepal and India, a number of varieties of basil can be found. Not all of the varieties have religious significance, but each can be used in traditional medicine. Few plants in South Asia offer such a potent combination of religious and medicinal value. The basil plant is useful for many different purposes, so it is found in the fence of each and every Nepalese home.