A Holy Bead Plant
Here we discuss a holy bead plant from India. So naturally, we'll begin in Scotland.
Or, rather, with a Scotsman -- James George Frazer, a classicist and anthropologist wrote the multi-volume The Golden Bough in the last century. Some say he did for society what Freud did for the individual – recall the memories of the past and their connections to the present.
He emphasized plants in the mythology of the world's people. The protagonists of The Golden Bough are the King of the Wood and the Corn-mother, Corn-maiden or Corn-bride. The King of the Wood has to fetch the Golden Bough (mistletoe gathered on an equinox or solstice) to save humanity.
The point is that plants are sacred to many people. But how did plants become sacred? Here I am going to ask that question by taking two examples of sacred plants used in India. Let's see what we can discover about their origins.
The principal religion in India is Hinduism, an ancient faith. Within Hinduism many people direct their devotions to certain gods or goddesses or rituals.
Visnavaites plant a tulsi bush in a pot on a pillar near their homes,
Beads are also cut out of the plant, using the stem and upper root. Wearing them indicates a member of this sect. Many other kinds of white wood are sold as tulsi. Real tulsi necklaces are expensive and typically have only small beads because the plant is small..
I once found a tulsi bush outside a house I lived in India. I cleaned the area around it, marked it with rocks and incorporated it into the lawn-garden I was tending. A neighbor stole it and planted in front of his apartment. What gall!
To whom was this plant first sacred? Hinduism grew from several religious strains.
Another was the religion of the Aryans, who pushed into India a thousand years later and came to dominate the North. The combination of the two produced Hinduism.
So, there are three possible sources of the worship of this plant: 1.) The religion of the Indus Valley people, 2.) The doctrine of the Aryans and 3.) The faith of tribal India.
Nothing suggests that the Indus Valley people revered tulsi.
The four Vedas, some of the oldest books in the world, were written by early Aryans
The oldest written record I have of tulsi dates to only 1650 A.D. The literary work Bhakti Mala (Sacred Necklace) says, "They who bear the Tulasi round the neck . . . they are Vaishnavas and sanctify the world." What a responsibility!
Given the scarcity of old texts discussing the plant, it was probably not used by mainstream Hinduism until late in history. At least one Indian scholar says the veneration of tulsi was indigenous. That is, it was non-Aryan and tribal, and absorbed by Hinduism later.
However, there is a parallel to the use of tulsi in India in at least one Aryan country, Greece. There the small shrub is said to have grown on Jesus' grave and have mystic powers.
On St. Basil's Day (when else?) sprigs are taken to the church to be blessed.
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