Ritual Plants, Mandalas and Sacred Places
Tulsi, or the Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) is for the Hindus an embodiment of the goddess Lakshmi (goddess of wealth). This plant can be found in many Indian gardens and courtyards. She is worshiped daily with flowers, water, light and incense sticks like idols to obtain Lakshmi’s mercy.
Also, Tulsi is planted and worshiped in many Indian temples. The devotees walk around the plant three times in a clockwise direction, reciting mantras, touching the pot of Tulsi. This should have a healing, cleansing effect.
Small Tulsi bushes around an oil lamp stand at the Krishna Temple in Udupi (Karnataka).
Tulsi is also an important medicinal plant in Ayurvedic medicine, it is used in various forms for its antibacterial effect. The preparations at this booth contain, besides Tulsi leaves, mainly cow products like milk, urine, cow dung etc.
The cows are sacred in India and all its products are considered healthy. Usually, the cows are sanctified to Krishna. In the picture, a man is washing his cow.
Every morning, the Indian women in Hampi (Karnataka) draw a new kolam – a kind of mandala – at the entrance of their house onto the floor.
They do this either with rice flour or with stone powder. The shapes are chosen individually.
Even in temples, the kolams are made by women. For the temple kolams they mostly use coloured rice flours.
The kolams have a great tradition in South India. In private homes and in temples they have a protective and auspicious function.
A primary function of the kolams is the defence against destructive influences. Nagas (snake beings) can also be invited with the kolams, who also have a protective and auspicious power.
Nagas (Sanskrit snake) are snakes with magical powers. You can find them everywhere in different forms of representation.
A female Naga creature near a tree at the Thungabadra river in Hampi. Nagas are related to trees, earth and water.
Nagas have an important function in the southern Indian folk religiosity. They protect people and bring good luck. Nagas cult sites are often worshiped under a tree by temple servants.
For many Hindus the offering of flowers is a part of the daily practice. This is a way for the devotees to give thanks for God. The man in the picture brings Tulsi leaves and Asteracae flowers for Nandi, the riding animal of Shiva. The name Nandi means happy or joyful.
A Shivalinga after a worship ritual with the offered flowers, leaves and fruits (Shiva Temple, Hampi). Shivalinga symbolizes the different aspects of Shiva. His creative and destructive powers, the formless divine being (Sanksrit Sat) or the pillar of fire from which Shiva has shown.
The red hibiscus is dedicated to the goddess Kali. It is also offered for other deities, but not for Shiva.
Legend has it that Vishnu and Brahma argued about which of them was the greater god. There was a huge pillar of fire, and Vishnu turned into a boar to dig his way to its lower end, while Brahma flew up in the form of a wild goose to find its upper end. The primordial serpent told Vishnu that this column had no end. The cow told Brahma that this column had no end. Brahma, however, persuaded the red hibiscus to tell Vishnu an untruth, namely that he had blossomed on top of the pillar of fire. Then Shiva came out of the pillar of fire and told Brahma that he would not be worshipped by the people because of his lie. And for Shiva’s worship, hibiscus flowers should not be used. The picture shows a house altar in Mattu, near Manipal. On the left side you can see a boar head with a red hibiscus flower on top.
In folk superstition, one may touch the red hibiscus only when one dedicates it. Otherwise it brings bad luck.
Other nice flowers can be offered for Shiva, such as on this house altar in Mattu. The trident (Sanskrit trishula) is one of the most important and common attributes of Shiva. He symbolizes the three qualities (gunas) of living things: ignorance (tamas, associated color black), passion (rajas, red), goodness (sattva, white). The trident also represents the divine aspects of creation, preservation, and destruction. According to other interpretations, it symbolizes the three elements earth, water and fire.
Hibiscus and other plants sacrificed to the gods are planted around the temple.
Flowers for the offerings can be bought directly in front of the larger temples, such as at the Anantheswara (a name of Shiva) temple in Udupi.
We also find these flowers in the markets. The Hindus take these plants not only in the temple, but also home for the house altar. It contains statues and pictures of gods and goddesses who are worshipped daily.
In Hindu philosophy, the forms and names are not different from God. That’s why you can worship Him in a stone or in a tree.
In the Indian tradition, there are also trees that play a special role. For example, the Peepal-tree, on other name Bodhi-tree (sacred fig, Ficus religiosa). In the scriptures it is called Asvatthavraksa and is associated with the deities. Its roots are Brahma, the trunk is Vishnu and the crown is Shiva. In addition, in the Buddhist culture, the tree is a symbol of Buddha, because Siddharta was enlightened meditating under a Peepal-tree.
Also the Peepal-tree is worshipped in nature by circumambulation. It is also offered flowers, incense sticks are lit and certain mantras are recited.
Peepal-trees in front of an old temple in Hampi.
Fruits and water provided for a worship ritual (puja) at Vishnumurty Temple in Aroor (Karnataka).
Hibiscus flowers and Ixora coccinea flowers as offerings in the Vishnumurty temple. Both plants also play a role in Ayurveda as a medicine.
Food, flowers, sandalwood, tulsi water for rituals and offerings at the Sri Gopalkrishna Temple in Aroor.
Puja at the side altar in the Vishnumurty Temple of Aroor.
Linga on the banks of river Tungabhadra in Hampi.