CH2 – Tulasī Performs Austerities

Radhika Raman Das
By Radhika Raman Das 1.7k Views Add a Comment 9 Min Read

As soon as she was born, Tulasī resolved to go to the mountainous region of Badarīnātha to practice severe austerities. Though many persons tried to dissuade her, no one was able to; for she was determined to stay and pray in the forest till Lord Kṛṣṇa appeared and agreed to become her husband. During a period of one hundred thousand celestial years, she endured the following:

In the summer, she exposed herself to four fires around her and the sun above; in the winter, she submerged herself in the icy waters; and in the rainy season, she subjected herself to heavy downpours at the funeral grounds. For 20,000 years, she subsisted on fruits and water; for 30,000 years, she chewed dry leaves; for 40,000 years, she lived only on air; and for 10,000 years, she ate nothing and just stood on one leg.
Finally, she saw Lord Brahmā in the sky, riding on his swan carrier and sweeping down towards her. Believing that he had come to grant her a boon, she bowed down low to him.

Lord Brahmā said, “O Tulasī, ask me for a boon. Whether it be devotion to Lord Hari or servitorship to Him or freedom from old age or freedom from death-I will grant it.”

“Yes, O Lord, I will ask. Please listen. I will not hide my desires out of fear or shame, since you are all-knowing. My name is Tulasī. Formally I was a cowherd girl in Goloka, and there I served Rādhārāṇī, the beloved of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. I am a partial expansion of Rādhārāṇī and was her favorite companion. But one day in the place where the rasa dance had occurred, Kṛṣṇa became intimate with me and I fainted from excessive joy. While I was lying there, Rādhārāṇī suddenly appeared and saw me in that condition. She was not at all pleased. Blinded with fury, she first reproached Kṛṣṇa and then cursed me. She said, ‘O vile one! Go! And take birth as a human being!’

“Then Kṛṣṇa said to me, ‘When you take birth in India, if you practice austerities, Lord Brahmā will grant you a blessing. He will arrange for you to marry the four-armed Nārāyaṇa, who is an expansion of Myself.’ Then Kṛṣṇa disappeared. And out of fear of Rādhārāṇī, I left Goloka and was born in this world…So please grant me that boon. I want to have that handsome and peaceful Nārāyaṇa as my husband.”

Lord Brahmā replied, “O Tulasī, Sudāmā was a partial expansion of Kṛṣṇa and was one of Kṛṣṇa’s cowherd boyfriends in Goloka. As a result of a curse by Rādhārāṇī, he is presently living on earth among the Dānavas (demons). His name is Śaṅkhacūḍa. He is very energetic and no one can compare with him in strength. While living in Goloka, he was very attracted to you and wanted to marry you. But because he feared Rādhārāṇī, he did not make any overtures.

“Just as you are a jātismarā-that is, one who knows her previous births-Śaṅkhacūḍa also is. Remembering his past desire to be close to you, he has performed severe austerities to obtain you as his wife. I now wish to grant his desire. Therefore, O beautiful one, please agree to wed him. However, later on, by the special arrangement of Providence, you will get the beautiful Nārāyaṇa as your husband. But after that, He will curse you and you will be transformed into the world-purifying Tulasī plant (holy basil). You will be the best of flowers and dearer to Nārāyaṇa than His own life. No one’s worship will be complete without your leaves. You will remain as a tree in Vṛndāvana and will be widely known as Vṛndāvanī. The cowherd men and women will worship Lord Hari with your leaves. As the presiding deity of the Tulasī plant, you will always enjoy the company of Kṛṣṇa, the best of cowherd boys.”

Tulasī Devī smiled and gladly said to Lord Brahmā, “O Father, I will be honest with you. I am not as devoted to the four-armed Nārāyaṇa as I am to the two-armed Kṛṣṇa. For in Goloka, my close encounter with Kṛṣṇa was suddenly interrupted, leaving me still longing for Him. Thus, it was only because Kṛṣṇa had asked me that I have been praying to get Nārāyaṇa for my husband. But now it appears certain that by your grace I will again get Kṛṣṇa, who is very difficult to attain. However, O lord, please grant me the following boon: that I lose my fear of Rādhārāṇī.”

Lord Brahmā replied, “O child, I shall now give you the sixteen-lettered rādhā-mantra. By this boon you will be as dear to Rādhārāṇī as Her life, and She will approve of Your intimate dealings with Kṛṣṇa.”
Lord Brahmā initiated Tulasī Devī into to the sixteen-lettered mantra, the hymn, and the mode of worship of Śrī Rādhā. Then, blessing her, he disappeared.

As directed, Tulasī engaged herself in worshiping Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī and, after twelve years, attained success. Obtaining the desired boon, she reaped the fruits that were unattainable by others. As the pangs of her austerities ended, she became cheerful. When one gets the fruits of one’s labor and then considers the difficulties experienced in attaining them, the difficulties then seem pleasurable.

Tulasī was in the prime of her youth and she longed for the company of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Finishing her food and drink, she lay down on a beautiful bed decorated with flowers and perfumed with sandal paste. She went to sleep with a happy heart. But while she slept, Kāmadeva, the god of love, shot five arrows at her-arrows that were meant to enchant her. Consequently, though she was anointed with cooling sandal paste and slept on a bed strewn with flowers, her body began to feel as though it were on fire. Out of joy, the hairs on her body stood on end, her eyes reddened and her body began to tremble. One moment she looked thin and at another moment she grew restless or drowsy. Sometimes she became agitated or warm with desire, at other times she fainted, then recovered, then sorrowed. Sometimes she got up from the bed, walked this way and that way, sat down or lay down.

This abnormal condition of her body and mind increased daily; so much so that her soft bed felt like a bed of thorns; delicious fruits and water tasted like poison; her house seemed like a desert; her soft delicate cloth felt hot like fire; and the vermilion mark on her forehead pained like a boil.

In her dreams she saw a nicely dressed, smiling, jolly youth. He was adorned with jewels, besmeared with sandal paste, and garlanded with flowers. Gazing at her face, he spoke to her affectionately, and embraced and kissed her repeatedly. One moment he went away; the next moment he returned; then she cried out, “O Lord of my heart, where are you going? Please don’t go!” When she awakened, she wept again and again. In this way Tulasī Devī passed her days at Badarikāśrama.

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Raman (Radhika Raman Das) joined ISKCON in 2003 and got initiated by HH Bhakti Caitanya Swami Maharaj in 2011. As the Editor in Chief at "The Vaisnava - Online Magazine", he helps readers around the world hone in their Spiritual Curiosity, express their unique realizations as aspiring Vaisnava writers and enthusiasts, as well as to spread the digital seed of Srila Prabhupada's mission to spread Krishna Consciousness all around the globe.
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