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This brilliant miniature, though rendered in dull colours with sandstone-like look, obtaining its level of excellence in its execution, not in bright colour scheme, represents two noble ladies, besides an attendant, performing Tulsi-puja – worship of Tulsi. Besides its ritual significance Tulsi is a herbal plant with rare medicinal properties. It closely resembles basil – a European herbal plant. Though Tulsi-puja is a daily ritual at almost every Hindu house performed mainly by ladies at Tulsi-ghara – a masonry structure built in the courtyard of almost every Hindu house – a noble’s or a poor man’s, Tulsi’s annual and elaborate worship is performed on the first day of Kartika, the eighth month under Indian calendar. During this annual worship ladies of the house – sometimes also others of the locality, invoke the plant as Lord Vishnu’s consort to reside in their houses for the whole year and protect the inmates from all maladies and every ill and bring prosperity. A humble plant the ladies perceive in Tulsi the reflection of their own selves and feel bound to it by some sacred ties. The Tulsi-ghara enjoys a shrine’s status and except bare-footed no one shall encroach into the courtyard’s zone consecrated along the Tulsi-ghara and accordingly marked. The miniature seems to represent this annual Kartika-puja as its theme.
At the most a meter tall Tulsi, despite its divinity, is a humble plant; so is its ‘puja’ – worship, though it seems to have been in prevalence since ancient days, at least the Puranic. The eighth-ninth century Padma Purana is the earliest known source not only to allude to Tulsi as a holy plant but also to mythicize it. Padma Purana, as well as other scriptures, contend that Tulsi was initially a woman named Vrinda or Brinda, married to the demon king Jalandhar. With Vrinda’s strength of piety and devotion to Vishnu transmitted into his being Jalandhar had become invincible and even Shiva was unable to subdue him. Finally, all gods along Shiva requested Vishnu to find the solution. In his absence Vishnu disguised as Jalandhar and as Jalandhar entered into relationship with Vrinda and corrupted her. This at once destroyed the chastity of Vrinda as also the exceptional powers of Jalandhar and now he was just an ordinary being and was immediately defeated. Enraged with such blot on her character Vrinda cursed Vishnu and with its effect Vishnu turned black. To appease Vrinda Vishnu announced to wed her in her next birth. Accordingly in next birth Vrinda was married to Vishnu in his transform as Saligrama and thus Tulsi is revered as Lord Vishnu’s consort. Now every Tulsi shrine has, besides a Tulsi plant, also a non-anthropomorphic stone image revered as Saligrama, a form of Vishnu.
A contemporary rendition in late Mughal miniature idiom, as practiced around 1830-40 mainly at Mughal Subas – provincial headquarters like Oudh and Murshidabad, though in things like theme, background, architecture, ambience … revealing Rajasthani character, the painting portrays two noble women along an attending maid carrying a tray with a lighted lamp and some flowers for performing worship of the Tulsi plant. While one of the two noble ladies is engaged in bathing the plant deity by pouring water over it, the other one is channelizing the water poured in the course of bathing the plant. Bathing the plant and offering a lighted lamp are the essential steps in Tulsi-puja. As Vrinda and otherwise Tulsi stood for chastity and absolute purity, the deity is worshipped with white flowers. The hexagonal Tulsi-ghara has been constructed with white marble, though now quite old the marble’s lustre is largely missing. On its mid-height the Tulsi-ghara has an alcove for holding the lighted lamp. It also affords required heat for the plant’s roots. The Tulsi-ghara has been constructed in the centre of the courtyard adjacent to the royal apartments – square chambers constructed with marble and sandstone facing. The superstructures are invariably hexagonal and domed. There is in the background the sky partly grey and partly reddish orange indicative of early morning immediately preceding dawn, the time that scriptures have prescribed for Tulsi-puja.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet.