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Tulsi And Pandharpur Vitthal Devotees – Why Is Holy Tulsi Plant Carried By Varkaris To Pandharpur?

There is a deep connection between Tulsi and Pandharpur Vitthal Devotees. All varkaris wear a tulsi mala and they also carry a tulsi plant to Pandharpur, Aland, Dehu and other holy places associated with Vitthal and Varkari Saints.

Wearing a rosary of tulsi beads is of utmost importance to the Varkaris. Vitthala is the child (balasvarupa) Krishna. The tulsi plant is dear to Krishna. So a Varikara must wear a rosary containing a 108 tulsi beads as a pious observance. If the thread of the rosary happens to snap, the staunch Varikara would not have food until the rosary is repaired.

There is a touching story about tulsi among the Kunbis (an agricultural community) in Maharashtra.

It goes like this: Tulsi was the daughter of a poor brahmana. She had a dark complexion and a brahmana husband was not in her fate. Due to poverty, her hapless father deserted her. The gavali (cowherd) Vithoba offered refuge to orphaned Tulsi. But Rukmini was not happy with Vitthala's overtures.

Rukmini’s attitude hurt Tulsi and she decided to take shelter with Mother Earth. As she was disappearing in the bosom of the earth, Vithoba hurriedly pulled her out. But instead of Tulsi, the holy basil (tulsi) came into his hands. Vithoba had promised to marry Tulsi. He kept his words by marrying the holy basil. This is the reason why Vithoba always has a garland of tulsi around his neck.

The Varkari sampradaya is also called the Malkari. Why are Varkaris called Malkaris? This is because they wear a rosary of tulsi beads, and tulsi is dear to Vitthala. This rosary is the symbol of a life dedicated to Vitthala.

Source - Excerpts from Prabuddha Bharata September 2008 Issue page 46