Thulasi Puja. Or, Thulasi’s Puja

She was named Thulasi , the ninth child of Mamidipudi Ramakrishnaiah and Indira, of Dandayudhapuram , Nellore, for the profusion of Tulsi plants in the garden at the time of her birth. The story goes that when a Smart Alec acquaintance asked if she’d have been named Gummidi if the garden had been overflowing with pumpkins, her Ramayana-writing Father crisply retorted that such names were given by the townspeople and not parents!
The Tulsi Kotai that dominates this picture was also the centerpiece of the backyard, and the domain of my grandmother, Indira, just as the puja room with the magnificent mandasanam and the life-like idol of Hanuman was the preserve of Chamanna Tatha .
Memories of Grandmother Indira , a tiny figure wrapped in a cotton or rayon saree going out to wash the Tulasi Kotai – I don’t think i I’ve seen another of these immense proportions, line its corners with manjal- kumkum, pick flowers from her garden, draw kolams, and recite shlokas , light lamps and offer flowers. One time she graciously allowed me to hold the little brass basket and gather flowers.
In this picture – it appears no one thought to take a picture of Grandmother at her giant-sized Tulasi Kottai though her children , 16 ( seven son and nine daughters) have posed in front of it, the daughters with their own babies like Thulasi here, carrying, not me,,but my Big Brother Two , aka Bunty.
Thulasi is now in Amma heaven, and one hopes, Bunty is with her , as they are in our memories, and in our conversations everyday.
Amma has left behind her own Tulasi,puja tradition. Just like,her mother, Amma just went about establishing her own little Universe of gods and goddesses, her little soapbox hundis from which she often “lent” a fifty or hundred in exchange for IOUs from Dad for emergencies. Sometimes she used it herself, perhaps to get me a little treat, or to give tamboolam to an unexpected guest . The IOUs, however always went in Dad’s name!
When I was little, I loved cleaning the puja room, washing the brass idols of the pantheon, and pouring oil/ghee in the lamps, and placing flowers and doing kolam. As I grew older, I lost interest and would often do it under protest, and then I outgrew it altogether, leaving Amma to her own little deals and secrets with her gods. I did help during festivals, and now when I stuff kozhakattais on Ganesha Chaturthi, there,is a tinge of regret that I denied her, and myself, the joy of doing it together.
Of course in my defense, I have to say she made,it all seem easy. Amma had a great accomplice in Ganesha, and together they made the divinest kozhakattais sweet and savory, .there was no miracle necessary of course, to make them disappear.
Reflecting on Amma’s relationship with her pantheon, I do,believe she never missed any festival until,the last four or five years. Im also certain that they joined her at her labor of love and devotion. This season, I celebrated all the “feastivals” and at everyone, she was,there, making the kozhakattais and the Janmashtami goodies happen.
With her presence, and Paati-Tatha ‘s mandasanam installed at home, I feel blessed.
Doing puja with the little,ceramic Tulsi Kottai that she used to keep, Krupa and Shanti adding their presence and memories, my Tulsi puja is also for Amma and Paati and all that they mean to us.

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