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Sacred Botany

Musician Jahnavi Harrison examines the sacred plants, rich in spiritual symbolism, some of which are said to be intermediaries with the divine world.

Musician Jahnavi Harrison enters a world of sacred plants revealing that, in many religious traditions, plants are seen as spiritually symbolic - sometimes acting as intermediaries with the divine world.

Jahnavi invites us on a journey to Vrindavan, a town two hours south of New Delhi, a place of pilgrimage and worship for Hindus. Vrindavan is named after the goddess Vrinda who is said to take the form of the holy basil plant Tulasi in the worldly realm. Jahnavi reveals that this same plant is lovingly cultivated in the Hertfordshire temple where she grew up and is brought into the main shrine each day during the morning worship.

She goes on to explore the significance of the lotus flower, a key symbol in many Eastern religions.

The use of plants in worship is not confined to the East. The presence of Ocimum Basilicum - which many of us know as the basil we cook with - is a common sight in regional denominations of Orthodox Christianity, especially in the Greek church. Jahnavi explains that Orthodox Christians believe the herb sprung up where Jesus's blood fell near his tomb. Ever since, basil has been associated with the worship of the cross, particularly during Great Lent.

Drawing upon the Zen poetry of Matsuo Basho, Jahnavi discusses the lessons we can learn by paying close attention to the plants around us. Basho's vivid depictions of the plant world are complemented by the words of Sam Taylor Coleridge, whose poem To Nature is described by Jahnavi as "a prayerful study of the plant kingdom".

Presenter: Jahnavi Harrison
Producer: Max O'Brien
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

30 minutes

Last on

Sun 11 Feb 2018 23:30

Music Played

  • Aindra Das

    Vrindavan Mellows 3, Part 7

  • Govinda Priya

    Bestowing Mercy: Tulasi Prayers

  • Veet Vichara & Premanjali

    Om Mane Padme Hum

  • Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

    A Spotless Rose

  • Ilan Chester

    Symphony of the Soul

Fact Sheet

Today’s programme was presented by Jahnavi Harrison

The producer was Max O'Brien


Title:Why Gardening is Good for the British Soul             

Author: Debora Robertson

Publisher: The Telegraph


Title: The Temple Bell Dies Away

Author: Matsuo Basho (trans. R. H Blyth)

Publisher: Japan Publications


Title: Heard, Not Seen          

Author: Matsuo Basho (trans. Sam Hamill)

Publisher: Shambhala


Title: Summer Grasses

Author: Matsuo Basho (trans. Sam Hamill)

Publisher: Shambhala


Title: To Nature

Author: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Publisher: Penguin Classics


Title: Srimad Bhadavatam, Canto 10, Text 59.26

Author: A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (trans.)

Publisher: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust


Title: On The Meaning of Om Mani Padme Hum

Author: The Dalai Lama

Publisher: Kalmuck Mongolian Buddhist Centre


Title: Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya Lila, Text 19.152

Author: A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (trans.)

Publisher: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust