Sacred Botany

BBC Radio 4 – Something Understood – ‘Sacred Botany’, Presented by Jahnavi Harrison

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”.

To listen to this presentation click here or on the arrow in the image below.


Producer: Max O’Brien/A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Jahnavi Harrison was raised in a family of bhakti yoga practitioners at Bhaktivedanta Manor in Hertfordshire, England. She is a writer, musician and artist who aims to channel her creative expression as a path to self-realization and service.  She is trained in both Western as well as Carnatic (South Indian) classical dance and music, as well as writing and visual arts. After graduating with a BA in Linguistics and Creative Writing, she travelled internationally with the sacred music band, Gaura Vani and As Kindred Spirits, for five years, presenting the dynamic stories and spiritual culture of India for a fresh, contemporary audience.