By Kumkum Bhatia
In India, coconuts have been used from time immemorial – both in food preparations and religious rituals. Native to the Asia Pacific region, they have long occupied a place in Hindu religious practice, appearing in written Sanskrit literature in the fourth century B.C. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata both mention coconuts.
Components of the coconut palm are incorporated into a variety of Hindu rituals. In the state of Kerala, the largest producer of coconuts in India, the flowers are planted in rice bowls and displayed during wedding ceremonies. Instead of opening a bottle of champagne, Hindus break coconuts!
During all religious rituals, one of the most common offering made is that of a coconut, carried out during everything new and happy – weddings, new constructions, festivals etc. The coconut is broken and offered to the deity being worshiped, and later on distributed as prasada to the devotees.
The coconut known as Sriphala (Sri, the name of Goddess Laxmi, meaning wealth; phal is fruit) is used in the making of a Purna-Kumbha (kalash) and is also an independent object of worship. A coconut alone is also used to symbolize the Lord. The three eyes of the coconut represent the three eyes of Shiva.
The fibre covering of the dried coconut is removed except for a tuft on the top. The marks on the coconut make it look like the head of a human being. The coconut is broken, symbolizing the breaking of the ego. The juice within, representing the inner tendencies (vasanas) is offered along with the white kernel – the mind, to the Lord. By breaking the coconut, the water in it flows out.
Hence, the heart, as represented by the coconut, is covered by the fibre of desire. When we strip it of all selfish desires and offer the core, it becomes an offering to God. A mind thus purified by the touch of the Lord is used as prasada.
Whenever a work of magnitude is undertaken, it is natural for the person to feel a sense of pride. Smashing the coconut is symbolic of annihilating the ego and humbling oneself before God.
Coconuts are also broken before deities in temples during normal worship. Again, the philosophy is the same – complete submission to God. Therefore in any auspicious venture or ritual, a person offers a coconut to a deity with the sentiment, ‘I offer myself at Your feet’.
The coconut also symbolises selfless service. Every part of the tree – the trunk, leaves, fruit, coir etc. – is used in innumerable ways to make mats, tasty dishes, oil, soap etc. It takes in salty water from the earth and converts it into sweet nutritive water that is especially beneficial to people. It is used in the preparation of many Ayurvedic medicines and other alternative medicinal systems.
Hence, the coconut tree is known as “Kalpavriksha” – a tree that gives everything.
The coconut is a sattvic fruit that is sacred, pure, clean, health-giving and endowed with several properties.
Tasya-Ambhah Shiitalam Hrdyam Diipanam Shukralam-Laghu |
Tat-Paadapa-Shiro-Majjaa Shukralaa Vaata-Pitta-Jit ||3||
Its water is cold, good for the heart, stimulates the digestive fire, enhances semen and is light. It mitigates “Vata” and “Pitta”.