What comes to your mind when you think of a beautiful, sunny, warm beach of tropics? Ocean waves? Dry Sand? What else?
A beach is not tropical unless it has one important ingredient in it. The Coconut Trees! Scientifically called “Cocos Nucifera”, the word “Cocos” stands for human-head in Portuguese. Widely believed to have been from Indian and Indonesian regions originally, the coconuts were distributed to distant islands of Pacific and even as far, far, far away as the famous Hawaii through ocean waves.
Coconuts are considered as the lifeline of tropics for its multiple uses; equated to the divine tree of Hindu Mythology – Kalpavriksha – A tree that fulfills all of one’s desire. Every part of a coconut tree is used in every walk of life. In Tropical India, coconuts are used for their oil, milk, water, flesh, coir, firewood, construction, utilities out of leaves such as baskets, roof material, brooms, mats to name a few. Coconuts transcend from just being a locally grown tree into the domain of deep faith and belief. In Hinduism, the coconuts are used in every ritual – an indispensible part of faith. To put things in perspective, Coconut is called Thengai in Tamil, Thenginakai in Kannada, Thenga in Malayalam, Thenkayi in Telugu. Despite being entirely different languages of 4 different provinces in South India, they all converge at one point – “Then” (pronounced – Thain) which literally translates into Honey. The other half of the word translates to nut. Perhaps because, Honey, is the purest (only??) naturally processed “food”, captivating with its hue, texture, pleasantness, is fulfilling and is protector of life when used as medicine and food! Upon diving deep, one realizes that coconuts hold mightier command on local way of life in India. Coconut’s hard shell possess 3 brown circles arranged triangularly at one end of the coconut – often perceived as the three eyes of Lord Shiva (The third one being the all-seeing eye on his forehead). Coconuts are offered to God with great reverence and, as a practice of vegetative offering; coconuts are crushed before the temple’s deity. Coconut is one of those trees that take in any kind of water, be it sea water or hard water or fresh water. But always give water that is sweet in the nut. In Hinduism, this is often compared to mothers and the sages; as they are pure of their heart and only intend to leave behind the best for their children and followers respectively, no matter how bad they are treated or are received in the world.
The Coconuts are smashed in front of a temple’s deity to signify that beneath the “hard shell and coir” of ego, there lies the “flesh” of soul that encapsulates the “sweet water” of wisdom. A reminder that in order to get to your true self within, one must get rid of the tough and messy fiber of ego; often entangling us with challenges on our way to salvation.
A very good percentage of children in western coast of India grow up climbing the coconut trees without any fancy safety gears or ropes! And is one of the easily available edible fruits(nuts) available in the coast, to quench one’s thirst in the tropical summer heat and as the most easily available, delicious, naturally available food of nature that truly protects and nurtures like a mother does. Coconuts are available around the year, and are amazingly resilient to the environmental challenges of the coast. Thus, are one of the most culturally significant elements of India, more so, in coastal India. Now when I ask some of my friends from the coast, can you imagine a life without this fascinating nut.. they can’t. And they call me “nuts” for having asked that question!
Now, let’s me ask you a similar question. Imagine a beautiful beach, clear blue sky, cotton clouds floating overhead, a relaxing drink by your side, the symphony of waves harmoniously breaching the beach.. but hey! Where are the coconut trees??! I can’t see them!