IFR Nutology: Coconuts and Betel Nuts

Ever wondered why the coconut plays such a significant role in most Hindu traditions? In rituals? In offerings to God?

Someone had once told me the three eyes of the coconut represent the three eyes of Shiva, one of the three most revered Gods in Hinduism. Apparently, there is more to it, according to this FAQ.

The coconut is broken, symbolising the breaking of the ego. The juice within, representing the inner tendencies (vaasanas) is offered along with the white kernel - the mind, to the Lord. A mind thus purified by the touch of the Lord is used as prasaada (a holy gift).

Most rituals usually have a sound basis in either logic or economics. I think this holds true when it comes to the coconut, too. Kalpa vriksha is the Sanskrit word for the wishing tree or the tree of life. I have seen this meaning extended to the coconut tree because nearly every part of the palm tree can be used and the tree has a high annual yield of the sustaining fruit.

We grew up on and with coconuts; literally, every part of the fruit. Water from young coconuts was a thirst quencher during hot and humid summers. The tender flesh within, a treat to slurp once the water had been downed. The water from the mature coconut was also popular but not as much as that from the young tender coconut. The husk and shell was used in outdoor stoves as fuel. The white flesh was grated, ground and 'milked' and converted into the base for our curries. After all, what is fish curry without coconut?

Fresh grated coconut is the most common garnish where I come from and definitely more popular than just cilantro. Dried coconut was also used in curries but more so in dry chutney powders like Lasnichi chutney. Steel wool and scouring pads were preceded by the more environment-friendly coconut husk to scrub utensils. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

It's not much of a surprise that the coconut is a revered and considered an auspicious fruit.

But betel nut? Betel nut or supari is known for being a mouth-cleanser. According to the Ayurveda, it is supposed to have medicinal properties as well. The leaves of the betel plant are used to make tambulam on special occasions and are also presented as a parting gift to visitors.
Betel nuts can be chewed for their effects as a mildly euphoric stimulant, attributed to the presence of relatively high levels of psychoactive alkaloids. Chewing it increases the capacity to work, also causes a hot sensation in the body, heightened alertness and sweating.

The betel leaf is also used to make paan.

In Hindu tradition, betel nuts represent the deities. The worshipper provides seats of rice grains to these deities and installs them on the seats. The following should be the arrangement made on a raised wooden seat. Betel nuts representing deities are kept on betel leaves.
From eSamskriti

This is the most I have been able to find when it comes to tradition and religious ceremonies. If you can shed more light on why betel nut is considered auspicious, please do let me know!

Coconuts, betel nuts, a diya and an agarbatti in the snow?! More than a little incongruous. Slightly crazy, too, especially on a particularly windy day! But it all makes sense as this is is my entry for CLICK, a theme-based monthly food photography event. The current theme is nuts. The deadline is December 30, 2007 so if you haven't clicked yet, hurry up and send in your entry. The rules are here.


Purnima said...

Manisha..good idea for this theme!! http://www.india-crafts.com/articles/puja-items.html
Here this link says 'Betel leaves/betel nut: The betel nut symbolizes the ego and the hard coarse qualities that must be surrendered to the Lord.'
Good post yet again! Have a great 2008!

Shilpa said...

Thats a very good picture Manisha. Loved the puja thali :).

Wish you and your family a very happy and prosperous new year.

Meera said...

Happy new year to you and your family

Siri said...

Wow Manisha, that was one hell of an idea to send this puja thali for CLICK..:)

Indeed a divine post. Have a Fantabulous 2008!

~ Siri

Sig said...

Happy New Year to you and yours Manisha..

Suganya said...

Nobody would have thought of THAT. I don't buy whole coconuts, hence I ditched the idea. Happy new year, Manisha.

Indian Food Rocks said...

Purnima, thanks for that link!

Shilpa, thanks! I was running out of ideas as whatever I did with nuts ended up looking really blah to me!

Meera, thank you and wish you the same!

Siri, thanks! But at least one more person came up with something similar. ;-)

Sig, thank you! Same to you and Siv!

Suganya, in the snow? Maybe. But Bee just updated the page of entries and there are many coconuts there! I don't buy whole coconuts either. This one is a little special.