Coconut tree
Known as 'tengai' (literally 'honey fruit') in Tamil, the oldest living language in India, and as 'narial' in Hindi (literally 'fruit containing water', from the root word 'nari' meaning 'water').


The use of the coconut in ceremonies is a gift from the Dravidia. tradition and a symbol of the Aryan-Dravidian synthesis in India. It has special significance because it is such a useful tree. Its leaves are used to thatch roofs and for mats to sit or sleep on. Its branches are used to make brooms and shore up the structure of houses. Cups, spoons and ladles are made of coconut shell, while coconut water is a refreshing and nourishing drink. The tender, white meat of the fruit can be eaten raw, or used in curries, chutneys and desserts. Coconut milk is extracted from the pulp and is used to thicken sauces and curries. Oil is extracted from its dried fruit, which is used in cooking as well as to nourish the hair, in healing and soothing massages for the body, and to make soap.

Arrack and vinegar are also made from the coconut. Its fruit, oil, water and leaves are used in Ayurveda and other alternative systems of medicine.

Since the coconut resembles a human head, down to the hair-like tuft of fibre on one end, it is used in sacrifices, in lieu of a human head.

Besides a sacrifice any new venture is begun with the ritual breaking of a coconut to appease the gods, be it to launch a ship, in a grihya pravesha puja, or at the start of a new project, film or construction. Because of the symbolism attached to it, a coconut is never broken in the presence of a pregnant woman, to prevent similar damage to the head of her unborn child.

The three eyes of the coconut are automatically identified with the three eyes of Shiva. In some religious ceremonies, Shiva is represented by a 'kalasha' or pot of rice, topped with a coconut. This figure is Coconut garlanded and then worshipped.

One legend regarding the origin of the coconut says that long ago, there was a famous Suryavanshi king named Trishanku. He was a just and pious ruler. His only desire was to take his mortal body to heaven along with his soul. Once, when a great famine befell his kingdom, Trishanku cared for Sage Vishvamitra's family in his absence. When Vishvamitra returned, he promised to reward the king by sending him to heaven with his body. Vishvamitra prepared a unique sacrifice. and as the prayers grew in strength, Trishanku rose in the air until he reached the very threshold of heaven. Seeing a mortal at the gates, the gods promptly complained to Indra. Enraged by such audacity, Indra pushed the king down. As Trishanku fell towards the earth, he cried out to Vishvamitra who cast a spell to stop him as he fell. The king's descent was halted mid-air. However the sage realised that Trishanku would fall back to the earth once Origin of the coconut.the spell weakened. Placing a long pole below the king, he provided support from the ground. In time, the pole became the trunk of the bountiful coconut tree and Trishanku's head became the coconut fruit. (One theory holds that he was turned into a star). As a perennial sacrificial offering, Trishanku presumably ascends many times to heaven, and gathers goodwill as well on earth below for the benefits he bestows as the coconut tree.

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