Breaking coconut on the head, a strange ritual, Tamil Nadu.

near Periyakulam, Coimbatore dist.  breaking coconut on the head. Daily Thanthi

breaking coconut on the head. Daily Mail. Daily Mail
breaking coconut on the head. Daily Mail
India has been a mysterious country for centuries with countless cultures, traditions, ethnic and tribal groups scattered across the country. It is highly a heterogeneous society with so many contrasting groups. Majority of them belong to the Hindu religion. These people are god-fearing and extremely superstitious to the point of making it an obsession.  Mind you, though a majority of them believe in superstition, apparition, etc, they do not believe in  weird things to propitiate the God as done by small groups of people.  One of the quaint rituals  prevalent in the southern parts of India, particularly in the rural areas of Tamil Nadu, is breaking of coconut on the human head!!

The breaking coconut on the head has been around for a long time and it involves  smashing of a coconut on the head  of a devotee in a plea to the gods for good health and success. In a chosen place preferably in a temple, devotees gather around the Pujari (mostly non-Brahmin priests) who smashes a coconut on their skull. Most of the people  get up and walk out as if nothing has  happened. Some people rub their heads after this strange event. This ritual is performed as a sort of thanksgiving to the deity after their wish has been granted by the deity.

The priest breaks the coconut one by one on the devotees who sit around him and he does it in a quick succession without deviating from the center part of the skull.   This ritual is followed in certain parts of  Karur, Coimbatore and  Madurai districts in Tamil Nadu.
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In the case of Mahalakshmi temple  situated in Mahadanapuram, 23 Kms. from Karur town, the ritual coincides with the annual Adi festival. In some places it is a two day festival  and is prevalent among certain casts. At any given place  more than one thousand devotees participate in this  baffling ritual and head injuries with bleeding  do occur because of extra force used by the priest or the impact of the coconut is on the sides of the skull. Prior to breaking  the coconut, puja is done to the deity, then the priest, in some cases,  goes into a trance  and stands on a bed of sharp nails. Once he comes out of the trance, he  does a brief puja and then  begins to break the coconut in succession on the waiting devotees that include elderly people women and teenagers. 

The devotees who come to the temple to have  the coconut broken on their head are expected to have head bath in the morning before morning puja at home. They should refrain from non-vegetarian food  on this ritual day. Another condition is the couples should practice celibacy to uphold the sanctity of this ceremony.

According to the villagers, this tradition began during the colonial period when the British were laying the railway tracks through the villages. When asked to change the course of the tracks, the foreigners told them  with sarcasm that if they could break the coconut-like stones lying on the ground there with their head, then they would change the track line. They villagers did break the small stones with their head through trance and prayer and the tradition continues even to day.

Because of the sensitivity involved in matters related certain prevailing religious practices, the government does not want to interfere.  The Human  Rights Commission makes an hue and cry about such dangerous practices and it is of no use. As for doctors, they say  though the skull is resistant to a certain level of  tolerance to impact, such practices are deadly and hazardous to health. Their contention is if the coconut does not break, there is  no release of  energy, positively it may cause head injuries. Despite warnings by the doctors, people do not want to give up the tradition that has been around since the time of the British.

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