Thursday, 14 February 2013

Cracking coconuts on heads

India is a country of strange customs and traditions and many of them may sound bizarre and uncommon. However, they are a test of a devotees faith and belief.
Though rationalists have frequently asked the Government and authorities to intervene and pout an end to such events, the Government has been cautious as it is unwilling to tread on people’s beliefs.
One such event, which perhaps is an outstanding example of a devotees firm faith in the supremacy of  God and his benevolence, can be found in a very unique ritual in two small temples in Tamil Nadu. Both follow the same unique ritual
The first temple is in Nilakottai in Dindigal district where  devotes hailing from Karumbakundar community assemble in large numbers to  pray to their deities- J Uthupatti near Chinnalapatti,  Sennappan and Karuppanasamy.
The villagers of  nearby areas and people from areas as far away as Coimbatore, Tiruchengode, Bangalore and several areas of Andhra Pradesh assemble in July every year to get their heads smashed or cracked with a coconut.
The priest of the temple, Malaiyappan, goes into a trance in the evening. Soon after, special offerings are made to the deities, after which ghee was poured on the 20-feet high flag post. Later, devotes sat in a row while the priest came to each of them in turn and smashed a coconut on their head.
Miraculously, none of the devotees suffered any discomfort or even a cut. Medical examination of the head showed no sings of a cracked skull or damage to the brain, which is common when any object, including a coconut, is smashed on a head.
 Not all who come here get their heads smashed though. It is only those devotees, including women, who have taken a vow, come forward to get their heads smashed. You see, this is the manner in which they redeem their vow.
The coconuts, broken on the villagers' heads, are taken home as Prasad and eaten, either cooked or raw.
A similar ritual is practiced during the annual Adi festival of Mahalakshmi Temple at Mettumahadanapuram, again in Tamil Nadu.
Here too, the chief priest, A Periaswamy, cracks coconuts on heads of devotees as part of  the vow taken by devotees.
While more than 750 devotees had coconuts broken on their heads last year, a handful did get injured nut there was nothing serious. This ritual is the highlight of  a two-day annual festival of the temple.
The priest first brakes coconuts on seven elders from the Kurumba and 24 Manai Telugu Chettiars. He then walked all along the main enclosure near the temple, systematically cracking coconuts on devotes who were sitting with hands folded in prayer.
The Government though had ensured that medical assistance was at hand. A medical unit with ambulance and paramedics waited outside to attend to emergency needs but though a few devotees sustained bleeding injuries, they did not get onto the ambulances or take any treatment. They preferred to apply turmeric or vibhuthi (sacred ash) on the open wound.
Here too devotes from many parts  of Tamil Nadu Kerala and Andhra Pradesh had participated and it was the 24th successive time that the chief priest was performing the ritual.
Perisasamy’s father, Andi Poojari, had performed the task for 56 years and his grandfather, Raman, broke coconuts on heads for 62 years.
People here say there is nothing to fear when you are praying to Mahalakshmi. True, the crack makes a sound but it does not hurt, chorus devotees.
The Mahalakshmi temple was built nearly 600 years ago by the Vijayanagar Emperor, Krishna Deva Raya.
The coconut break is voluntary and any devotee, male of female, should be over 18 years of age. The locals ascribe the ritual to the British. The story goes like this. When the British were laying a railway track, the villagers opposed the alignment for a particular reason. The British refused to give in and continued. When they reached a particular spot, they found stones shaped like coconuts. The British then told the villagers that of they could break these stones over their heads, they would change the alignment.
The villagers did so and the British changed the alignment. Since then the ritual became a regular affair.
Neurosurgeons and rationalists say such a practice is dangerous and can often crack the skull and even lad to brain damage.  

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