If you’ve ever attended a Hindu wedding ceremony, you no doubt noticed that the breaking of a coconut was featured prominently in the service. You may wonder what coconut represents in Hindu culture and why it’s such an important part of the marriage ritual. Let’s take a closer look at coconut and its place in Hindu marriage rites.
In Hindu wedding rituals, the coconut is used as a symbolic offering. The couple offers the coconut as a token of their selflessly giving to the marriage. The coconut also simultaneously represents fertility and the blessings of the goddess Shiva.
The coconut can represent many different things in different contexts. The fruit is used throughout Indian culture and is present in almost every major Hindu ceremony. In the following paragraphs, we’ll take a closer look at the different purposes and meanings for the coconut in Hindu weddings and other religious ceremonies.
What is Coconut Used for in Hindu Weddings?
A coconut is one of the most common offerings found at a Hindu temple, and the wedding ceremony is no exception. A coconut is nearly always used as a symbolic offering as a part of Hindu wedding rituals. There are various symbols surrounding the coconut that add to its meaning, and although not all wedding ceremonies are identical, they usually employ similar actions and icons.
The coconut is blessed prior to the ceremony, marking it as a sacred object. Once blessed as a sacrificial object and properly prepared, the coconut and its associated trappings are known as the Kalasha. There may be more objects sacrificed depending on the choice of the couple, but again, the coconut is by far the most universal.
The coconut is placed on top of a pot or vase and adorned with herbs such as turmeric, vermillion, and mango leaves. Usually, it is placed at the center of a mandap, an ornately decorated canopy.The pot is filled with something life-giving or precious, such as coins, grains, gems, water, or gold. This represents the future prosperity of the couple.
How the Ceremony is Performed
As a symbol of fertility, the coconut is often held by the bride in her lap. The coconut may be presented to the groom by the bride, accompanied by her father later in the ceremony. A red ribbon is tied around the fruit to symbolize the presence of deity.
The outer fiber of the coconut is then removed, and the coconut broken or smashed, allowing the juices to flow out of it. The fiber is representative of desire or selfish wants. The hard shell of the coconut is representative of the ego or pride in oneself.
When the fiber is removed, and the hard shell is broken, it demonstrates stripping back desire and breaking one’s ego to allow inner feelings and thoughts—represented by the juice and the white kernel to flow free and be offered up to God.
At the end of the wedding ceremony, the coconut is cut up and offered to all guests, as prasada a sacred, offered food. Prasada is to be offered to all present without discrimination. In this way, the couple’s sacred offering benefits the entire community around them.
What is the Significance of Coconut in Other Hindu Rituals?
Known as Sriphala in Sanskrit, the word for coconut means “the God’s fruit.” Coconut is used to symbolize God. The three dots on the top of the coconut represent the three Gods in the Hindu triumvirate, but also specifically the God Shiva.
The three dots on the coconut are said to resemble Shiva’s three eyes. It is for this reason that the coconut is considered so sacred and used so widely in Hindu rituals.
The coconut also represents the human head, with the coir resembling human hair, the hard nut resembling a skull, the water inside resembling blood, and the kernel resembling the human brain. In this sense, the breaking of the coconut in Hindu rituals can be seen as an offering of oneself. This connects to the coconut as a symbol for human ego we discussed earlier.
Breaking or burning of coconut is used in almost all Hindu rituals and celebrations, including weddings, festivals, ceremonies, and pujas. Coconut is also broken for good luck at the start of a venture, construction of a house, buying of a vehicle, etc. It is a way to show deference to God and ask for divine blessing.
Why is Coconut Sacred in Hindu Culture?
There are several stories from the history and legends of Hinduism which make the coconut such a precious religious symbol. These stories have added to the meaning of the coconut.
In ancient times, Hindu used animals and humans for sacrifice, either by burnt offering or by smashing their heads. A 9th century Indian philosopher named Adi Shankaracharya, believed that this practice was inhuman and incongruous with the other teachings of Hinduism. He proposed that coconuts could be offered instead because of their symbolic resemblance of a human head.
Because of this important piece of Hinduism’s history, the coconut is not only an important sacred symbol but also a historical symbol of the end of a violent practice. This is part of why Hindu’s regard the coconut so highly.
Hindu mythology tells of an ancient king named King Satyavrata, who wanted to enter Swarga Loka, the Hindu equivalent of heaven. His sage, Vishwamitra, created the coconut to help the king enter heaven as a show of his gratitude towards the king. King Satyavrata gained access to Swarga Loka using the coconut but was eventually cast out by the gods because of his mortality.
Even though the king was eventually tossed out of heaven, the story shows the value of the coconut by showing that it was able to grant the King Satyavrata access to heaven in the first place.
There are many stories in Hindu mythology about the dangerous powers of Shiva’s third eye. In one story, Shiva consumed the God Kama by opening his third eye and releasing a stream of fire. In this story, Shiva’s son, Lord Ganesha, asked to touch his father’s third eye. Rather than allow his son to touch the powerful third eye, Shiva gave Ganesha a special ball, the coconut, to play with instead.
This story reaffirms the connection between Shiva and the coconut and establishes the fruit as a stand-in for the God himself.
Other Hindu Beliefs About Coconut
- In the marriage ritual, the coconut is placed in a pot as a symbol of the womb. The represents the woman’s belly, the coconut the womb inside the belly, and the kernel representing a fetal child. Because of this symbol of life, pregnant women are discouraged from participating in the breaking of coconut as this becomes symbolic of the destruction of life.
- In a variation on the marriage ritual practiced in some sects of Hinduism, the coconut is not broken during the marriage ritual. Rather, a coconut is presented to the groom by his bride, and he preserves that coconut throughout his life. The coconut becomes a symbol of the husband’s commitment to his wife, similar to a wedding band.
- Along with the red ribbon, a couple may choose to fix a silver or brass face on the coconut. This metal face will indicate the presence of a specific deity at the marriage ceremony. Some sects or individuals within Hinduism choose to focus their worship on specific gods.