THE Tamil Nadu government is contemplating a ban on coconuts inside the world famous Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple. Police attribute ‘security reasons’ for this decision; they claim the temple has always been on the terror radar and that central intelligence agencies have frequently received threats of a jihadi attack.
Though the police have increased security on the advice of the central intelligence agencies, they are wary of jihadis using coconuts as bomb planting instruments. They say it is very difficult for them to screen puja materials brought in from outside by thousands of devotees everyday, and that is why they recommended a ban on coconuts inside the temple. The temple’s Executive Officer Rajanayagam, in a show of rare “intelligence”, suggested that devotees could use flowers instead of coconuts! The archagas of the temple are dead against this outrageous idea.
Temple: Centre of community development and livelihood
Temples are a symbol of Bharat’s centuries-old divine heritage. A temple is a centre of activity, not only for the devotees and the archagas, but also a great livelihood for the traders of flowers, coconuts, fruits, herbs and leaves, bamboo sticks, brass and earthen lamps, puja materials, etc. Bamboo sticks were used to make plates and baskets for carrying materials for worship and now the plastic bags have replaced them and bamboo merchants around temples are now extinct. Plastics are posing a grave threat to the environment and to the lives of elephants and cows reared by the temple, and other cattle and dogs which roam near the temple depending on the food and eatables given by devotees and vendors. In one stroke, a poor community is made extinct and a danger to environment and animal lives is welcomed.
Puranic significance of coconut
There is an interesting Puranic history behind the sanctity of the coconut. While Bhagwan Shiva was on his mission of “Tripura Samhaaram”, the pivotal piece (Achaani in Tamil) of his chariot broke at a place in Tamil Nadu— Achirupaakkam (Achchu – pivotal piece; Itra – broke; paakkam – town and hence Achirupaakkam). Bhagwan Ganesha arrived and reminded Shiva that He was the one who told the world to start any ritual or function or even any act only after invoking the blessings of Ganesha, and since Shiva himself had failed to do so, his chariot was stranded. Shiva asked for a prayaschita; Ganesha said, “Since you failed to start with Ganesh Puja out of ahankaar (Karvam in Tamil, meaning head-weight), you have to sacrifice your head.” Later Parvati came to the rescue of Shiva and asked Ganesha to suggest a remedy as world will be ruined if Shiva’s head is removed from His body. Ganesha creates a coconut with three eyes and a tuft (Kudumi in Tamil) and breaks it. Hence the Tamil practice of addressing Shiva as Kudumi Thevar.
Devotees of Swami Ayyappan going to Sabarimala on pilgrimage carry ghee inside a coconut and break it at the temple in order to use the ghee for Abishekam. Normally butter and ghee are used mostly in Vishnu temples, as the name ‘Navaneethan’ indicates, and carrying ghee inside a coconut by Ayyappa devotees is to signify the birth of Swami Ayyappan out of the unison of Shiva and Vishnu. Coconut is an integral part of Hinduism, culture and tradition; there is no worship, custom or ritual sans coconut. Any coconut merchant would vouch for the fact that temples are at the top of his clientele list, rarely next only to hotels. The state govern-ment’s proposal seems to be yet another anti-Hindu act with an intention of giving a huge blow to religious tradition and culture. It will certainly hit the livelihood of coconut vendors, merchants and farmers.
Failure of the law enforcing department
The police citing ‘security reasons’ for the proposed ban on coconuts is outrageous and plain stupid. The Meenakshi Amman Temple has been under threat ever since Muslim fundamentalists started observing the anniversary of the so-called Babri demolition (which they actually ignored this year, with two senior clerics, Shia and Sunni respectively, organising family wedding festivities on that date, and arguing against observing the Babri anniversary). Yet in Tamil Nadu, a big drama is unfolded every year! A bomb blast occurred in the temple on May 18, 1996 within a year of the formation of Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK). But TN police failed to check the growth of jihadi organisations, which resulted in the serial blasts in Coimbatore in February 1998.
Hostile environment: Government’s own creation
It is pertinent to understand the environment around the famous temple. Successive DMK governments have leased out the lands, shops and buildings around the temple for paltry sums. Most lessees are Muslims and the hundreds of shops (including meat shops) surrounding the temple are owned by Muslims; many are Kashmiri Muslims. Most shops mislead the public by having Hindu names! There is a rule by the Corporation that no structure should be built with a height of more than nine metres in a radius of one kilometre from the temple. But many buildings have come up, including a few churches and mosques. This rule holds good for other temples also, as it finds a place in HR & CE’s Rule Book itself. Regarding Meenakshi temple, it is difficult to have darshan of the temple towers even within half a kilometre! Instead of correcting this, the police talk of a ban on coconuts!
(The author is a freelance journalist)