The ubiquitous coconut holds an important place in the hearts, minds and daily life of all Indians, eclipsed only by the king of fruits, the mango.
It is an essential ingredient in South Indian cuisine, featured prominently in the curries and chutneys of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Goa. Popular dishes like the masala dosa, wada and idli are always accompanied by a luscious, creamy, grated coconut chutney.
The name of the state, Kerala, means land of coconut trees and is the largest producer of coconut related products. Cookbook author, Nimi Sunil Kumar, told me that by definition, all recipes that require oil in Kerala must use coconut oil.
Coconut water is a refreshing and cooling beverage that many believe helps to keep the body free from parasites.
So elevated in importance that the coconut is firmly associated with nearly all Hindu religious rituals. The coconut is symbolic of prosperity, signifying the blessings of nature. Its white color represents purity and its hard kernel inspires people to do hard work. Devotees offer coconuts to deities in temples and celebrations like weddings often begin with the breaking of a coconut, symbolizing the removing of the ego. Fishermen offer coconuts to the sea in the hope of an abundant catch. Devotees break 108 coconuts at a time in temples that honor Lord Ganesh and Lord Hanuman. When broken and placed before the lord in such a way, it symbolizes the removal of negativity and brings out goodness.
After this new understanding of the significance of the coconut in India, my enjoyment of a delicious slice of coconut cream pie is only enhanced and my admiration for this complex country and culture expands!