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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2586

(Coco)Nut Cracking: the good, the bad and the ugly

Hemantha Abeywardena observes from London…

During the last two weeks, we had been witnessing a plethora of reports that said about an highly-organized – and highly-charged - event that took place at a temple in a small isle in the southern Sri Lanka, where a group of politicians and their loyalists cracked coconuts in order to invoke the wrath of a special deity, whose earthly seat happens to be this particular place of worship, surrounded by the placid sea.

Following the event, the local gossip columns were rife with the news that the would-be recipients of the divine wrath, lost no time in taking the counter measures to ward off the ill effects, but on a low key for obvious reasons.
The counter-measures, according to my man in Colombo who is fairly familiar with this sort of things, do not necessarily mean resorting to another wave of coconut cracking – intense or otherwise; on the contrary, it involves bathing the individuals partially in a product of the same nut, oil, amidst the chanting of a priest inside a different temple; he may hold a coconut between his palms while pretending to be in a pensive posture, in order to amplify or expedite the desired effect.

There is usually an ‘incubation’ period between the coconut cracking and the ill effects being handed down to the intended parties. During this time, even catching a common cold by an individual of the cursed party has the potential to beat the living daylights out of the person or his or her immediate family in question on anxiety front.
Both events – coconut cracking and counter-measures for neutralizing the ill effects – show the influence that they wield over a vast section of the population in Sri Lanka in particular and the Indian subcontinent in general. In short, coconut cracking, while in pleading with gods to punish the wrong-doers is serious business, judging by the cycle of fear that the intended recipients normally go through in silence; it is something not to be taken lightly or messed with.

Although, rationalists and a section of the intelligentsia, tend to dump coconut cracking into the dustbin of superstition in public, even some of them reluctantly embrace it in the event of them going through unexpected bad patches from time to time in their own lives – in sheer secrecy, of course. That’s why even in the digital age, these practices thrive, when we think they are on the wane. That means coconut cracking – and counter measures – are there to stay in the national psyche for years to come.

Even in the Western world, superstition has not completely vanished despite the immense progress made in sciences: for instance, sneeze among a group of complete strangers and you will be drowned in a heap of sanctifications in the form of ‘bless you’; this stems from the Victorian belief that opening mouth for sneezing is tantamount to paving the way for devil to enter the body; so, the Christian blessings force the devil to take a ‘U’ turn and leave the man or woman alone.

Moreover, let a woman talk positively about a high achievement of a child and there is a strong possibility of her saying, ‘touch wood’, even if the furniture that she is tempted to touch on simultaneously, is not necessarily made of wood.

The national phobia over number 13 is another case in point. It dates back to Viking times, when the sea-fairing warriors used to believe that the number below that, i.e., 12, was the luckier; that led to counting by dozens, which still exists.

The list of superstitious belief may not be growing, but it is still fairly long and holds influence over the individuals in a significant way: reluctance to walk under ladders, seeing a black cat and stirring a pot counter-clockwise, to name but a few.

Despite coming from a scientific background, even I have not succeeded in banishing superstitious beliefs completely; neither have some of my friends and acquaintances. For instance, if someone sneezes or yawns when we are about to leave a house, we tend not to step out of the premises immediately, while making a convenient excuse to extend the stay indoors for a few more minutes, perhaps inducing an urge to making our way to the nearest bathroom, thanks to the heavy exposure to various forms of superstition in our younger age.

In this context, coconut cracking is not something to be ashamed of in the digital age at national level; it is our way of sticking to superstition; its uniqueness is not a synonym for national embarrassment.

On a more positive note, it takes a relatively little time and bring about the desired outcome in a matter of days, which otherwise would take years of lengthy investigations that normally draw a blank in the end, much to the dismay of the victims.

According to media reports, the only ugly facet of the whole event stemmed from the mode of plucking the coconuts for it in the full glare of publicity. The fact whether the deity took that into account or not, while dishing out justice, remains to be seen in the coming days - for both passive spectators like us and those who bite the finger nails for a valid reason.

- Asian Tribune -

(Coco)Nut Cracking: the good, the bad and the ugly
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