Go coconuts

World Coconut Day is observed on September 2 to create awareness about the importance of the coconut across the world, writes Indrani Ghose

Coconut trees at sunset. PHOTOS BY AUTHOR

Indian nut or the nut of India — that is how Egyptian traveller Cosmas described a coconut after visiting India and Ceylon. This was in the 5th century AD, one of the earliest references to coconut in a travelogue.

Venetian explorer Marco Polo encountered coconuts in Sumatra, India, and the Nicobar Islands between 1254 to 1324 C.E. He was so impressed by the nut that he called it Pharoah’s Nut. He was well aware that during the 6th-century, Arab merchants brought coconuts back to Egypt probably from East Africa where the nuts were flourishing.

There are many more such references to this wonder fruit in the pages of travel around the world. However, Indians love to believe that the coconut is of Indian origin because of the very early references to it in Indian literature and also in travelogues of foreign travellers.

The very first mention of coconut is that it emerged from the ocean as a result of Samudra Manthan, the churning of the ocean, by gods and demons. Demons never realised its value and let the gods take the coconut to heaven. There it was planted in the garden of Lord Indra, King of heaven. No wonder Kerala, blessed with a rich growth of coconut trees, is called God’s own country!

Other Asian countries too, have their own fables and legends about this miracle fruit. The coconut trees or Nui in Hawaiian are palms famed to reach up to 100 feet in height. Millions of people along the coastal land depend directly or indirectly on coconut crops.

As the trains chug along the tracks crossing Alappuzha and other coastal towns of Kerala, one can see local women busy spinning ropes out of the coconut fibres.  Something similar must have been observed by Soleyman, an Arab merchant who visited China in the 9th century. In his travel blog, he describes the use of coir fibre and toddy made from coconuts.

Souvenirs

Coconut crops are a lifeline for many families. In Goa, local artists do artwork on whole dried coconuts by carving out figures and forms and painting them with attractive colours. They make lovely souvenirs to carry back home. It was once said that marriage alliances would be decided depending on the number of coconut trees the families owned.

A Tamil proverb says: “Plant coconut trees, they feed you and your children.” Today there is a day dedicated to this tree of abundance — September 2, formation day of Asian and Pacific Coconut Community (APCC), which is celebrated as World Coconut Day. 

Thankfully India has a long coastline and the entire stretch studded with emerald green-leafed coconut trees. Travel anywhere along the roads of South India and be sure to spot scores of tender coconut sellers. It is such a pleasant sight.