India : where men crash coconuts on their head as a sign of devotion

At Dasanur, 35 kms from Coimbatore ( in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu), men belonging to the Kurumba Gownder caste break coconuts on their face to please their favourite deity, Banma Mahali Amman. (Kurumba Gownder are a caste of shepherds in South India.) 

85 year-old Sundarasamy says :”We can’t date this custom. My grandfather had told me his grandfather had witnessed this event when he was a child.””On the first day of “makaram” ( the 6° month of the Malayalam calendar, one of the two vernacular calendars followed by the South Indians; in january-february), the idol of Lord Ayyappa ( one of the main south Indian gods) is taken out. After bathing the idol and paying homage, it is returned to the “sanctum sanctorum”. Then, we do the same with the idol of Banma Mahali Amman. On the same day” adds Sundarasamy. It’s on this day that hundreds of men break coconuts on their head before the temple deity. Most men bang coconuts straight on their head, then they bring down the fruit using both hands. Amazingly, while the coconuts are ruined beyond redemption, the heads are ready for another bang ! People here vouch no mishap has ever happened. They give the credit to Amman. “For a while, one might feel giddy but that’s all” says Sundarasamy, who has ravaged more than 40 coconuts on his head.

Recently, the custom has come under the scrutiny of progressives who say it should be stopped. But, as the members of the Kurumba Gownder community point out “We do it on our heads, not theirs.” So, end of the argument.

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