Every monsoon, Tamil Nadu celebrates the festival of “Aadi Perukku”, to offer tribute to the life-giving and sustaining nature of water. Nature worship is a significant part of this festival, so that every Tamilian family could attain divine grace for its welfare, peace and prosperity. Thousands of people gather outside the gates of Mahalakshmi Temple in Karur, Tamil Nadu, to receive the blessings on this thanksgiving festival. The Temple is located in Mahadanapuram, 23 km from Karur. It is an 800-year-old temple located in a remote village where only a few vehicles operate.
There are many rituals that form part of Aadi Perukku celebrations. One of them being is the tradition of breaking coconut on the devotee’s head. Breaking coconuts on the devotees’ head means breaking free from one’s past, and surrendering yourself to God. It is a voluntary decision on the part of the devotees, whether or not they want to go through this tradition.
During the ritual, one of the priests hold the head of the devotees and another priest breaks the coconut by smashing it on the skull of the person. This tradition causes head injuries to the people. While some devotees seek first aid treatment, which could involve a few stitches, many devotees refrain from taking medical treatment either out of reverence for the deity, or due to fear from incurring the deity’s wrath. However, helpers are present in the temple premises to apply turmeric powder or sacred ash called “vibhooti” on the injury of the people.
A story lies behind breaking coconuts on the devotees head. One upon a time, when the devotees prayed to Lord Shiva for his help, the deity refused to turn up. Noting that the coconut has three eyes the way Lord Shiva has, devotees started breaking coconut on their head to please him. Finally, Shiva appeared before the devotees and fulfilled their wish. There is a special museum inside the temple where several coconut-shaped stones are kept on display. It is believed that these stones were unearthed long time back when the local villagers wanted to construct a compound wall around the temple.
Although, this tradition has been criticized by several agencies such as – the State Human Rights Commission for its unreasonable nature, the state authorities still allow its practice considering the fact that it is not completely fatal in nature.