Monday, February 06, 2006

Nobody expects the Orissan coconuts . . .

There are some stories you simply cannot resist. BBC News today today tells of a temple in India that gets 15,000 coconuts a day for it's ritual, by a unique volunteer relay system:

Hold a coconut in your hand on a highway in Orissa and the next bus will surely stop to pick it up to take it to the temple in Ghatgaon in Keonjhar district.

The drivers' faith in the goddess Maa Tarini is complete - it is common to find the space behind their seats stacked with coconuts.

Even if the bus is on a different route, the driver will make sure to drop the coconuts in a collection box en route or pass them on to a bus headed for Ghatgaon.

"If I refuse to carry coconuts to the goddess, I may face various odds on my way," says Arun Sahoo, a bus driver.

The drivers believe that carrying the coconuts to the deity ensures a safe journey.

They tell stories of bus drivers who failed to pick up coconuts from devotees and met with engine failures or accidents.

"No one can refuse to carry a coconut," says shop owner Rabindra Patnaik.

The buses usually dump their coconuts in collection boxes across the state, from where other buses or devotees headed to the temple pick up them up on their final journey.

Temple officials say coconuts land up from neighbouring states like West Bengal and Bihar through this amazing network.

"The coconut changes hands like batons in a relay race before reaching its destination," says devotee Bijay Laxmi Rath.
I love it. The priests at the temple break open a few hundred coconuts each day as offerings -- the rest of the thousands of coconuts are sold inexpensively, which has helped build a local coconut candy industry.

The assumption seems to have been over the last century or so that when a country modernizes, religion should just fade away -- and India is modernizing rapidly. It doesn't work out that way. Faith is hard to kill, and finds it's way through some very small cultural cracks, sort of like kudzu. Bags of coconuts behind the driver's seat . . .

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