The Coconut Temple Courier Service
by Sanjaya Jena in Orissa for the BBC
“How does a temple in India make sure that it gets 15,000 coconuts a day delivered for its rituals? It simply depends on the faith of its thousands of Hindu devotees who run a unique voluntary courier service to faithfully deliver the fruit every day without fail. This is how the thousands of coconuts, which can total more than 100,000 on festival days – reach the famous Maa Tarini temple in the eastern Indian state of Orissa every day. Coconuts are used extensively in Hindu religious rites – they are offered to the gods, and smashed on the ground or some other object during initiation and inauguration ceremonies. This free courier service relies on a network of collection boxes on roads and other temples, passenger buses and devotees simply carrying the fruit to the temple. “It’s a religious courier service without any parallel in India,” says Gurcharan Singh, secretary of the temple administration.
He is right. 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.
‘Batons in a relay race’
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.
At the busy temple, priests take turns to break the coconuts in front of the deity. A few hundred coconuts find the place near the deity’s feet, and the rest of them are sold cheaply to local shop owners. This has spawned a local coconut-based sweets and oil industry. The coconut courier has also helped to make Maa Tarini an extremely popular deity in Orissa By one estimate, there are over 1,000 Maa Tarini temples in Orissa today, which also serve as collection points for the fruit headed for the main temple. The popularity of the deity is also evinced in the fact that three local music companies have sold more than 100,000 copies of tapes containing Maa Tarini devotional songs.”