GEORGE TOWN: With almost half a million broken coconuts dumped in Penang’s landfills every Thaipusam, a consumer group is calling on devotees to reduce the number of coconuts they intend to break during the festival.
The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) said its checks at Penang’s landfills last year after Thaipusam showed about 400,000 broken coconuts with the flesh intact.
CAP education officer NV Subbarow said the number could rise this year, adding that higher prices for the coconuts, due to an increase in demand, might not deter those who felt that “breaking more coconuts means more luck”.
Subbarow said those who thought breaking more coconuts would bring more luck did not understand the reason for the coconut-breaking ritual.
The breaking of the coconut is a symbolic act. The shell of the coconut represents the ego and the white within represents the pure nature of the divine within every human. Breaking the coconut represents the breaking of one’s ego and the attempt to attain purity, or the divine, in life.
So, when devotees break coconuts in front of Lord Muruga, sitting on the chariot, they are in effect saying they are dropping their egos or that they are beseeching God’s aid in dropping this egos.
Therefore, Subbarow said, it was the sincerity of the act that mattered, not the number of coconuts.
He noted that broken coconuts were traditionally collected and the flesh either eaten raw or used in cooking, but when too many are broken, they end up as waste, especially in Penang.
Subbarow said after researching this phenomenon during Thaipusam in Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and Penang, he found that the practice of breaking more and more coconuts was prevalent only in Penang.
“They think that the more coconuts they break, the more luck is showered upon them. It appears to be turning into a competition over who breaks more, and he who breaks the most is the best. This should not be turned into a contest.
“They break thousands of coconuts every year which end up in the landfills, and which are then burned causing fumes which pollute the environment. Can this be favoured by God?” he asked.
Thousands of devotees break coconuts in front of the chariot every year in Penang as an offering to Lord Muruga, one of the many forms in which Hindus see God or the Supreme.
Non-Hindus also partake in coconut-breaking along the route that the chariot takes. The whole affair is now regarded as an intangible heritage.
Subbarow said some people were buying thousands of coconuts “for luck” and he said it is not wise, especially with the current economic situation.
He said the price of a coconut was usually between RM1.50 and RM2, but currently it was being sold for between RM3.50 and RM4 per nut.
“The domestic trade and consumer affairs ministry must act on the increased price, as some parties have hiked up prices just to profit.”
This year, Thaipusam falls on Jan 31.