Jesse Brauner

Usually associated with tropical climates, elaborate cocktails and high-calorie pastries, the coconut also has cultural symbolism on a more esoteric level.

Particularly in India, the coconut has worked its way into religious beliefs and ceremonies. The three small holes or “eyes” visible on mature coconut fruits have given them an association with Shiva, one of the three principle gods of Hinduism, who is portrayed with a third eye in the center of his forehead. In certain Hindu rituals, the coconut is also used as a symbolic substitute for a human head and “sacrificed” by smashing it against a surface. In some instances, both coconut flowers and decorated coconuts are used as ornamentation at Hindu weddings.

The coconut palm tree also enjoys status as a government symbol. It makes an appearance on the national flag and coat of arms of Fiji, as well as the official emblem of the Maldives, a collection islands off India’s southwestern coast.