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It is customary in India to offer bananas along with a coconut when one visits a temple or when one commences an auspicious undertaking. In a previous article I have talked about breaking the coconut and its significance. We break the coconut and also offer a bunch of bananas – usually five and sometimes three.
While the coconut signifies the three layers of identity that we possess, the banana also represents the human form in many ways. If you look at the fruit itself, it is covered by a yellow peel. This peel is green when the fruit is raw and as it ripens turns into yellow. Green or hari is the ubiquitous colour of nature and indeed of the Lord of nature, Hari himself. As such it signifies sustenance. And yellow is the colour of sattva which is one of the three Gunas.
The banana peel has five petals – if you start peeling it from the tip, you can peel each of the five petals that are adjoining to each other and covering the inner soft portion. The five petals represent the five elements - ether, air, water, fire and the earth – the pancha bhootas. The stalk of the banana flower is pointing downwards and the fruits are bunched and face upwards indicating the saattvic nature of the fruit in its growth itself.
Bananas are offered in a bunch with the tip pointing towards the God. They are symbolic of hands joined in prayer and the individual fruits are like fingers. That is why it is always preferable to give a bunch of five bananas, reminding us to bring our palms together along with the offering to pray and remember that sacred source and substratum from where we emerge.
The inside of the banana consists of a whitish yellow pulp which is formed together in a tripartite manner. These three parts of the insides are symbolic of the three karanas, the three instruments, that are available to the human being – thought, word and deed - or the thinking mind, the spoken voice and the active body. We use these three instruments to function and accomplish all that we do in daily life. And when we begin something or we think of the almighty, we bring all the three karanas in unison, i.e., we commit to work or pray wholeheartedly. There is no split within us. Our actions, thoughts and words come together in unison and we remind ourselves that whatever it is that we do, whatever it is that we seek, is done wholeheartedly and surrendered at the feet of the almighty and therefore does not feed our ego.
These three instruments are given to us by mother nature, and even within the banana plant, the fruit is the mature feminine part of the banana flower. And they are offered to the one and only Lord of all of creation, tvameva evam purushvama. The banana is not broken while offering it to the Lord like the coconut. It is offered whole, reminding us that the karanas are to be treated delicately. One should never inflict a violence on the karanas or by using them – one should never hurt through thought, word or deed. Treat your karanas and those of others therefore with care, with understanding and with a gentleness, and always preserve their wholesome nature. As in the banana fruit, the three instruments of thought, speech and deed are bitter when one is immature. When one matures, they become soft, sweet and saattvic just like a ripe banana fruit.
The banana plant is in fact an herb. And its existence is rooted in the ground and the pseudo stem falls away after it has completed its work of producing the fruit. What you see as the stem is actually a pseudo stem ….. it is not a stem at all. It only appears as one. This is how nature is. It seems very real, and yet everything is not what it seems to be. And this pseudo reality is rooted in the five elements even as the apex of the banana plant is actually rooted in the ground and falls away after fulfilling its purpose. May this remind us not to be carried away by the illusory world of ideas, emotions and power structures and always remind us that there is a higher truth, a higher reality and that all of material creation is one day bound to fall off like the banana plant.
Even as the banana plant yields fruit only once in its life cycle, may we be blessed to witness that all our existing desires mature completely and fall away in this very life time. And even as the banana plant produces no seeds, may we achieve true happiness and contentment without accumulating newer and newer desires.