Sri Lanka’s third eye | Daily News

Sri Lanka’s third eye

Coconuts are one of the tropic’s most important crops after rice and can be found where ever you travel around the island. Talk to any Sri Lankan and you will discover why the coconut is considered the heart of the Sri Lankan kitchen and one of the most refreshing drinks to down on a swelteringly hot day.

To experience its many magical benefits head for the hills or any village area still rich in tradition, hospitality and mysticism. I am told that the Portuguese invaders called them coco due to the hairy exterior of the coconut, two eyes and a nose that made them look like a human head of a witch. Used in numerous rituals due to many people thinking the coconut represents the Asian third eye. Whether you believe in the coconuts magical powers or not it is considered one of Sri Lanka’s most useful products as coconuts provide a refreshing drink, folk medicine, delicious fleshy food, excellent materials that can be turned into cups, bowls to drink tea out of or even for the uber creative coconut hard wearing jewellery. Nothing goes to waste as even the remaining bits are useful as they are burnt as charcoal, which acts as an excellent mosquito repellent, as it is taken around the house at dusk daily to successfully smoke out all the insects.

In Chilaw and Bolawatta there are many coconut plantation estates worth exploring, two places rich in traditions and creativity. On the marriage day of good friends of mine at a local coconut plantation they created a doorway woven out of jasmine flowers and coconut palm leaves, which was used for the roofing and is always a traditional way of celebrating the special day at most Sri Lankan weddings. The symbolism being the husband entering through the doorway to take away the bride known as kandanyanaya. A coconut is hit with a kattha knife and depending on how it splits will be an indicator of their future destiny together. One hit with the water splashing in all directions as the coconut palms rustled in the wind is a considered a sign of good luck and the holy is then poured over the couples fingers tied together with a string, binding them eternal for life, which is rather fitting in Bolawatta a place that means round. Here palm trees with huge clusters of coconuts between 50 to 80 feet high grow, and tree houses are being created similar to the ones found in Africa.

Coconuts are the countries life blood and the reason in Sri Lanka that everyone drinks coconut daily for its refreshing rehydrating medicinal water that puts a bounce back into everyones step early morning. Every bit of the coconut palm is used in Sri Lanka from its husk for coir rope to tropical style housing materials and even when only the shell is left they are burnt as charcoals not only as mosquito repellent, but also in the more remote villages to cook ones rice and curry on. Here in the land of coconut trees one can learn Plantation style Sri Lankan cooking in most hotels or restaurants and in Galle Fort where Sri Lankan cooking classes are a growing trend you can also learn how to mix the spices with the grated coconut to create delicious pol sambols for breakfast, which is served with freshly baked bread or hoppers. Chefs like Asker at The Serendipity Arts Cafe in Leyn Baan Street will tell you as you cook the importance of also drying the copra in the hot sun to yield the coconut oil, which is also excellent to cook with.

After making a range of dishes early morning including the ever so popular coconut sambal you will get to feast on the many magnificent home made village curries using local fish still wriggling as you buy them from the early morning fisherman as Karukitkku Pane beach or just outside the Gallery Fort walls. The coconut farmers love to talk about the many ways these huge feather – shaped 18 foot coconut leaves can be used from the nuts the size of rugby balls that village kids will often use as a football if there is nothing else around to play with. On a walk around any coconut estate one discovers how many things are made from coconut oil and used to make fancy soaps, margarine and even yummy confectionary. The fibre or coir is woven into mats using the leaves twisting from one direction to the other and has been used in houses for centuries. Villagers also hand make brushes, furniture, stuffing and even beautifully polished shells for decorative purposes. The branch wood has been used for over a century for building village ambalamas resting spots along the roads for the weary traveller, festival huts and wedding outdoor displays.

Even the bindings of farming cattle yokes are made from this incredibly diverse and useful tree. Sarath knows a lot about working with cattle having spent much of his working life as Ambawella Dairy Farms manager. A visionary man with a dream to put farming in Chilaw on the travellers map with his naughty goats, cows, chickens and ducks. To find out the secrets of the medicinal benefits of the coconut oils you can combine doing a cooking class with going on a curated walk that will show you the grass roots medicinal plants that for centuries have made Sri Lanka one of the healthiest countries in Asia.

Here life is simple in the coconut plantations where families are full of fascinating folk stories and have a love of life that is infectious, the very essence of Sri Lankan family heritage. Coconut plantations often passed down through several generations along with traditions such as on the wedding day the coconut flowers are kept in a terracotta pot (kalaya) to symbolise prosperity, which is also called the punkalasa something you will feel from the moment you enter anyone of these amazing plantations, where the real paradise can be discovered drinking a coconut cut fresh from a tree looking out across at a sea of lush green palm trees. So go on get inventive with the next coconut you buy and do more than make a wish, drink the water or just cook your curries with it. Think about making a new style of serving dishes so put your curry in or use it as a plant holder in your garden as it will just add to the natural beauty. After all these yellow coconuts sold from house to house on old Singer bikes early morning freshly cut from the trees is just one of the many reasons Sri Lankans enjoy such a special way of life, which is why it is considered the heart of every Sri Lankan home.

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