India is the land of festivals, each one more unique and intriguing than the other, but all rooted in the timeless practice of sustainability and reverence for Mother Nature. If I had to choose a favourite, it would be the festival of the native fisher folk of Mumbai: Narali Purnima, this year celebrated on August 18th.
By the looks of it, it’s a pretty simple practice. The fisher folk take a break for a couple of months and don’t go out onto the sea, as the waters are choppy during the monsoons. Then, as the rains retreat, they get back to business as usual – and before doing so, offer a coconut to the sea along with a folk song and dance.
But if you take a deep breath and spend a moment thinking about it, you will discover how beautiful and well-thought-out this festival is; it’s actually a lesson about interdependence and partnership. Monsoon is the time when the fish breed and lay eggs, and if you fish at this time, you ruin the prospects of the future of your business by not letting your inventory grow and mature with time. Taking a break during this time not just makes economic sense, but is also ecologically sound, as overfishing and overexploitation of marine resources by human beings are now well-documented threats to marine biodiversity and balance.
The human greed of eating fish for its perceived benefits of omega-3 and protein is now putting the entire marine biodiversity and ecological balance in serious danger, according to the Marine Stewardship Council. Maybe we should all take a page out of the fisher folk’s book – and the festival of Narali Poornima – and include it in our learning and advocacy for sustainable fishing.
The native fishermen, however, intuitively knew what the latest research in Nutrition Science is now discovering: it’s not about having omega-3s for heart health, it’s about having a diverse diet. One that includes essential fats from multiple resources, and therefore the break from eating fish and celebrating the coconut, a plant-based fat to add diversity to the diet. The practice of offering the coconut to the sea before the fishing season begins is also about gratitude towards both the ocean and the land.
But Narali Poornima isn’t just about serious life lessons: it is also a day of joy, celebration and good food. The biggest specialty is coconut rice, sweetened with sugar or jaggery and spiked with spices. It’s also the day to celebrate interdependence and the support system of having a sibling, and in India it is celebrated with the Rakhi, a thread that sisters tie on the wrist of their brothers – a thread of shared memories, responsibilities and resources. It is also the day that is considered most auspicious to plant new trees, ones that will bear fruit, provide shade and become a home for birds and bees for generations to come.
The next time you walk into a health store and stumble upon coconut oil for weight loss and heart health, remember its back story and celebrate the big picture – one of sustainability, interdependence and gratitude, from the Narali Poornima – or “coconut day”.
Rujuta Diwekar has earned a reputation as one of India’s most respected and inspirational wellness and nutrition experts. She advises India’s elite on nutrition, yoga and Ayurveda. Her latest book Indian Super Foods (available on the Juggernaut app and as a paperback) is about the inherent wisdom and power in India’s traditional food and eating practices. Rujuta is a regular contributor to this website as one of our special American Express Essentials Global Citizens. Discover more at rujutadiwekar.com and her Facebook page.
[Photo credits: Opener: Peter Davis/Wikimedia Commons; Fisherfolk: Rajesh Pamnani/Flickr & Flickr; Coconut: Eric/Flickr; Narali Bhat: Archa Joshi/Wikimedia Commons, Rahsha Bandhan: Ingmar Zahorsky/Flickr; Shriyash Jichkar/Wikimedia Commons]
Rujuta's description of Narali Poornima is a reminder that the most memorable events often have a deeper meaning. Do you relate to that spirit?