Hearty welcome Sir, Thank you very much for your keen interest in Indian traditions.
From the unknown past, banana has been a part of the Indian culture esp. in the South India. Planting a banana tree in the house is considered very important as the need arises on a daily basis. Banana leaf is a long leaf which has a long rib in the middle. When in tree, its life span is from 35 to 165 days. It is used for various purposes.
Banana leaf - Offerings:
Banana leaves are used as a plate or a tray to place the anything that is offered to God. Offerings can vary from fruits, vegetables, grains, cereals, flowers and cooked items. It is considered unpolluted.
Banana leaf on Occasions:
Banana leaf is an easily and readily available plate in India, especially in South India. The tradition is to eat on banana leaves during any occasions. It is easily available and readily disposable. That is the reason why, the banana leaves are used in functions like Marriages/weddings, Birthday celebrations and other celebrations at home. These used banana leaves are given to the cattle, which is again disposed without causing much pollution and also quickly.
Banana leaf at home:
Eating on a banana leaves is considered hygienic and healthy. Any guests will be served on a banana leaf which is considered humble and respectful. It is even more respectful to give food in the blunt end of the leaf. Usually, the head of the family have food in this leaf or the center person of the occasion has food in this leaf. Since it is long it will be cut into sizes enough to serve food items. Usually the blunt end will be cut in the shape of a tongue. and the rest like flat mats.
Eating on Banana Leaf:
Usually varieties are cooked during occasions. So the banana leaves have enough spaces. The basic Items like salt, pickle (2 varieties, chutneys (2 varieties), dry sweet. (Four tastes are usually served bitter is not served as it is not considered right to serve bitter taste on occasions). Then you have aviyal, thuvayal, poriyal - all side dishes; Then the main courses Dal, kootu, curry, sambar, rasam, tamarind curry, and curd. Payasam, Poppadom and vada, banana plantain are usually served.
No forks, no knives and no spoons:
Since it is served on the leaf that is tender, you cannot use spoons, forks or knives. One's fingers (right hand) are one's forks, spoons and knives.
According to traditions, one has to eat carbohydrates (rice) first, then protein(Dal), iron rich(vegetables) and fat (curd). This is the order food is served and consumed as well. It is even more traditional, to sit on the floor in a mat and having food. One has squat like one is sitting on padmasana.
But nowadays, people find it difficult to sit on floors for various other reasons like physical uneasiness, old age etc. So they will be werved on table & chairs. Eating on banana leaf is still considered auspicious. It has medicinal properties too. Eat in Banana leaf consistently, your face, skin will have shining radiance.
Other uses of Banana leaves:
Banana leaf and fire victims:
Fire victims, who are having third degree burn are made to lie on this leaf which will be cool for the person. The fieriness of the burn will be minimized to a greater extent.
Thus Banana leaf has a great part in day-to-day life of people in South India.