If all of Kerala is to have a favorite color this season, it’d be yellow with touches of gold. For this is the time of Vishu, a festival of prosperity and gratitude. Embraced by all Malayalis and celebrated by other Indian states by the names of Ugadi or Baisakhi, the festival marks the beginning of the zodiac calendar and is determined by the position of the sun. It falls during the sowing season, with Onam being the state’s harvest extravaganza.
Nature begins celebrating first. Come summer and yellow flowers dot the green canopy. The flowering is related to the heat and the blooms first appear close to two months before the onset of monsoon. Known as konnapoo (Indian laburnum), they are the postcard of the festival. Earlier, the flowers bloomed in backyard gardens and plucking these made for conversations and laughter over fences of houses. With accelerating urbanization, the flowers are now picked off shelves at markets that come up a few days prior to the festival. Between growing the plant in one’s own garden and buying it off vendors, one thing has held its ground: the warmth a handful of tiny yellow flowers spread.
Festivals bring a treasure of wisdom passed down through generations and Vishu has its own tales to tell. It is believed that the first sight one sees on this auspicious day sets the tone for the rest of the year. This is where the eldest woman of the house comes in. The night prior to the festival, she stays up arranging the vishu kani for her family to behold at the crack of dawn. Several little things come together in the arrangement: idols, gold jewelry, ripe mangoes, yellow-colored fruits and vegetables (pineapple, bananas, cucumber, jackfruit, etc) new linen, coins and more. Lamps add a golden hue and so do traditional vessels like the kindi and the uruli made of a five metal amalgam, symbolising the five elements. With the first colours of dawn, the grandmother/ mother of the house brings each member of the family – her palms over their eyes – to the prayer room where the kani is arranged. The air of mystery ebbs when the eyes open to first rest on the many signs of prosperity. Prayers of thanksgiving are said to the sounds of crackers bursting in open courtyards.
What’s a festival without traditions! Especially one that makes children happy. Vishu kaineetam, the practice of elders giving young ones a sum of money, usually in coins, is a much-loved custom. And of course, an easy way to save up for the long summer holidays. The belief behind the practice is that wealth multiplies when it is shared. Temple visits follow the rituals at home and the family – dressed in new clothes – returns to sit down to a sadya. Served on a plantain leaf, a mix of savoury, sweet and strictly vegetarian dishes form the world-famous meal.
Heavens and hearts happy, stomachs and pockets filled, the colors and sounds of Vishu linger on a note of love, goodwill and gratitude. Greetings of the day, from the RAXA family to yours!