Vishu is a festival of nostalgic memories and they are invariably associated with my childhood . It reminds me of the sights, sounds and smells of my soil. It renews my roots and identity. Those memories are as golden as the 'Kani Konna flower' (flower of cassia fistula tree). 'Vishu' is one triumphant occasion when children's aspirations to become rich are richly rewarded. The 'Vishukaineettom' (Handsel or token money given as a blessing by elders to all younger ones in the family) literally portrays prosperity that this festival rightly proclaims. Children feel honored everywhere and for once, in money matters, the elders are at the giving end on this day.
'Vishu' in Sanskrit means 'equal' or when day becomes equal to night, possibly denoting the equinox when this festival originated. The Malayalam New year as per solar calendar is celebrated around 14th or 15th of April every year. The first of day of Malayalam year (as per older tradition) or Medam 1st falls on one of these days when the sun transits to the zodiac sign Aries (Medam). Sun enters Mesha, which is the Lagna or the birth sign of Kaal Purusha, the personification of 'Time', which we experience due to the movement of sun (Now, it is the movement of earth!) and its resultant effect of "Dishas", four sides and division of space, Varna or colors painted on vegetations by sunlight, Rasas or the secretions or juices filled in plants (and animals feeding on them) due to climatic seasons ( Rithus). Sun is the source for the diversity of life and cyclic nature of earthly processes. There is a belief that Lord Brahma chose 'Vishu' day as the right day for creation. Incidentally Vishu concides with many other festivals in India like 'Gudi Padva', 'Bihu', 'Ugadhi', 'Baisakhi' etc. Vishu also marks the beginning of sowing season in Kerala.
As children our preparations for Vishu used to start a month before the festival. I open my piggy bank on the eve of 'Vishu'. If there is a shortfall in my Vishu budget, my strategy had been to beg, borrow or steal. The main objective was to find resources to muster enough fire power by acquiring the maximum 'padakkam' (Crackers). The more the crackers that you can gather, the more prosperous your Vishu is. The testing of samplers starts on the eve when the dusk sets in and it progresses till 10 PM reserving the fiery ones for launch at 5 AM on the Vishu dawn after the auspicious ritual of 'Vishu Kani Kanal' (The ritual of seeing items that symbolize prosperity as the first thing in the morning).
My mother used to set 'Kani' early in the night. It is arranged in a large 'Uruli' (a bell metal cookware with wide base and wide mouth). This sparingly used 'Uruli' will be scrupulously scrubbed to sparkle like gold on the eve of Vishu. The offerings placed inside it will include a layer of Raw rice , clean cloth, mellow mango, halved jack Fruit, golden cucumber, plum pumpkin, coconut, betel leaves and areca nut, shining currency and coins, gold, 'Valkkannadi' (a special mirror with a tail made of bronze. The place Aranmula is world famous for this mirror), a book and last but not least a bunch of fresh and luxuriant 'Kanikonna' flowers. A small idol of lord Krishna is placed in front of it with a bell metal lamp set ready for lighting with a match box placed nearby.
Mother would be the first one to wake up at dawn to have the first vision of Vishu. She will grope in the darkness to locate the match box and finally lights the lamp with closed eyes and then sees the Kani and prays and prostrates in front of it. She then wakes up everyone in the family and brings them one by one to the place where the 'Kani' has been set with their eyes blindfolded with her hands and let them see the idol and the offerings. This momentous and resplendent ritual of seeing the offerings along with the Lord as the first thing in the morning is called 'Vishukani' and it still makes my eyes misty. This propitious 'seeing ceremony' is a harbinger of health, happiness, peace and prosperity and sets the tone for the year ahead. The oldies then sit to read the 'Vishubhalam' (The astrological predictions for the year following Vishu) .
The moment the 'Kani' business is over, we await for the elders to bless us with 'Vishukkaineettom' (Handsel). Our respect to elders rocketed in proportion to the money we were gifted as blessings.
After getting the 'Vishukkaineettom', we would rush to resume the fireworks and to display our prime pyrotechnics to the neighborhood children only to incite their jealousy. The other rituals of bath, donning new dress, visiting temple will then follow. The finale comes with savoring the elegant Vishu 'Sadhya' (feast) with elders and relatives.
Distance, time and era may have diminished the dazzle of festivities. But it has in no way diminished my spirit that soars high on every Vishu. Vishu is our 'Thanks giving day', revering the earth and her bounty and reminding ourselves of our blessings.
The sight of golden hues and silky softness of konnapoo (Konna flower) continues to permeate peace and happiness. Surely, the melody of Vishu is not a vanishing one.