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April 14, nostalgic Vishu festival

by Lakshmi Menon
(Bangalore)

Vishu brings the nostalgic memories of my childhood days. No matter how


many Vishus I celebrated later, memories of the childhood days would
always remain as special memories in my heart.

Malayali Hindus celebrate their New Year on first Malayalam month which
falls on April 14th, with great joy and devotion. This festival is
called Vishu and marks the sowing season. Keralites make a new and
auspicious beginning to their lives on this day.

Vishu begins with Vishukkani, which was prepared by elders in the previous
night. Everyone wakes up to see the Vishukkani, in the drawing room or in
the pooja room. The Vishukkani is a decorated plate, filled with fruits,
vegetables (jackfruit, mangoes, snake gourd, golden cucumber,plum
pumkin), lovely yellow konna flowers,(cassia fistula) gold ornament, a
portrait of Lord Krishna, the unique bell metal mirror (valkkannadi), (a
mythology is said to have been used by Goddess Parvathi), with a white cloth
tied to its handle in pleats, the traditional bronze uruli, filled with rice,
astamangalyam (the set of items used for daily puja), coconut halves with
wicks used as lamps, all placed in the full glow of lighted bell metal lamp.

Mother would wake us up by 4.30 a.m. by closing our eyes and take us to the
Vishukkani, and would make sure that all the family members see the kani
first and nothing else. As the moment drew closer, the excitement in the
living room was palpable. It is believed that seeing the Vishukkani (kani
kanal) would ensure prosperity and well-being in the coming year. Then we
would eagerly wait to receive the Vishukaineetam, wherein the elders of
the family hand over small tokens, normally in the form of one rupee coins to
the youngsters. The belief behind this custom is that the children would be
blessed with wealth and fortune in the future. With our collection of the day
we would buy crackers and enjoy exploding them, lending color to the
festival.

Wearing vishukkodi (new clothes bought for the occasion) we would get
together in a traditional way and enjoy the sadhya. Mother would serve
steaming hot rice on plantain leaves accompanied by kaalan (spiced curry
made of cucumber and ripe mangoes), olan (white pumpkins and potatoes
made in coconut milk), and erisseri (jackfruit in a thick peppery gravy). Crisp,
fried jackfruit fingers and pappadams supplement the typical feast, with
payasam made of rice and milk, called palpayasam, ending the meal on a
sweet note.

The famous Sree Krishna temple at Guruvayur holds great importance during
Vishu, where in the Vishukkani festival dedicated to Guruvayurappan, the
presiding deity, is considered to be extremely propitious.