Vishu festivities reaffirm our bond with nature
Tomorrow is Vishu; a festival that is cherished by every Malayali, no matter where he or she lives. Be it in the spring in the United States or in the hot summer here in Kerala, the opulence of ‘kani' (an arrangement of Indian laburnum, seasonal fruits, and vegetables along with other articles that is kept as an offering to Lord Krishna on the occasion of Vishu), neatly arranged with locally available resources to substitute ‘kanikonna' (Indian laburnum) and summer fruits and vegetables make every Malayali nostalgic.
Blossoming of kanikonna
Bunches of laburnum, mangoes, jackfruit, and cashew-nuts from rural areas make its way to the kani of city dwellers.
The underlying principle of this festival is the celebration of the bond between man and nature.
It is that time of the year when the sun is at its zenith in our region, radiating energy till the tenth day (pathamudayam) of the Malayalam month of Medam. The flowering of kanikonna is always related to the heat. This official flower of Kerala has ethno-climatological significance too. It usually blooms 40 to 45 days ahead of the monsoon. Laburnums in full blooms heralded Vishu a month ago in the city. The day before Vishu is spent in hectic buying of fruits and vegetables to prepare the kani.
Likewise tiny blossoms of cashew, mango, and jackfruit would have turned into tiny fruits by this time. The vegetable of the season is the ‘kani vellari' (golden cucumber). Farmers start cultivating the kanivellari for Vishu during February-March itself.
Actually the art forms named Porattu nadakams (vellari nadakams) actually originated as a pastime for farmers who stayed overnight in their fields to guard their cucumber crop. This vegetable has excellent cooling property to ward off the heat in summer. This gift of nature occupies a prime position in the kani arrangement.
All these blessings of nature's summer bounty, together with rice, coconut, pudava (new clothes), valkannadi (traditional mirror), betel vine, arecanut, books, ornaments, and silver-coins, are neatly arranged in a brass uruli (vessel) for kani, usually by the eldest woman of the family.
Vishu has its traditional dishes too. Vishukanji, made of rice, coconut, and cumin seeds, is served for breakfast. Vishukkatta, meanwhile, is a somewhat solid form of Vishukanji. Traditionally, after partaking the dishes, farmers go to their fields to sow the first crop since Vishu also marks the beginning of the agricultural calendar (njattuvela).
Another dish is the Vellari kozhukkatta, prepared by mixing rice flour, cumin, coconut and sliced cucumber all folded in scented leaves and steamed. Thus the simplicity and self-sufficiency of rural livelihood is reflected in their celebrations too.
“Nowadays, kani kanal has turned to vangi kanal (buying and seeing),” rues Jayakumar, an agricultural activist and coordinator of Agrifriends, an NGO that aims at spreading awareness about agriculture among children and youth. “Buying and arranging the kani turns the whole concept of Vishu upside down. The kani should contain the harvest produce from our own fields. For residents of the city, this could be replaced with the flower of lady's fingers or bunch of amaranthus, tomato or any other vegetables, fruits, and flowers produced in their courtyards and terraces. Now many of the houses have their own terrace gardens and children could be involved for the collection of kani items from their home itself. Only when we see the fruits of our labour will the meaning of Vishu be symbolised, and the bond between man and nature reaffirmed, strengthening our body and mind,” adds Jayakumar.
Agrifriends organises ‘Karshikakkani' and ‘Vishusallapam' today at Radio Park in the Museum compound, from 7.30 a.m. to 12.00 noon. to introduce the real meaning of vishu to the new generation.
They plan to display all agricultural produce of the season in the Karshikakkani. “All these were collected by children,” says Jayakumar. Vishusallapam is a friendly interaction between the old and the young. Vishu songs and ‘Karshikakaineetam,' comprising coins and seeds to children for planting on pathamudayam, will also be organised as part of the Karshikakkani.
Keywords: Kerala Vishu festivities