The day of the vernal equinox has come and gone indicating the start of the spring season here in the Northern Hemisphere. A few days ago, from Bengaluru, I received a text message from Lakshmi wishing happy Ugadi. A few Persian colleagues in the office are organizing a Nowruz celebration and lunch. Local Kerala cultural association is having a Vishu celebration and sadya later on in the month. People all over the world, irrespective of ethnicity, cultural and religious background, are always ready to welcome a new season. There are many rituals and practices in anticipation of an abundant year ahead.
My memories of Vishu still yield a warm and fuzzy feeling. The night before Vishu, amma assembled all the items for Vishu Kani in the northeast corner of the middle room. A nilavilakku and a picture of Lord Guruvayurappan adorned with fresh Kani Konna and other flowers from the garden occupied places next to the mirror that was leaned on to the wall. In front of the oil lamp, and the picture, a collage of fresh fruits, flowers, veggies, rice, other grains, and a sample of everyday utility items form the Vishu Kani.
Early morning, well before dawn, Vishu day, amma, after lighting the lamps, and saying her prayers, woke each one of us one by one, helped us out of the bed holding our eyes shut and led us to the Vishu Kani. Then, asked us to open our eyes. On that day, the norm was to see the Lord and the abundance of his creations before anything else.
What we saw was a feast for the mind and soul. We saw our own reflections in the mirror along with the Lord's picture and prayed to Him to provide the abundance as we see there for the New Year and thereafter. I think Vishu Kani symbolizes an eternal hope for a happy and prosperous future.
The children got 25-paisa coins as kaineetam. Afterward, achan, it was once a year ritual for him, prepared us for a bath. He rubbed oil on all of us from head to toe, took us to the well, right in the front yard, next to the kitchen. He fetched water (deep-well water was cold) by the buckets and showered us, helped us with soap to wash away the oil, towel dried us with a thorthu. After the bath, we were just about ready for a sumptuous sadya.
Later in the morning, we visited our grandparents, next door. In fact, for many years, on every first of the month, the first person who was designated to visit our tharavadu, before everyone else could, was I. As first of the month was an auspicious day, ammooma wanted me to visit them first before anyone else. Her astrological beliefs saw my stars aligned in the right way.
We had a Kani Konna tree at the edge of the property. It flowered at Vishu time of the year, bright yellow bunches of flowers, a tree full of flowers, with no green leaves visible, and was a beautiful sight.
In many temples, there were poojas and utsavas. Sabarimala temple was one among them with special poojas for the devotees during Vishu. Many times, I attended the Pathamudayam Utsav at the Madamon temple with cousins.
The significance of (re)observing the mundane things of our daily lives on the Vishu day is to emphasize the importance and bountifulness of nature. In addition, it is a family togetherness time. As we grow older, our cultural perspectives and attitudes change accordingly. It may not be possible to observe the many rituals as we experienced in our childhood; however, some celebrations and customs stay with us throughout our lives. Due to the rigours of our lifestyles, we may bypass or omit some of them. However, they linger in our minds and allow us to keep us in touch with our roots.
Sasi Kumar is a writer, traveller, global volunteer leader, technologist, and a family man.