We were happy this year to participate in an important local ceremony for the benefit of both our guests and staff. This was Vishu, the traditional celebration of the first day of Malayalam annual calendar that marks the beginning of a New Year for Keralites.
Vishu is celebrated by the lighting of thousands of tiny lights and setting off spectacular fireworks, as well as buying new clothes, donating to charities and, of course, enjoying a sumptuous Vishu Feast - an indispensable part of any festivity here!
As always, the family is central to the proceedings. In each home, the eldest person in the family will shower their blessings on the younger ones, symbolised by giving a special coin (kaineettam) which is believed to bring prosperity throughout the coming year.
The most important event during the Vishu festival is the Vishukkani, which literally means 'the first thing you see after waking up on the day of Vishu'. The Vishukkani consists of a ritual arrangement of auspicious articles intended to signify all-round wellbeing for the coming year. These include rice, fruits and vegetables, betel leaves and areca nut - a palm nut chewed with the betel leaf in the digestif called paan. All of these symbolise health and good nourishment. Then there is also a metal mirror, that betokens beauty and self-knowledge, and yellow flowers called konna (golden Cassia) that indicate enjoyment of sensory pleasures. Coins betoken wealth and, now the material welfare is taken care of, there are also holy texts to inculcate morality, good behaviour and spiritual development. Thus are all aspects of life taken care of.
All these items are usually assembled together in the puja (prayer) room of the house, which in Kerala traditionally faces the front door and thus serves to bless everyone who enters the house. Rather like Christmas in the West, the whole thing is set up the night before Vishu and are visited by the family first thing the next morning.