Monday, January 3, 2011

The Curious Case of Cassia Fistula

This is the lovely Miss Golden Shower Flower, a.k.a 'Kani Konna'.

Now Miss. G.S. Flower is uber important to my existence, as she is to all from my pretty little Southern state called the Keralam.

The most apparent trivia about the blossom is that it is the state's official flower. But the legend, tradition and allegory associated with it is fascinating.

If you ask anyone hailing from Kerala what their spontaneous reaction is to the mention of the Kani Konna, they will (I triple dare you to prove me wrong) reply 'Vishu!'

Now Vishu is the astrological new year of Kerala, as it is of many other states of India. The descriptor 'astrological' is critical here, because the technical new year's day; the first day of the first month of the new year is this other wise insignificant day with no moniker, but simply referred to as 'Chingam 1', Chingam being the month (Duh!).

(Aside: Guess when my birthday is? Yup (smiles and blushes). Its on Chingam 1!!!! (blushes furiously) Ain't I shpeshul)
Now I'm still confused as to how Vishu is considered New Year's Day if it is in fact not beginning of a new year. Secondly, what in heaven's name is an astrological new year anyways?

Maybe Vishu the start of a new cycle of seasons (Kerala, incidentally has only two seasons - Summer and Monsoon. And it rains through (!!!!) the year. It rained today also - for 10 minutes. Therefore, I don't really know why anyone bothered to come up with this pretense of a season called summer in Kerala.)

Or maybe it's the beginning of harvest. I have no clue about any of these things, which is quite shameful considering that I come from a family of farmers. (This knowledge should be innate, intuitive and in my blood by now if you ask me!!!!  I'm shameful and despicable, I acquiesce)

But funnily enough, the most curious part of this phenomenon (Yes, I think it's confounding enough to be labeled a phenomenon) is that no one seems to be aware of why this is so. It's like a population of 31 million, 95% of whom are literate, have been hoodwinked!

So now that I've aired my grievances, I can peacefully get back to the point here without fearing further distraction. About Vishu.

I have to warn you, an adorable story is about to follow. So if you're allergic to an overload of adorableness, you better stay away. (But I guess, if that was the case, none of you would be here in the first place! Oh darn it! I just remembered that nobody IS here! I'm just talkin' to myself as usual! So here goes I guess!)
Vishu is possibly defined by the 'Vishukkani', which literally translates to 'Vishu sight', or 'the first to be seen on the Vishu day'. The Vishukkani consist of a ritual arrangement of auspicious articles like raw rice, fresh lemon, golden cucumber, betel leaves, arecanut, metal mirror and a whole load of other stuff, but the most important, vital, indispensable and pointful (opposite of pointless, obviously!) object is the yellow Kani Konna (hence the name - kanikonna translates to 'flower to be seen first'! (See. I told you that she's the most important object for the most important day of the year, to a place Adam and Eve, and later Noah, and much later Abraham Lincoln, and much much later, Jack Dawson from Titanic called 'God's own Country'! Pretty important huh? More important than me for sure.)

So, the deal is that on the day of Vishu, everyone wakes up at dawn and goes to the prayer room with their eyes closed so that the Vishukkani is the first sight of the new season. (By the way, in case you're wondering, the star of the show who also orchestrates the entire pageantry, is the eldest woman of the house. She sets up the paraphernalia in front of the Gods, sleeps by it so that it remains undisturbed and also because she needs to wake up before the crack of dawn, light the lamp and catch a glimpse of the precious little bulbs of gold aglow in the sight of God himself.) And the belief is that if this is done according to prescription, then the new year will be as beautiful as the flowers themselves.

Post the 'kani' of the 'konna',  it is ceremonial to read verses from Hindu Holy book Ramayanam, and the page of the to which you open up will have a bearing on your life in the coming year.

Fancy, ain't it!

p.s. If you were wondering, Cassia Fistula is the biological name of the flower. I don't know why scientists have to go screw up everything that artists have painstakingly moulded to perfection (especially when the artist is God himself. Why else would you name this flower Cassia Fistula! Fistula? Really?!!!!!)

Case Closed


  1. LOL! :)by the way doesnt Kanni mean Virgin. Atleast thats what it means in tamil i think..nice article.. loved it!

  2. Kanni does in fact mean virgin. But Kani means vision or sight. From the word root kannu which means eyes. You should know, Mr. Nallakkan.


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