Vishu is one of the most important festivals of Kerala associated with harvesting. Usually it falls on the first day of Medam, the Malayalam month, that comes in mid-April. The most important part of the Vishu festival is the Vishu Kani. Kani literally means the first sight in the morning. The first of Medam is also the New Year’s Day in Kerala. It is believed that one’s luck and prosperity of the coming year is based on the first thing to be seen on that particular day.
Flowers of Cassia fistula, commonly known as the Golden shower tree, is the most important item for the preparation of the Kani. Nature itself reminds us the forthcoming of the festival, by decorating all the cassia trees with dancing golden flowers, escorted by the melodious song of the Vishu Pakshi, a bird from the cuckoo family that appears in this region only during the Vishu season. Cassia fistula is also the state flower of Kerala. It is believed that there should be at least one petal of the Cassia fistula flower in the Kani, and I will explain later, the story behind the ritual importance of the flower.
A Vishu Kani is prepared by arranging auspicious items along with newly harvested grains, fruits, vegetables etc in front of the idol of Lord Krishna, the deity.
The elder female member of the family is responsible for making the Kani, on the eve of Vishu . A well polished vessel called Uruli, made of brass, is used for the preparation of the Kani. The Uruli is filled with newly harvested items such as paddy, cucumber, mango, jack fruit, banana, pineapple etc, rice mixed with a few pieces of turmeric, half cut coconut, gold, new cloth with golden edges ( it is called Kasavu pudava), coins, the holy book, mirror, a bunch of cassia flowers etc. Finally the polished holy lamp called Nilavilakk filled with oil and cotton wicks for lighting along with other items well arranged in front of the decorated idol of Lord Krishna the deity, makes the Vishu Kani . ( Any other auspicious items can be added, as there are slight variations regionally).
Early in the morning the elder female member of the family lights the holy lamp. Then she leads other members one by one, with closed eyes before the Kani. The happy Vishu celebrations will be started after viewing the auspicious Vishu Kani . Soon after, the elder male member of the family gives the Vishu kaineettam ( the first offering of the day) to all other members. Also there is a belief, that our luck and prosperity throughout the year is based on the kaineettam.
The Kani we made this year, was with a slight difference from the traditional one. And we were much delighted while arranging it. Our eight year old Cassia fistula Bonsai tree has bloomed for the first time. Instead of a bunch of flowers, we placed the tree as such for the Kani. It was really a wonderful experience to see the Kani with fresh Cassia fistula flowers.
Like any other festival, the main delicacy of Vishu is the Sadya. Really it is the feast for which boiled rice along with a number of side dishes are served on a cut banana leaf. The final item to be served for the Sadya is Payasam, a very delicious sweet.
I will share with you, the recipe for a very simple and delicious Vishu special sweet Kumbilappam ( literally means, the sweet with a cone shape). As Vishu is the festival associated with harvesting, the seasonal crops are widely used for cooking. The main ingredient for Kumbilappam, is Jack fruit which is easily available during this season.
How to prepare:
Preparation and cooking time: One hour
- Rice flour ( fried): Two cups
- Jaggery(melted and cleaned): One cup
- Coconut ( grated). 1 ½ cups
- Jack fruit ( deseeded and chopped): 1 ½ cups
- Cardamom seeds ( crushed): ¼ tea spoon
- Cumin seeds : ¼ tea spoon
- Salt: To taste
- Cinnamon leaves for making cones.
Make cones as shown in the pic with cinnamon leaves. Mix all ingredients with hand to make a thick dough. Fill each cone with the dough, place carefully in a steamer and cook for thirty minutes. If cinnamon leaves are not available, banana leaves can be used instead. But the secret behind the unique taste of our favorite Kumbilappam, is the wonderful mixing of flavors of all other ingredients with the aroma of cinnamon leaves.