|Vishu Kani: The splendour of the Smiling Lord|
Image credit: keralaevents.com
Yesterday was Vishu, the beginning of the New Year, according to the Malayalam calender. It is one of the most important festivals celebrated back home, and once again, Vishu, away from home, doesn't feel like it. Gosh, I miss the kani, kaineetam and kanji! To the uninitiated, kani is the first thing one sees early in the morning on Vishu day. Typically, the elders of the household decorate the prayer altar with all symbols of prosperity- A brass uruli filled with water, gold jewellery, money, cucumbers, mangoes, bananas and jackfruit, and of course, konna poo, which is a flower that blossoms around this time of the year. Kaineetam is a token of money that is usually given by the elders of the household to all the children. It symbolises wealth for the years to come. Kanji is a special rice porridge, made with coconut milk, and eaten with lentils and pappadam. This is the typical meal for Vishu, but it has gradually been replaced by the more elaborate sadya, which is a feast consisting of nearly 15 dishes.
The day is special, and I have fond memories, celebrating Vishu back home. Amma and Appa would wake me early in the morning, and having covered my eyes, lead me to the pooja room, so that the first thing I saw would be the smiling statue of the Lord. Kaineetam would follow, and then a few minutes of prayer, in the sacredness of that space, with the fragrance of the incense sticks floating around the air, in the quiet stillness of dawn...
I learnt something new about Vishu this year. Apparently, it is supposed to be auspicious to read the Ramayana on Vishu, early in the morning. One should open the book, and read a random page, which would supposedly have an impact on the person's life in the coming year. I wonder why we never followed this at home. Anyway, I decided to try it today. Now, except for occasional stories that I've come across, I have never really read the Ramayana. I have heard verses from the epic being chanted, back home in Kerala, especially during the evenings in the month of Karkitakam (a supposedly inauspicious month), but I have not read it myself. So, I turned to good old Google, and got an online version of the Ramayana. It was then that I realized the whole epic had been divided into six major sections (kaandam), according to the timeline of events in the novel. For example, Bala Kaandam is centred around Rama's childhood, Ayodhya Kaandam is about his exile from Ayodhya and so on. Since I was supposed to pick a page randomly, I turned to random.org in order to generate a random number between 1 and 6. I got 4, so turned to the Kishkindha Kaandam. There, again I had 6 major chapters, so random.org chose 2 for me. I scrolled down to the first page of chapter 2, and learnt that Kishkindha Kaandam depicts the story of Rama meeting Hanuman for the first time, and helping Sugriva regain the kingdom of Kishkindha from his evil brother, Vali. By chance, Hanuman, seen as a symbol of courage, jumps into the scene in Chapter 2. And the very first lines of the chapter simply state this, 'Be Fearless'. I took this to be a message for me, a symbol from God, another inexplicable way of the universe. I must learn to conquer my fears. They simply don't exist, and even if they do seem threatening, I must have faith and courage to move on and rise above them. A profound insight for the year and many more to come, indeed.
I believe Vishu is a day that reminds us to count our blessings. By offering whatever we have been blessed with in the past year, we are in a way, offering our gratitude to the Creator. And, there is no better way to happiness than gratitude! Today, I feel blessed to have been able to talk with Amma and Appa, who are so far away, yet so near. I feel blessed to have been able to catch the kani over Skype. I feel blessed, because despite spending nearly the whole day in the library, I have been able to make considerable progress on an important project. I feel blessed because I also have team mates who have become good friends over the course of just a semester. I feel blessed for all the little mercies in life.
Vishu also reminds us to see only the best things in life. In fact, the message of Vishu is to see God in everything and everyone we do. That way, we don't become bitter about petty issues, and see only the bright side of life. As the traditional Vishu hymn goes:
Kani kaanum neram kamala nethrante
Niramerum manjathukil chaarthi
Kanaka kingini valagal mothiram
Aninijyu kaanenam bhagavane.
I perhaps am not the best person to translate such a beautiful verse to English (I will not do justice to it), but I take the hymn to mean this- May I see the Lotus eyed One, whose face is brightened with sandalwood, who is adorned with a golden crown, bangles and rings and who is bedecked for the kani, in everything and everyone, always!