Cassia fistula, known as the golden shower tree or Kanikonna in Malayalam is this tree with beautiful yellow flowers that represent the prosperity of Kerala. The fact that it is considered as the state flower of Kerala shows its immense importance among Malayalees. Cassia fistula and its flower are considered the national tree and flower of Thailand. It is a popular ornamental plant and is an herbal medicine. In Ayurvedic medicine, golden shower tree is known as aragvadha, meaning ‘disease killer’. It blooms in late spring. Flowering is profuse, with trees being totally covered with yellow flowers and almost no leaf. It is an interesting sight in Kerala to see the konna flowers on the road side in late spring.
The flowers are of ritual importance in the Vishu festival of the Kerala. Vishu is a Hindu festival celebrated in Kerala, usually on April 14 of the Gregorian calendar. This occasion signifies the Sun's transit into the Mesha Raasi (first zodiac sign), according to Indian astrological calculations. The official Malayalam New Year is the first day of month of Chingam (August - September) though it carries no significance either astrologically or astronomically. Chingam is the harvest season in Kerala and southern parts of coastal Karnataka. Vishu is considered as the astrological New Year festival of Kerala state. It is the first day of the month of Medam on the Malayalam calendar.
It is believed that seeing the prosperous Vishukkani on the first day of the New Year will make the rest of the year prosperous; there won’t be any shortage of money, food, health and blessings. The belief behind Vishukkani and Vishukaineetam is that seeing spectacular scenes and getting presents on the first day of the year is an indication of how prosperous the entire year is going to be.
Vishnukkani, the first thing you have to see after waking up on the day of Vishu. Vishukkani is also known as kanikanal which means first sight. It consist of a ritual arrangement of an idol of Lord Krishna along with auspicious articles like raw rice, fresh linen, golden cucumber, betel leaves, arecanut, metal mirror, the yellow Kanikonna flowers , a holy text and gold coins, in a brass vessel called uruli in the puja room of the House. A lighted lamp called nilavilakku is also placed alongside. This arrangement is completed the previous night by the lady of the house after the rest of the household has slept so that none sees it before the right time. On the day of Vishu, the custom is to wake up at dawn and go to the puja room with the eyes closed so that the Vishukkani is the first sight of the new season. When the lamp is lighted, the kani is ready to be seen. Normally the lady of the house leads everybody in the family one by one to the kani blindfolded so that it is his or her first sight of the day.
The golden colour of the fruits and the flowers resemble the colour of the Sun. The light from the lamp reflected from the round mirror shining through the yellow article create the semblance of a spectacular miniature sunrise. After the family’s turn the kani is taken outside to be seen by cattle, birds, other animals and plants.
Then comes the most interesting part...the Vishu Kaineetam! The eldest family member gives presents money to everyone in the household including the servants. It is a day of giving and sharing. Children receive from all their relatives’ parents and grandparents and are quite rich and the end of the day. New clothes are worn during this occasion. Children burst firecrackers and the women join together in making the vishu-sadya, a grand feast prepared in Kerala culinary style to include the four prominent rasas: bitter, sour, sweet and hot. Meals are served on plantain leaves. All the family members eat to together. Since Vishu falls during school summer holidays, all the children of the family have a great time with their cousins playing and celebrating.