As different states marked the beginning of a New Year with bounties of the harvest season early last week, The Indian Express traced Vishu celebrations held in temples and in the homes of the Malayali community in Mumbai on April 14. Hailing from different parts of Kerala, this thriving community welcomes the New Year with a number of traditional rituals, each with a story of its own.
“The Kerala New Year begins with the coming of spring or Vasantham, which is the season most pleasing to the heart. And so the first thing we do on the day of Vishu is open our eyes to the sight of a platter arranged with the vegetables of the season, the flower Konnapoo that blooms during this period, gold and other riches and a statue of Lord Krishna. It is believed that what you see on the first day of the New Year, Vishu, will determine what the rest of your year will be like,” said Kumaran Nair, president of the Ayyapaa temple in Thane that held special pujas and other festivities for the day.
The temple, frequented by Malayalis across Mumbai, was constructed on a slight slope to mimic the famous Sabarimala temple of Lord Ayyappa. Nair believes that the sanctity of this 30-year-old temple lies in this aspect of its construction. A resident of Mumbai since 1969, Nair runs a real estate business of his own and has been able to reach out to those living in Mumbai from his hometown in Thiruvananthapuram through a temple that has brought together an entire community. “Even though we are away from Kerala we try to keep the celebrations authentic. We do all the pujas and rituals just as they are done back home. It is about ones roots. It can never be forgotten” Nair said.
As the call to the Sadhya or feast is made, scores of women decked in the traditional golden-bordered white ‘set’ sarees rush to catch a final glimpse of Lord Ayyappa. Part of this crowd was Sarojini Amma, who came to Mumbai in 1963 with a degree in Stenography. “I came with a dream to make a life for myself. I got a job at Grant Road and lived all the way in Chembur. Only around 30 of my Vishu’s have been spent in Kerala but I still try to keep everything the traditional way at home for my children and grandchildren who have lived their entire lives here.”
The most appealing entity of the day is the Vishu Sadhya or feast that consists of items made from the harvest bounty and is eaten off a banana leaf. The authentic Sadhya experience outside of a Malayali’s home is often found in a Malayali eatery.
Venu, manager at Hotel Deluxe in Fort, serves his Sadhya to customers from varied backgrounds craving a taste of Kerala’s cuisine. “We have Sadhya’s all year round. But the Vishu Sadhya is special and attracts everyone, including Gujaratis and Bengalis among others. Even for Malayalis who live fast lives in this city and don’t have the time to prepare a Sadhya at home, we are a piece of Kerala here in Mumbai.”
Living in Mumbai for the past 18 years, Venu claims to have never felt lonely in this city where every other turn has introduced him to yet another Keralite.
As Vishu kindles the promise of prosperity in the hearts of the many Malayalis in Mumbai it also bears witness to a community that innately incorporates its culture to every surrounding.
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