Thiruvananthapuram: Sunday saw celebrations of Vishu, the traditional New Year, in Kerala. Devout Hindus turn out in their best, to start the New Year with a visit to the temple.
Vishu is believed to signal good fortune for the coming year. Temples are crowded from the wee hours, with the largest crowds gathering at Sabarimala, Guruvayoor and Sree Padmanabha Swamy temples.
For many, the most important event of the day is the 'Vishukani' (auspicious sight of the favourite deity).
In Kerala homes, preparations for Vishukani start the night before the New Year, with 'urali' (a special vessel) cleaned; fresh farm produce is collected and arranged in preparation.
The most popular items that are placed include rice, grains, cucumber, pumpkin, coconut, plantains, mangoes and arecanut: These are arranged in the worship room, which is decorated with the bright yellow konna flowers (cassia fistula - also known as the Golden Shower).
For enterprising young people across the state, this is one occasion for a quick buck -- they go around collecting the flowers from the trees, which bloom at this time of year. Then they make a kit, which has all the required materials for the festival, and sell it for about Rs.20 or more, depending on the size of the bunch of flowers and other material kept beside the favourite deity.
The first thing that happens on the Vishu morning is that young and old people come blindfolded into the presence of the "Vishukani" that is placed in front of their favourite deity; this is the day's first sight.
For the children, Vishu comes as a bonanza: Their pockets get more swollen, as it is customary for elders to give a 'vishukaineetam' (a gift) to younger ones in the family.
And what are celebrations without feasting?
While in many northern parts of the state there is a non-vegetarian lunch to mark the new year, traditionally, the southern parts of the state celebrate with a 26-course Kerala lunch that is served on a large plantain leaf.
In the state's northern districts, fire crackers too are burst in celebration. Palakkad district authorities, however, in view of the excessive heat this summer, have banned traders from selling crackers in open places.