No Vishu without kanikonna flowers - but the pretty yellow blooms have been steadily disappearing with each season.

Where have all the Vishu kanikonna flowers gone
news Festival Thursday, April 13, 2017 - 15:13

With Vishu right around the corner, there is a hustle and bustle to find 'kanikonna', the golden shower flowers which constitute an important part of the festival in Kerala. But this year, there seems to be a dearth of the Cassia Fistula, or kanikonna flowers as they are commonly known. Once available for in plenty for people to pluck, the kanikonna is now found mostly in markets, and that too in small quantities.

The Vishukanni is an important ritual of the festival. On the night before Vishu, the senior most woman in the family makes a beautiful arrangement of the yellow kanikonna flowers, fruits, vegetables, grains, pulses, gold jewellery, silver coins, mirrors, lamps etc inside a bell metal vessel. The arrangement is a symbol of prosperity, and it’s the first thing every member of the family is supposed to see when they wake up in the morning.

Without the kanikonna flowers, this arrangement is incomplete, and Keralites everywhere are struggling to get their hands on some of these flowers.

The vendors say, they can’t find any flowers to sell. "We are not selling Kanikonna this time because we have not been able to find any,” says a flower seller at MR Flowers, Cochin. “There are some local sales happening though. These people pluck it from the trees nearby and sell it for Rs 50 a bunch here," he adds.

Vishu Kani arrangement- Wikipedia picture by Vishnu Kunnathully. Link here

Because of this shortage, the cost of the flowers has also gone up. The bunch that cost around Rs 20 last year costs Rs 30 this year.

"There are hardly any flowers available in the shops. It is very difficult to find a vendor who sells fresh kanikonna. The price has also gone up. Just one stem costs around Rs 10 now. So, a bunch will easily cost Rs 50 or 60," says Rajalakshmi S Lal, a resident of Palakkad.

The shortage is felt in places like Bengaluru too, which have a large population of Malayalis. Sushila, a resident of Bengaluru says, “I don’t know where to go and find the flowers. I used to be able to find the kanikonna easily earlier, but now it’s getting impossible.”

The reason for the shortage: In recent years, the flower has been blooming at irregular intervals throughout the year, and during Vishu, when it’s actually sought after, vendors are having a difficult time trying to find the flowers.

The change in weather patterns, fall in the groundwater table and pollution are some of the major reasons attributed to the irregular flowering pattern of the Kanikonna.  

"The change in weather has a lot to do with the flowering patterns. The weather has been drastically different these two years, with hardly any rain and summer coming early, which has led to an increase in temperature. The rise in temperature forces the flowers to bloom - the flowering is a coping mechanism," says Dr C Satish Kumar, Principal Scientist, Tropical Botanical Garden Research Institute, Trivandrum.  

The flowers which usually start blooming in March started in December itself, Dr Satish says.

To make up for the shortage of the kanikonna flowers, there’s a boom in the sales of artificial flowers in some parts of Kerala. The new synthetic kanikonna, imported from different parts of the country like Delhi and other northern states, are sold to Keralites looking for some semblance of the Vishu of the past.

The plastic kanikonna which comes in all sizes and types have flooded the markets this year. There are various types of them, with buds, with and without leaves, and with just flowers. The cost of the artificial flowers range from 70 to 100 rupees for a bunch.

Kanikonna picture by Anoopkumar on Flickr. Link here.

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