Singapore dresses up regally, shimmering in gold. Come March to May, Cassia Fistula, commonly called the Golden Shower tree endemic to South and Southeast Asia, blooms in all its glory. Scattered across Singapore, the golden trees are out there beckoning you to look at them. In the summer heat all leaves drop off and only the bright yellow flowers remain, resplendent. However with the rains, slowly the trees grow green again with leaves and the flowers now turn to green fruits.
Golden shower tree is the national tree and the national flower of Thailand symbolizing Thai royalty and state flower of Kerala, India. In Laos too, its blooming flowers known locally as ‘dok khoun’ are associated with the Lao New Year.
For the Malayalee community of Kerala, the second largest ethnic Indian community in Singapore after the Tamils, the flower known in Malayalam as Kanikonna is of great cultural significance. It signifies prosperity, affluence and a New Year of hope and aspirations. These flowers form an important part of their famous New Year festival called Vishu that falls around this time, April 14th / 15th (in 2019, it falls on April 15).
Vishu signifies the sun’s transit falling on the spring equinox during which, a day has an equal number of hours of daylight and darkness. In Sanskrit, Vishu means “equal.” Farmers in Kerala begin their agriculture activities on this day. Vishu is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is celebrated by worshipping Lord Vishnu.
Getting a good start is important for doing anything and it is customary and a traditional belief that what you see on that Vishu morning, Vishu kani (literally that which is seen first on Vishu day) ensures good tiding throughout the year. So every effort is made to create that beautiful and auspicious sight, the Kani, the first sight for the day, as one opens the eyes very early in the morning.
Golden colour representing prosperity takes predominance. Fruits and vegetables, are displayed mainly of yellow colour (especially ripe ones with yellow skin), as also gold coins and jewellery. All are arranged along with images of Lord Krishna and other auspicious items on a brass or bronze bowl called “Uruli”. To add to the golden glow of the lighted lamps and enhancing the golden aura, the golden shower flowers are generously spread all around decorating the Kani. These flowers form an indispensable part of the Kani.
The wood of this tree is also used in making the popular percussion instrument Chenda (drums) native to Kerala, which is used extensively in festivals. And every part of the tree is of medicinal value for various ailments.
So, as you walk down the streets of Singapore and notice a tree shining forth in bright yellow, lo and behold pause a while, and admire the cascading gold, the harbinger of good fortune.