Vishu Festival: Malayalam New Year of Kerala

Vishu Festival: Malayalam New Year of Kerala

Vishu: Kerala Festival – Like most parts of India, festivals in Kerala are an integral part of the social and cultural structure of the state and festival time is the best time to plan one s travel to Kerala. In Kerala, every community, every religion has something to celebrate about all through out the year.

Vishu is one of the important festivals of Kerala. Usually its celebrated in mid-April. According to the traditional Malayalam calendar, it is the 1st day of the first month Medam (March-April) of the New Year. Traditional rituals are followed to bring in another year of prosperity.

Vishu is one of the most popular festivals of Kerala. Since it is considered propitious to view good things on this day for year round good fortune, Vishu morning is an important time. The heart of this festival of Kerala is the preparation of the kani (the lucky sight or gift).

The custom of preparing the kani has been followed for generations. The women take a large dish made of bell-metal (uruli), arrange in it a grantha (palm-leaf manuscript), a gold ornament, a new cloth, some flowers from the Konna Tree (Cassia fistula), some coins in a silver cup, a split coconut, a cucumber, some mangoes and a jack-fruit. On either side of the dish are placed two burning lamps with a chair facing it. Family members are taken blindfolded and then their blindfolds are removed and they view the Vishu Kani. As in other Indian festivals, a great feast at home is the high point of celebrating Vishu in Kerala.

Significance of Vishu Festival

Malayalee people celebrate Vishu as the New Year Day celebration. Usually, the Vishu festival falls in the month of April. The start of the month in which this festival is celebrated is known as Medam in Malayalam calendar. 2017 Vishu festival date is on 14th of April. Every year the official date of Vishu is set by the Indian National Calendar.

“Vishu” means “equal” in Sanskrit language. And this is not just the festival of Malayalees. This day is celebrated in different parts of India with different names. In Assam people celebrate it as Bihu and in Punjab this day is known as Baisakhi. Similarly it is celebrated by the name of Puthendu in Tamil Nadu and as VishuaSankranti in Orissa. The customs and rituals are different and unique in each state.The importance of Vishu festival and all the other festivals falling on the same day is very much for the people celebrating it.

What is The Significance of Vishu Festival?

Vishukkani:

On the dawn of the auspicious day of Vishu, one should see the Vishukkani as the first sight of the New Year, to have a peaceful and prosperous year ahead. Vishukkani is also pronounced as VishuKani, and is a collection of various auspicious things like fruits, grain, vegetables, lamps, flowers, coconut, gold, mirror, Hindu holy books: Ramayanam or Bhagavatgita, etc. set in a large circular vessel which is made of five metals, with an image of Lord Krishna. This is kept in the puja room.

The golden coloured Casia Fistula, also known as Konnappo, usually blooms during the time of Vishu only and this special flower is used in the process of VishuKani. Golden coloured cucumber, tender mangoes, jackfruit, etc are the main vegetables use in the process. The people who have the special mirror, Valkkannadi, use it and others who don’t have it, uses an ordinary mirror to see it.

The VishuKani is set with very carefully on the evening before the Vishu day. It is all done by the lady of the house. Seeing it the first thing on waking up on the Vishupulari day is considered as the glorious darshan of God with Vishukkani. This ritual is called Kanikanal.

Importance of Vishu Festival

The Vishu festival is a very important part of all the Malayalee people and the significance of Vishu festival can be easily seen from their preparation and celebrations.

People exchange greetings on Vishu day, and children enjoy bursting crackers and lightning candles to celebrate this auspicious occasion. People go to temples for worship with traditional chandanam or sandal paste applied on their forehead.

On this day, many famous temples like Sabarimala, Guruvayur, Sri Padmanabha temple etc. are packed with devotees, and here special pujas are held by many devotees of Lord Krishna.

The elders give money to the youngsters, which is a tradition known as VishuKaineetam. And different types of dishes are prepared in every home, called Sadhya. These preparations consist of same proportions of sweet, sour, salty and bitter items, like mampazhapachadi, jackfruit erissery, Vishupuzukku etc.

One more significant aspect on this auspicious Vishu day is that the day and the night are equal inKerala. This explains ‘Vishuvam’ in Sanskrit meaning Equal Night and day.

It is believed that Lord Krishna was killed on this day and that’s why this day is celebrated as the Lord Vishu Festival.

Rituals and Customs of Vishu Festival

The festival of Vishu heralds the beginning of the Malayalee New Year and the festival is celebrated in a big way inKerala and the adjoining areas of Tamil Nadu. Vishu day marks the Sun’s transit to the zodiac MeshaRashi as per the Indian Astrological calculations.

The traditional people ofKerala celebrated the Vishu festival with a lot of joy and cheerfulness. There are many traditions which have been followed by different generations or people and there are some customs which has been in practice since last few years. Here are all of the Vishu traditions and customs described.

Vishukkani or the Vishu Sight

The traditional name Vishukkani comes from the Malayalam word “Kani” which literally means “that which is seen first”. So the name Vishukkanu means “that which is seen first in Vishu”.

Under this tradition of Vishukkani, a prescribed list of items is collected and people see it the first thing on a Vishu morning. The tradition originates from the strong belief of the people celebrating Vishu festival that good things seen on the New Year acts as a lucky charm and brings good luck for the entire year.

Uruli is an open mouthed shallow circular vessel made out if ball metal. Behind this vessel, a metal mirror known as valkkannadi and an image of Lord Krishna is placed. Two standing oil lamps are also placed before the deity.

On the day of Vishupulari, (the dawn of Vishu day) it’s a custom to wake up very early and go to the puja room with the eyes closed so that the first thing a person sees is the glorious view of God with Vishukkani, reflected on the mirror. This ritual is known as Kanikanal.

It is also considered to read verses from Ramayana or Bhagavad Gita, after viewing the Vishukkani. According to the customs of Vishu festival, the page will be opened will have a relation with one’s life in the coming year.

Vishukkaineetam

After performing one of the first rituals of Vishu festival, Vishukkani, all of the family members takes bath and wear new clothes to collect Vishukkaineetam. This is a practice of distributing wealth in form of coins. The elders of the family give away coins or notes to the younger ones.

Some of the wealthy families will not give money to their children but also to their neighbours, servants etc. People carry out this custom in this belief that this way their children would be blessed with prosperity in the future.

Dishes

Vishu is not just filed with traditional rituals, but also the customs of feasting. Special dishes are prepared using jack-fruits, mangoes, pumpkins and gourd besides other seasonal vegetables and fruits. The food items consist of roughly equal proportions of sweet, salty, sour and bitter items. Popular feast dishes include ‘Veppampoorasam’ (a bitter preparation of neem), Kanji (drink made of rice, spices and coconut milk) and ‘Mampazhapachadi’ (a sour mango soup).

In small villages, men and women dress up wearing a skirt of dried banana leaves and masks on face. Then they move from house to house and collect rewards for their performance

Story behind Vishu Festival

Celebrated on the first day of Medam or the Malayalam month or between the months of April and May of the Gregorian calendar, Vishu symbolizes the beginning of the spring season. Vishu, a Hindu festival, is celebrated in Kerala as the harvest festival and the astrological New Year of the Malayalees. Vishu indicates the movement of the sun to Aries or the Mesha Rashi and marks the day from which the farmers begin the ploughing of land and other agricultural activities.

Significance of Vishu

In Sanskrit Vishu means equal, which implies the day with equal number hours of day and night or the equinox. The day of Mesha Sankranti or Mesha Sankramam, Vishu is a family festival. It is a period dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is celebrated by worshipping Lord Vishnu and Lord Krishna. Vishu Kani, Vishu Kaineettam and Vishubhalam are the three most important aspects of the Vishu celebrations.

Vishu Mythological Connection

Several mythological tales are related to the celebration of Vishu; and as per one such story Vishu is the day when Lord Krishna killed Narakasura a demon. As per another belief Vishu is celebrated as the return of Surya Dev. According to the other folklore Ravana demon king, never allowed Surya Dev or the Sun God to rise from the east. It was on the day of Vishu, after the death of Ravana, the sun or Surya Dev started to rise from the east. Since then, Vishu is celebrated with great zeal.

The Story Behing Vishu Faith:

As per the religious faith of the people on the previous night of the Vishu festival a Vishu Kani in the prayer room or worship area of the house before the idol of Lord Vishnu and Lord Krishna by the eldest lady of the house. Vishu Kani is regarded as the symbol of good luck and prosperity by all Hindu Malayalees. In Malayalam Kani means “which is viewed first”therefore, the term ‘Vishu Kani’ means the first thing to be seen at dawn or the early hours of the day. The devotees believe this would bring them prosperity throughout theNew Year.

The Vishu Kani consists of a sacred ceremonial preparation of all auspicious goods considered to be the omen of good luck and prosperity. These goods include coconut, betel leaves, Arecanut, yellow Kani Konna flower, Kanmashi kajal, raw rice, lemon, golden cucumber, jack fruit, a metallic mirror, a holy book, cotton dhoti and coins or currency notes.All these articles are collected in a bell shaped vessel made of metal which in Malayalam is called “Uruli”. A traditional bell shaped metal lamp called “Nilavilakku” is also lighted and placed together with the Vishu Kani before the deity. On the day of Vishu, as per the traditional belief of the people all the members of the family have to wake up early in the morning by dawn with closed eyes go to the worship area of the house, to get the first sight of the Vishu Kani because it would bring them good luck throughout the year. Therefore, the Vishu Kani is arranged with great care and precision to create a positive picture.

After seeing the Vishu Khani, people recite verses from Ramayana, the Holy book of the Hindus, which is considered to be a sacred act. Malayalees believe that the first page of the Ramayana which is opened by the devotee has a significant impact on his / her life in the upcoming year. After this the children and adult burst crackers and this continues from morning to night. Known as “Vishu Paddakam” or the bursting of crackers is an integral part of the Vishu celebration enjoyed by all big and small. This is followed by a traditional feast known as “Vishu Sadhya”.

Vishu Celebration in Kerala

The first day of Medam, Malayalam month or the period between April and May as per the Gregorian calendar, is celebrated as Vishu in Kerala. This Hindu festival considered as the advent of the astrological Malayali New Year and the harvest festival, symbolizes the movement of the sun to the MeshaRashi (Aries) and marks the beginning of the spring season. It is the time from which the farmers begin the ploughing of land and other agricultural activities.

Significance of Vishu:

Vishu in Kerala is the day of Mesha Sankranti or Mesha Sankramam. It is a family fest and a period when Lord Vishnu is worshiped. Vishu Kani, Vishu Kaineettam and Vishubhalam are the most significant aspects of Vishu celebrations in Kerala.

Vishu Kani: VishuKani means the first thing that one sees on waking up on the day of Vishu. It is a ritual in which the prayer room is set alight with traditional bell shaped metal oil lamps called nilavilakku or tookkuvilakku and the house is decorated with auspicious articles by the women of the house on the previous night of Vishu. All the auspicious objects that are considered a sign of prosperity are collected in a bell shaped metal urn called “Uruli” and are placed in the pray room of the house, before Lord Vishnu and Lord Krishna.

These objects including the holy book of the Hindus, a new cloth or dhoti, Kona flowers yellow in colour, betel leaves, betel nut, fruits, raw rice, fresh lemon, cucumber, vegetables, coconut, kajal, a metal mirror and currency notes or coins, are to be first seen.The devotees believe that Vishu Kani brings luck and prosperity throughout the year therefore they wake up early in the morning and with closed eyes proceed to the prayer room to get the first sight of the auspicious objects.

As a common belief the devotees also visit the Sabarimala Ayyappan temple or Guruvayur Sree Krishna temple early in the morning for ‘VishuKaniKazhcha’ or seeing the VishuKani and getting Vishu Kaineettam or coins of prosperity.

Vishu Sadhya and Vishu Padakkam: The Vishu celebrations are incomplete without Vishu Sadhya and Vishu Padakkam. The grand feast or VishuSadhya marks its significant style with traditional cuisines including Vishu Kanji, a porridge made of rice, coconut milk, and spices; Vishu Katta, served with jaggery it is made of rice powder, salt and coconut milk; Veppampoorasam, a bitter dish made of neem; Mampazhappulissery a sour soup made with mangos and Thoran, a side dish.

Each cuisine has its distinctive taste and is savored with great joy by the people during the Vishu celebrations. VishuPadakkam or crackers and lights are an important part of the Vishu celebrations inKerala and add to the glamour and mood of the festivities. The children burst crackers from the morning after seeing the VishuKani and this continues throughout the day.

The joy of the festivities can be clearly seen across Kerala. People dressed in new clothes called Puthukodi and jewelry visit temples and elders gift Vishu Kaineettam or the coin of prosperity which is believed to be the blessing of Prakruti, Shakti, and Lakshmi, to the younger generations including women, children, servants and tenants and bless them for a prosperous year ahead. Young men and women wearing dried banana leaves and masks and disguised as “chozhi” entertain the people by their performances and collect rewards from every house and then enjoy at the New Year fair called the Vishuwela.

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