Among the most important festivals in the state of Kerala, the Malayalam New Year or Vishu falls on the first day of the month of Medam as per the Malayalam Calendar.
This according to the Gregorian calendar corresponds with the April month and generally is observed on 14th of April, every year. Vishu 2018 will also be celebrated on April 14.
Vishu also happens to be Kerala’s harvest festival and is also observed in Tamil Nadu and the Tulu Nadu region in the state of Karnataka. Vishu is also referred as Bisu in many places. The festival of Vishu also commemorates the Mesha Sankraman or Mesha Sankranti since during this time, the sun passes to the Aries zodiac or the Mesha Rashi. Literally speaking, Vishu means equal. It stands for one of the equinox.
Vishu or Malayalam New Year signifies that one is required to begin right which would then lead to the whole year being right. So what we perceive on the very 1st day of the New Year should be auspicious and pure and must symbolize good fortune and abundance. Hence on the day of Malayalam New Year, there is a custom among the people to open their eyes to Vishukkani, that which is worshipped and that which is the 1st thing to be seen on the occasion of Vishu. The preparations for the Malayalam New Year or Vishu start well in advance. The houses are cleaned and often painted or white washed to make it pure. The pooja rooms were the ritualistic presentations would be made are cleaned with the picture Gods adorned with the Chandan and Kumkum.
Vishu Kani and Vishu Kaineetam- Vishu Kani and Vishu Kaineetam happen to be the major highlights of the Vishu celebrations. The regional flower of Kerala, Kani Konna or Cassia fistula, happens to be the famous vishukanni. Also known as Kanikanal, the Vishukkani, is inseparable from that of Vishu. As per the earlier beliefs and traditions of the Malayalees, an auspicious first sight or ‘kani’ as the dawn cracks down would be lucky for the whole year to come. Vishukani or Kani Kanal therefore happens to be the most famous tradition that the people in Kerala follow. As the belief goes, the prosperity of the year depends on what is the first object that you view, early in the morning, just after opening your eyes.
A list of auspicious items are there that are supposed to be perceived on the Vishu morning. All these items are kept ready in every household, the night just prior to the Vishu festival. These items include a gold ornaments, Cadian leaf book, one new white cloth, yellow cucumber, raw rice, betel leaves, flowers from the Konna tree, holy grantha, jack fruits and coconut. All these items are placed on a bell metal container known as ‘uruli’. Right behind the container is placed a Lord Krishna idol and a bell metal mirror.
Along the sides, lighted oil lamps known as Nilavilakku are kept. The head of the family happens to be the 1st person who perceives these sacred items; following this the other members including the children are slowly brought near the Vishu Kani, blind fold, for them to see. Special attention is given to the fact that, the family members especially children don’t see anything else before perceiving the Vishukani. Later on this Vishukani is given to God and then distributed among the poor. A small gift is given to the young members and the kids in the family and this gift-giving tradition is known as Vishu Kaineetam.
After the Vishukani custom, people go on to take a bath in the sacred water and offer prayers at the nearby temples. The people in Kerala put on their outfit called Kodi Vastram for celebrating Pooram Vishu. Kodi Vastram is new clothes that are specially worn during any auspicious occasion. Dancing and singing forms a part of the Malayalam New Year Celebration. Sadya or feast is prepared by women on this special occasion. The special dishes include mangoes, jackfruits, pumpkins and gourds. A dish called Moru Kutan made of Payassam (Kheer), yoghurt, Veppampoorasam (a bitter neem preparation) and Mampazhapachadi (a sour soup of mango) is prepared on the special occasion of the Malayalam New Year.
On this festive occasion, people engage in traditional dances, singing and other cultural events like drama etc. Entertainers are found paying visit to every household for collecting money that would be spent in Kerala’s New Year Fair, known as Vishuwela.
Vishu Kanji- For observing the festival of Vishu, Vishu Kanji and Thoran are very important. Vishu Kanji is the main dish prepared out of coconut milk, rice and spices. Thoran happens to be the side dish that accompanies the main dish.
Vishu Padakkam- Fireworks constitute a big part of the Vishu celebrations in different regions of North Kerala. From Children, young ones to adults, everyone engages in bursting crackers the evening prior to Vishu and also in the morning.
The Malayalam New Year or Vishu happens to bear a great significance for the Malayalis. The festival signifies abundance, materially and spiritually. Food, knowledge, light and money must be there in our life. On this occasion people pray that throughout the year, they don’t get distracted from their vision. The joy that people receive by perceiving the Vishukkani should not only come to the eyes. Rather it should be reflected in our actions and thoughts. We must endeavor to spread happiness, love, contentment and hope to the whole society.
Astrologically speaking also, the significance of Vishu is immense as the night and days become equal when it comes to duration. Moreover, the arrangements for the agricultural season start on this Vishu day itself.
The Malayalam New Year or Vishu is the time when people are expected to forget their past and welcome a fresh new year full of aspiration and hope. It is not just a favorable day but also a day characterized by deep religious significance.