Vishu – The Kerala New Year
Vishu, also known as the Malyalam New Year as Malyalam is the predominating language in Kerala. The pious day of Vishu marks the commencement of the new year for people living in Kerala and also some adjoining parts of Tamil Nadu. The day is celebrated with great pomp, joy and enthusiasm.
The festival of Vishu translates to ‘equal’ in Sanskrit and thus sends a clear message that it is not confined to be celebrated by just Malayalis. In fact, the day is celebrated in different states of the country as a new year, however, under a different name and with different rituals and customs. Assamese celebrate it as Bihu, Punjabis as Baisakhi and Odisha people as Vishua Sankranti.
This year Vishu falls on 15 April, 2019 (Monday).
Significance of Vishu
This widely celebrated southern new year marks the Sun’s transit to the zodiac sign of Aries. Astronomically, it represents Vernal Equinox, and therefore, this day is also considered as one of the vernal equinox days. According to the Hindu mythology, this day is regarded as the one when Lord Krishna was killed. This is the reason, Vishu is also known as Lord Vishu day. Also, on Vishu day, both day and night are equal in duration, which again highlights Vishu’s meaning in Sanskrit.
The main message of this festival is to have the right beginnings. The festival is equated with the day of luck, prosperity, and hope. It is considered to be a day which opens the gateway to the auspicious new year ahead.
Rituals and Celebrations of Vishu
There are many rituals associated with this day and the most prominent among them is ‘Vishukkani’. It is considered highly auspicious to view the Vishukkani as the first thing on the morning of the new year. The Vishukkani is a collection of a number of auspicious things such as flowers, fruits, vegetables, gold, coconut, mirror, grains, lamps, and holy Hindu books such as Bhagavatgita, Ramayanam and more. All these things are then set in a huge vessel in a circular shape, made with 5 metals and is kept in the puja room. Lord Krishna’s image is also kept in the vessel. The whole arrangement is set by the lady of the house on the eve of the Vishu day.
Talking about the specifics used for the Vishukkani, tender mangoes, golden coloured cucumber, jackfruits etc are used as the vegetables. There is a special flower that blooms only when Vishu is around. Golden coloured Casia Fistula, which is also known as Konnappo, finds a special place in the process of Vishukkani.
After performing Vishukkani, all the members of the family wear new clothes after taking bath. Also, there is a practice of distributing coins to children, neighbours, and servants for prosperity in the future. In addition, people burn crackers and light candles to welcome the new year. People visiting temples is a common sight on this day in Kerala.
Other than observing the traditional rituals, Vishu is also celebrated by feasting on dishes made specially on this day. Dishes are prepared using seasonal fruits and vegetables, including mangoes, gourd, and jackfruits. One interesting thing about the dishes made on this day is that they are made with about equal proportions of sweet, sour, salty and bitter items, keeping up the theme of ‘equality’ of Vishu. Some popular dishes prepared on this day are Mampazhapachadi (a sour soup of mango), Kanji (a drink made of spices, rice, and coconut milk) and Veppampoorasam (a bitter dish of neem).
Vishu is much more than a new year. It is a celebration, a religious event, an opportunity to bring good luck and a chance to spend time with the loved ones. It is equally looked forward by both the young and the elders of a family.