Vishu Date 2016
Thursday 14 April
Vishu (വിശു) is one of the most important South India Festivals celebrated in Kerala and the adjoining areas of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka ( Mangalore/Udupi). It is considered to be the Malyalam new year day as it falls on the first day of the Malayalam month of Medam which coincides with the English months of April-May. This is considered the first day of Zodiac calender when Sun enters into the Mesha Raasi (Aries zodiac sign), which is the first zodiac according to the Indian astrology and represents the vernal equinox. This explains the meaning of the Sanskrit term “Vishu” that stands for “equal”.
There is a conflict among the dates of Malyalam new year as the first month of Malyalam calender is Chingam which coincides with August or September. Therefore, the Malyalam new year day is the first day of Chingam or the first month of Malyalam calendar. However, the Malyali peopel in the Malabar region consider Vishu as the first day of the astrological new year which is the first day of the Malyalam month Medam.
The logical conclusion that stands is that Vishu does not marks the beginning of the Solar New Year (when sun crosses the equator and heads northward). The confusion might have arisen due to the fact that in Kerala, Vishu celebrations were initiated about 1,654 years ago. That time, the Solar New Year almost started at the same time as the Zodiac New Year. However, because Zodiac New Year is constant and Solar New Year keeps on changing at the rate of one degree every 74 years, the two new years’ date are now different. The Malyali people, however, observe their customary new year day on the day of Vishu. In fact, many states of India celebrate their new year festival around this time of the year. Some of these include Baisakhi festival of Punjab, Nobo Borsho- the Bengali New Year, Puthandu of Tamil Nadu and Bohag Bihu of Assam.
Vishu Kani Tradition
It is said that a right beginning is what is needed for completing any work successfully which brings in prosperity. Thus, the Malayalam people believe that what they see first thing on the day of Vishu would decide how their coming year would be! ‘Vishu Kani’ thus, is the most important aspect of Vishu festival of Kerala. ‘Kani’ in Mlayalam means “that which is seen first” and ‘Vishu Kani’ means “that which is seen first on the day of Vishu”. All the households in Kerala ensure that each member of the family sees all the auspicious things first in the morning and this they do through VishuKani setting.
Vishukani Setting- Ritual of Divine Arrangement
Vishukani can be seen as the offering made to the divine and arranged in the puja room in a particular manner with auspicious articles like rice,cloth, golden cucumber, fruits, betel leaves, metal mirror, holy texts, gold, coins and the Vishu flowers (yellow flowers konna -Cassia fistula) in a metal vessel known as uruli made of panchaloham or five metals. The idol of Vishnu is also the main component of Vishukani.
Vishukani (വിശുകനി) is arranged on the previous night of ‘Vishu’ by the mother and the other women of the household. The mother then sleeps in that pooja room and upon rising in the auspicious morning hours (4-6 AM), she sees the ‘Vishukani’ and lights the metal lamp. Then she wakes up all the other members of the house and they all come to the Puja room with their eyes covered with their hands because they must see the auspicious Vishu Kani before seeing anything else.
Gold color and gold both are emphasized while setting Vishu Kani. The Kanikkonna or the Vishu flower (a golden-yellow flower associated with Lord Krishna) is used liberally while arranging the Vishukani in puja room. These flowers only blooms when the sun is situated in its most exalted position. Gold is the symbol of monetary affluence along with cultural and spiritual wealth. The elders give presents, mostly coins and money to the younger members of the family. This is known as Vishukkaineettam. The articles of Vishukanni are later distributed among the poor.
The family memebers also read read verses from Holy books like Bhagwad Geeta and Ramayanam after seeing the “Vishukkani”. This represents seeking of eternal wisdom and spiritual enlightenment along with materialistic prosperity throughout the coming year. Many people visit temples such as Sabarimala Ayyappan Temple, Guruvayur Sree Krishna temple in order to have a “Vishukkani Kazhcha” in the early hours of “Vishu” day.
Vishu is a great day of joy in Kerala households. All the people there wear new clothes and gifts are exchanged. They wish ‘Happy Vishu’ to all their friends and distant family members through Vishu greeting cards, SMS wishes, and online Vishu scraps. It is a day of grand feasting. All types of food having all tastes – salt, sweet, sour and bitter dishes are prepared.
Some of the traditional Vishu feast items include Veppampoorasam (a bitter preparation made of neem) and Mampazhapachadi (a sour mango soup). Fireworks too are an important part of Vishu celebrations. In the morning and the previous evening, children as well as grown ups enjoy firecrackers.