Vishu is a Malayalam festival celebrated in the state of Kerala,India.It is the first day of the Malayalam month of Medam (April-May). It is also known as the Malayalam New Year day and so it is all the more important for the Malayalees irrespective of their religion or sect. Vishu generally falls on April 14 of the Georgian Calendar ,which signifies the Sun's transit to the zodiac - Mesha Rashi as per Indian Astrology."Vishu" in Sanskrit means "equal". Therefore Vishu is more probably denoting one of the equinox days. It is supposed to be the best time to begin any new ventures.
Vishu celebrations mark the begining of the spring saason.Vishu,is the astrological first day of Medam,however,the official Malayalam new year falls on the first day of 'Chingum',(Aug - Sep).Chingam is the harvest season in Kerala and it has no significance either astrologically or astronomically. The festival of Vishu is a symbolic representation of the deepest feelings of the human heart for spreading peace and good fortune.People are engrossed in merrymaking on this day.
Vishu is celebrated with brightly colored lamps and beautiful flowers.People take a clean bath early in the morning and wear new clothes (Puthukodi) for the occasion and elders of the family distribute tokens of money,calledVishukkaineetam,to children, servants and tenants. On this day,new year festival is celebrated in almost all the places in India by different names,like in Maharashtra,it is Gudhi Padwa,in Assam this day is called Bihu, in Punjab Baisakhi and in Tamil Nadu Puthandu.
Art,singing dancing and family get-togethers are the main features of this day.Feasts are held in every home and a variety of deliceous food is prepared.Guests are invited for meals. Food items and recipes in Vishu have been carefully preserved and passed on to generations and are still prepared and enjoyed in the same traditional way, as they were prepared earlier.In many parts of Kerala fireworks is an important part of Vishu celebration.The previous evening and in the morning the children enjoy bursting crackers.
The Vishukani or the auspicious sight is the 'First to be seen' arrangement.There is a belief that if one does not see a proper Vishukkani, then one will lose a year from one's life or have bad luck, depending on how much one see. Vishukani consisits of ,jackfruit and mangoes,a yellow laburnum flower,ornaments made of gold, vegetables like gourds and snake gourds, bell metal mirror with a white, pleated cloth tied to it's handle (supposedly used by Goddess Parvati). The traditional bronze vessal 'Uruli' filled with rice,are used for daily worship, a split coconut, clothes with pure gold zari, some coins in a silver cup, some water in 'Od ', a traditional vessal and a 'Grantha', which is a palm leaf manuscript or the Bhagwat gita.
The responsibility to put the Kani in order falls on the experienced shoulders of the eldest lady of the house.This arrangement is done on the previous night.On the day of Vishu.As per the custom,one has to wake up at dawn and go to the pooja room with the eyes closed so that the Vishukkani is the first sight of the new season.
Verses from Hindu Holy book Ramayana are read after watching Vishukanni.Devotees also rush to the well-known temples like Sabarimala Ayyappan Temple,Guruvayur Shri. Krishna temple to have a "Vishukkani Kazhcha" on the early hours of "Vishu" day.
Vishukani is prepared as described here.There may be minor variations from place to place.A reasonably sized Uruli is used to arrange the Kani.Uruli is an open-mouthed shallow circular bronze vessel made out of bell metal.
Raw rice is the first ingredient that is put into the Uruli,as a support base for the other items.Over that
is placed a freshly laundered white kasavu pudava (a Kerala style Sarang with zari), followed by a carefully selected Kanivellari (golden coloured, shapely cucumber), betel leaves,golden coloured mango fruit,reddish yellow coloured ripe areca nut,ripe yellow jack fruit(halved) and a shining brass hand mirror.
Later,a clean,fan-like pleated well-starched cloth is inserted into a highly polished puja vessel(kindi).The val-kannadi,a special type of decorated,golden mirror with an extremely long and thin handle,is also inserted into the kindi.The kindi is then placed in the uruli on top of the rice.
Sometimes,Ashtamangallyam,Ramayana or any of the holy scriptures written on Palm leaves,is also added to the auspicious Kani Uruli.Later, a gold coin or gold ornament is placed on top of all. Then pair of halved coconuts upright,filled with oil along with cotton wicks are kept.Then in a small flat-bottomed vessel is kept a little rice, a silver coin and some flowers. After the Kanikanal, thinking of a wish, if one takes the coin and check if its top side is head or tail. Depends on this one may know if his/her wish would be realized or not.
Now keep the Kani Uruli in front of the statuette or picture of Sree Krishna Bhagavan (in Northern Kerala, the valkannadi signifies or is the embodiment of Sree Bhagavathi, the Jaganmata Jagadeeswari). Then decorate the Kani Uruli, Picture and the surroundings with Konnappoovu (Indian Laburnum. See Box). Place a lit Nilavilakku (bronze oil lamp) nearby in such a way as it imparts a golden yellow hue to the Kani-ambience.
Two deepams, which are fashioned from the two halves of a split coconut, are also kept in the uruli.
Taking in the Vishukkani we should pray that the vision remains with us throughout the year. It is not enough that the joy we take from viewing the Vishukkani comes only to our eyes. It must reflect in our thoughts and in our actions. The auspicious start of the year which has come to us due to the grace of beginning it with a divine vision is not for us alone.
It is up to us to spread this love, happiness and hope to the rest of society.
After preparing the Kani on the night of the Vishu eve, the eldest lady of the house (grand mother, mother or the eldest sister) would sleep near to the Kani, keeping the match box close at hand. She gets up much before the Lord of the Day rises above the eastern horizon.
Keeping the eyes closed, she lights up the lamps and with prayers on lips, she opens her eyes to behold the golden scene that spreads in front and the image of the ever smiling face of Balagopala.
After her Kanikanal, she wakes up other family members one by one and guides them to see the Kani in the Pooja Room. The children are brought keeping their eyes covered by her loving hand or a cloth to prevent them from opening the eyes and see the mundane before seeing the divine.
After the human beings, it is the turn of the plants, animals and all things movable and immovable. The Kani Uruli is then taken outside to show them. It is also taken to the cattle shed, bank of the ponds etc. and finally around the house three times.
Children wait eagerly for this ritual. The elders of the family starting with the grand father or father give away Kaineetam to the younger ones. The Kaineetam consists of coins (now mostly notes) with Konna flowers, rice and the gold from the Uruli.
The gold and the rice are returned to the Uruli and touch the eyes with flower. Earlier days, it was a custom to give Kaineetam to all the people associated with the house such as servants, field workers and land-tenants. The principle is the symbolic sharing of the prosperity and wishing happiness for all.