Vishu Festival 2022: Friday, 15 April 2022
On the map of the world, India might seem like any other country and even though it is the largest democracy in the world, this is a country that rejoices in its myriad traditions and customs. So while the rest of the world might consider January 1st as the new year, in India, each state has a different new year, which would be based on the local calendar, the Hindu calendar or the solar/lunar calendars. If you are from God’s Own Country, then you would know that, for the people of Kerala, the new year starts on Vishu.
What is Vishu? When is Vishu?Vishu is a Hindu festival that is celebrated mainly in the Indian state of Kerala, but there are variations of the same celebration that are held in the Tulu region of Karnataka and Mahe district of Puducherry. This is also basically a harvest festival – the crops are ready to be harvested and once harvested, they are sold, which means that the farmers have money in hand to spend and the time to spend with their loved ones, before the next crop cycle starts.
Vishu day falls on the first day of the Medam month of the Malayalam calendar – the Malayalam calendar goes from the 15th of a month to the 15th of the next, which is why, most often, Vishu comes on 15th of April. In certain years, the day might fall on the 14th. In Sanskrit, the word Vishu originates from Visuvam, which means equal. This day was meant to be a celebration of the spring equinox, but over time, the equinox has shifted, which is why the day now falls about 24 days before Vishu. This period is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Lord Krishna.
This day is celebrated with great aplomb, with people buying new clothes, setting up the vishukani and enjoying a lavish sadya. Many people will also go to temples like Guruvayur Sree Krishna Kshetram or Sabrimala on this auspicious day. Others will visit their family temples or any other such place in the vicinity, where there will be an elaborate kani and also to receive kaineetam from the priest.
Why is Vishu celebrated?Vishu has been celebrated in the state of Kerala from the time when Sthanu Ravi was the ruler; the celebrations have been traced back all the way to 844 AD. For the people of Kerala, this day marks the first day of the astronomical year and since Lord Vishnu is considered the god of time, he and his incarnation, Lord Krishna are worshipped on this day.
There is also a story behind Vishu festival – it is said that this was the day when Lord Krishna killed Narakasura – Narakasura had been given life by Satyabhama and he had been given a boon that he could be killed only by the one who gave him life. Drunk on the power of being invincible, Narakasura started to wreak havoc. Lord Krishna had to eventually intervene, but none of his weapons seemed to work. Eventually, he pretended to faint and make it look like he had died, which sent Satyabhama into a state of fury and she destroyed Narakasura. This is one of the reasons why Lord Krishna paintings or idols are kept in the kani.
Another story behind Vishu is related to Ravana – it is said that Ravana never allowed the Sun God or Suryadev to rise from the east. It was only when Ravana was killed by Lord Rama that Suryadev was allowed to rise from the east once again. It is believed that Ravana was killed on Vishu.
How to celebrate Vishu?While Vishu celebration in Kerala might vary slightly from one district to the other, overall, there are some customs that are followed everywhere:
Vishu kani – Kani in Malayalam means the first thing that is seen, generally the first thing in the morning; so Vishu Kani means that first thing you see on the Vishu morning. The belief is that what you see on Vishu morning is what will come your way the entire year, which is why great care is taken to set the kani, ensuring everything auspicious and important is kept in it. The notion is that everything you will need in your life should be a part of the kani, which would include the blessings of the almighty, food items, money, clothes and gold. The kani is generally setup the night before, so that you can see it the moment you wake up in the morning. At dawn of the Vishu day, the elders of the family will first light the diyas and then take the younger members to wherever the kani has been set up with, while ensuring that their eyes are closed. The minute they open their eyes, they are able to see the kani and pray for an auspicious and luck filled year.
Vishu kaineetam – Kaineetam is a combination of kai and neetam – kai means hand and neetam means stretching; so kaineetam means hands being outstretched. On Vishu day, once the kani has been seen, the elders of the family will give the younger members some amount of money as a blessing. The idea is that when you get money on the first day of the year, you will have money in hand the entire year. These days, people are also choosing to home decoration items online to give as gifts, especially to slightly older members.
Vishu sadya – An elaborate lunch is prepared on Vishu day and this is locally known as sadya – a typical sadya would include rice, pickles, inji puli, sambar, avial, thoran, kaalan, pachidi, kootucurry, papadam and payasam. The combination of the sadya is such that there is sweet, sour, spicy and bitter, symbolising how real life will also bring a combination of all these. In some parts, there will be Vishu kanji, which is meant to symbolise learning how to keep things simple and learning how to adjust with something as basic as kanji.
Padakkam and Vishu kodi – Padakkam means crackers and kodi means new clothes – these are also aspects of the tradition of gifting in Vishu festival. Elders will gift new clothes as well as crackers to the younger members of the family; children enjoy bursting crackers in the wee hours of the morning.
What is Vishu kani? What to keep for Vishu kani?While you can buy or find Vishu kani items online most families will have traditional items that have been handed down through the generations. These include traditional diyas, brass urlis, vaalkannadi (a mirror made of polished metal), kindi (a utensil made of brass with a spout, generally used for water storage) and ashtamangalya thattu (a tray which has all the objects required for any auspicious occasion).
A photo or statue of Lord Krishna is placed first and in front of him an urli is placed. Within the urli, a banana leaf is placed and on top of that rice and some form of dal (normally green moong dal) is kept. A coconut will be broken into half and that will be placed too. Fruits like mangoes, jackfruit, oranges, apples, bananas and grapes, along with lemon, jaggery and Mangalore cucumber are also a part of the kani.
Apart from the eatables, gold and money are also kept in the kani, along with a kasavu mundu (the traditional off white cloth with gold border) and a nilavilakku (the traditional brass diya). Another essential part of the kani is the Vishu kani flower, the golden yellow ‘konnapoo’ or Cassia fistula.
Why is mirror kept in Vishu kani?The mirror is an important part of the kani because you look at the kani through the mirror, as a result seeing yourself as a part of the abundance and being able to enjoy the same, throughout the year.
So now that Vishu is around the corner, you can come to eCraftIndia and look for Lord Krishna statue online or other pooja items online and make this year’s Vishu all the more special!