Vishu Kani- The New Year’s Day for the Malayalis. It is remarked as an auspicious harvest festival and is celebrated by the natives of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Pondicherry, neighboring areas of Tamil Nadu.
This festival coincides with many other festivals throughout India. Likewise, Ugadi in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, Bihu in Assam and Baisakhi in Punjab.
The Malayalam word “kani” means “which is seen first”, so “Vishukkani” means “which is seen first on Vishu”.
Why is Vishu celebrated?
It is celebrated with the start of the zodiac new year-when the sun enters into Sidereal Aries, Ashwini Nakshatra.
It marks the beginning of the first zodiac sign, Meda Rashi. It falls usually in the month of April or May as stated by the Malayalam almanac.
According to mythology, on this day Lord Shri Krishna killed the demon Narakasura. Another interesting myth is related to the demon king Ravana.
Ravana had never allowed the Sun to rise straight from the East and after Ravana’s death it was on a Vishu day, that the Sun started to rise from the East.
The rituals on Vishu
This auspicious day’s preparation starts one day prior. The celebration starts in the early hours of the morning. Traditionally, the eldest member of the family wakes up in the auspicious hour of the Brahma muhurata (4.00 to 6.00am) lights up the lamps and gathers each member, blindfolds them and takes them to the vishukanna.
Preparation of Vishukanni
It is laden with gold-coloured fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, jackfruit, golden cucumber, etc.
Gold—both in colour and in coin is central to the Vishukkani. Gold coins are symbols of monetary affluence, as well as cultural and spiritual wealth. Two deepams (diyas) made out of coconut shells and the wicks are made of rags of clothes and filled in with coconut oil.
This act is performed so as to welcome the almighty and is symbolic of eradication of ignorance and darkness over light. A well pleated cloth is inserted into a brass vessel used for offering purposes. The val-kannadi, a special type of mirror with an extremely long and thin handle, often decorated with gold, is also inserted in it. The mirror increases the lustre of the Vishukanni via reflection.
A medium-sized vessel, called as an Uruli (a traditional cookware used in Kerala), is used to hold the Akshatam, a mixture of rice and turmeric. The uruli traditionally is made of panchaloham, being symbolic of the universe, which is comprised of the five great elements—earth, water, fire, air and space.
Indian culture, perhaps more than any other, stresses the importance of beginning things properly. It promotes the fact that beginning is the foundation upon which everything that comes after rests. Vishukkani points to a year of abundance—both spiritually and materially. There is a strong belief among people that if they see something auspicious on this day then their entire year shall be better. So, on this day when the individuals wake up the first thing, they see is the Vishukanni (auspicious image).
On this propitious day, offerings are given to Lord Vishnu, Lord Krishna and Lord Ganesh. Vishu marks the first day of the Zodiac New Year. Lord Vishnu is known as God of Time, in resultant it’s the best time to offer oblations to Lord Vishnu. Lord Ganesh is worshipped in order to remove potential obstacles before a new start. Homas are performed and stotrams and shanti mantras are chanted. Bhagavad-Gita, should be made part of the arrangement. It symbolises knowledge of eternity. A golden-yellow flower associated with Sri Krishna is used throughout the puja room. This flower only blooms when the sun is in its most exalted position astrologically—the month surrounding Vishu. Kolams (made using rice and flour) are drawn in the temple.
On this occasion a special feast is prepared “Sadhya”. Mythology states when Lord Krishna killed the demon, Narakasura (mythical asura king) he had granted his last boon due to his good deeds. He wanted to wish for something that would bring joy. On this day he wanted the people to feast with joy and cheer.
This festival is marked by flavoursome and luscious food prepared in Malayalam households. Kerala dishes are full of flavour and recognised for their typical mixes of spices. Some of them are Beetroot Pachadi, Cheru Naranga Kichadi, Avial. Traditionally, food is served on a banana leaf.