Vishu (Malayalam:വിഷു) is a festival held in the state of Kerala in South India (and malayali's and Palakkad tamils in adjoining areas of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu). Vishu follows the sidereal vernal equinox and generally falls on April 14 of the Gregorian year. This occasion signifies the Sun's transit to the zodiac - Mesha Raasi (first zodiac sign) as per Indian astrological calculations. Vishu is also considered as the harvest festival of Kerala and thus the importance of this day to all Malayalees. In Assam this day is called Bihu, in Punjab Baisakhi (originally Vaishakhi) and in Tamil Nadu Tamil Puthandu or Vishu punyakalam.The word "Vishu" in Sanskrit means "equal". Therefore Vishu is more probably denoting one of the equinox days.
The Malayalam word kani literally means "that which is seen first," so "Vishukkani" means "that which is seen first on Vishu."
Arranged in the family puja room the night before by the mother in the family, the Vishukkani is a panorama of auspicious items, including flowers, fruits and vegetables, clothes and gold coins.
In jyotish, Indian astrology, Vishnu is seen as the head of Kaala Purusha, the God of Time. As Vishu marks the first day of the Zodiac New Year, it is an appropriate time to offer oblations to Hindu Gods.
Solar New Year
Vishu is traditionally celebrated as the Malayalam New Year, especially in the central and northern areas of the state, where the calendar begins with Medam (Apr-May). However, since past few years Chingam (August - September) is also being projected as the first month of the Malayalam calendar. First day of Chingam is of no particular significance astronomically.
Vishukkani or Kanikanal
The Vishukkani, also called Kanikanal, is inseparable from Vishu. According to the age-old belief of Malayalees, an auspicious kani (first sight) at the crack of dawn on the Vishu day would prove lucky for the entire year. As a result, the Vishukkani is prepared with a lot of care to make it the most positive sight so as to bring alive a wonderful, propitious and prosperous new year!
Normally, the responsibility to put the Kani in order falls on the experienced shoulders of the eldest lady of the house. A traditional Kani is prepared as described below. There could be minor deviations from place to place.
There are also beliefs that if you do not see a proper Vishukkani, then you will lose a year from your life or have bad luck, depending on how much you see.
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.
Saddhya is a major part of all Kerala festivals. But for Vishu, Vishu Kanji and Thoran are more important. The Kanji is made of rice, coconut milk and spices. For the side dish, that is Thoran also there are mandatory ingredients.
Fireworks is an important part of Vishu celebration in many parts of North Kerala. In the morning and the previous evening, children enjoy bursting crackers.
Malayalam Calendar and Vishu
As per Malayalam Calendar, Malayalam new year starts on the first month of Chingam (which comes in August). However people of Malabar and Cochin (i.e., Trichur and north-western Ernakulam) considers Vishu as astrological new year and Vishu Kani will bring luck and prosperity for full year starting from Vishu Day Medam 1st. People from Tamilnadu and lot of other states across India also celebrate this same day as their new year.
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