Vishu - The Malayalam New Year
People celebrate official New Year on 1st of January but the beginning of the year is celebrated on different days in various states. Maharashtrians celebrate New year as 'Gudi Padwa', Punjabese as 'Baisakhi', Tamilians as 'Puthandu', Assamese as 'Bihu', Bengalis as 'Naba varsha', Malayalees as 'Vishu', people in Karnataka mark their new year as 'Ugadi' and so on. It's almost celebrated in the month of March â€“ April through out the country.
'Vishu', is the astrological New Year of Kerala which falls in the month of April (Malayalam month - Medam) whereas the official New Year falls in the month of August â€“ September (Chingam).
Vishu means equal in Sanskrit. The day of 'Vishu' marks one of the two equinox days, when sun is exactly on the equator and the duration of day and night will be almost same.
Vishukani, literally the first sight on the day of Vishu is the important feature of this festival. This kani is arranged on the previous night of the Vishu. Vishukani consists of konna flowers (Cassia fistula) nellu/unnakallari (rice/paddy), kodi vastram (new linen), golden cucumber, betel leaves, vaal kannadi (hand mirror), coins, gold ornaments and a holy text preferably 'Ramayanam' in a 'uruli' (shallow panchloham vessel). Lord Krishna's idol is kept with this kani with a mirror behind.
On the day of vishu, a 'nilavilakku' (Lamp) is lighted in the morning by the master of the house preferably ladies, who is the first to see the 'kani'. She then wakes all other members at dawn and they all have a glimpse of vishukani. It is a marvelous sight seeing all the offerings and the rays of light in the mirror. The mirror signifies the pure and unadulterated devotion towards God.
The 'Vishukkani' is then taken around the house for all those who cannot come to the puja room and then out of the house for animals, birds, trees and for all of the nature.
It is believed that good things seen first on the New Year bring luck and prosperity through out the year. Few versus of Ramayanam are also chanted on this auspicious day. The people, wearing vishu kodi (new clothes meant for Vishu) visits temple and make offerings to their devotees on this day. Well-known temples like Sabarimala, Guruvayur etc also have "Vishukkani Kazhcha" on the early hours of this day.
'Vishukaineetam' is one of the rituals on the day of Vishu. Grand father and elders offer money to children, servants and down trodden to ensure prosperity. This custom inculcates a sharing nature among the younger generation.
The Vishu celebration is incomplete without crackers and Vishu Sadya. Vishu Sadya consists of 'vishu katta' / vishu kanji prepared with rice, milk and coconut and other delicacies made up of jack fruit, mango, kalan, erisherri, payasam etc. etc.
The essence of 'Vishu' is a vision that the joy and happiness which we grab from the festival must influence our thoughts and actions and inspires us to celebrate humanity.