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Your Cultural Handbook To Vishu (New Year In Kerala)

By Somdutta Mazumder

Updated - April 14, 2020 4 min read

The current state of affairs might be universally difficult and disheartening, but the calendar is on the brink of an auspicious period of time for several Indians across the length and breadth of the nation. For a number of Indian communities, mid-April marks the bloom of a new year and subsequent celebrations and festivities. Embodying the true spirit of unity in diversity, this is the time when India comes alive with a renewed spirit, as it's diverse members prepare to welcome the very first day of the new year stretching ahead

 

 

One such joyous Indian festival that's very close at hand, is that of Vishu, or the Malayalam New Year. Vishu festival marks the first day of Medam, which is the ninth month according to the solar calendar followed in Kerala. This corresponds to the 14th of April on the Gregorian calendar, and thus what lies in the near future is a pious occasion for Malayalis across the globe. And on that note, here's a down low on everything you need to know about the Malayalam New Year 2020. 

 

Malayalam New Year Origin & Significance  

Vishu is the first day of the new astronomical year, as well as of Medam, which is the ninth month of the solar calendar followed in Kerala. In the Gregorian calendar, this translates to around the 14th of April every year, a day spent by Malayalis on celebrating traditions with their close ones. Although the official Kerala New Year as mandated by the Kerala Government, falls on the first day of the month of Chingam, which equates to around the 17th of August on the Gregorian calendar, Vishu festival carries a lot of traditional and cultural significance. The word "Vishu" literally means equal, and the day signifies the completion of the spring equinox, during which time the sun passes on to the zodiac sign of Aries. According to the mythology, it's the day of Vishu when Lord Krishna won his battle against the evil demon Narakasura. 

kerala-new-year_vishu_cover_3

Image Courtesy - DNA India 

 

Malayalam New Year Celebration

 

Vishukkanni

Similar to the ritual of Kanni followed during the Tamil New Year, Vishukanni literally translates to "the thing which is first seen on Vishu". Members of the family usually spend the day before Vishu, thoroughly cleaning and decorating the house with festive elements. The major preparation involved in Vishu celebration, is the arrangement of a Vishukkani tray, filled with auspicious food items like rice, cucumber, jack fruit, coconut, etc. The chief ingredient on the Vishukkani tray is the Konna flower, which blooms during the Vishu season. This tray is also filled with other items with positive religious symbolism, such as cash currency and coins, holy Hindu texts, and an oil lamp, to name a few. As the name suggests, this Vishukkani tray is the first thing every member in the house is expected to see first thing on Vishu morning. There's an interesting Vishu tradition wherein the eldest member of the family lights the oil lamp at dawn followed by blindfolding all the other members, and bringing them into the Vishukkani setting. 

kerala-new-year_vishukkani

Image Courtesy - Pinterest

 

Vishu Sadhya, Vishu Kanji & Vishu Padakkam 

Sadhya translates to feast, which is an important element of celebrating any festival in Kerala. However, what makes the New Year Sadhya different, and unique from other Malayalam festivals, are the special preparations of Vishu Kanji and Thoran. Vishu Kanji is the main dish, made up of ingredients like rice, coconut milk and spaces, while Thoran is served as the side dish. Other important Vishu delicacies include Veppampoorasam (a bitter preparation of neem) and Mampazhappulissery (a sour or ripe mango soup). 

kerala-new-year_vishu_sadhya

Image Courtesy - Indulge Express

 

Padakkam translates to fireworks, which also constitute an important part of Vishu celebration in Kerala. Especially in different regions of North Kerala, people engage in bursting crackers the evening prior to, and on the morning of Vishu.

 

Other Vishu Customs

In addition to the rituals mentioned above, Vishu celebration in Kerala also involves the custom of Vishukodi or Puthikodi, which symbolises the tradition of buying new clothes on the occasion of Vishu. Another custom is that of Vishukkaineetam, which stands for the popular tradition of elders giving money to the younger members of the family. 


Happy Vishu! 

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