Vishu is an annual south Indian festival celebrated in the states of Kerala and coastal Kanyakumari region along with some parts of south western Karnataka. The festival celebrates the beginning of Zodiac New Year in the Malayalee month of Metam (April-May) and implies the completion of spring equinox.
Though, Vishu is an important festival in Kerala and adjoining areas, it lacks the pomp and show as is usually the case with majority of Indian festivals. It is celebrated as a family time and aim at the family members viewing certain auspicious items kept especially for the occasion, first thing on the morning of Vishu.
Vishu Festival 2019
Vishu festival 2019 was celebrated on Monday, 15th April 2019.
Vishu Festival 2020
Vishu Festival 2020 will be celebrated on Tuesday, 14th April 2020.
“Vishu” in Sanskrit means equal, a resemblance to the end of spring equinox and position of the sun exactly above the equator. The festival is also called Visu in Malayalam and Bisu in parts of south west Karnataka.
In Malayalam “kani” refers to “that which is seen first”. Since a major festival ritual requires seeing certain auspicious items first thing in the morning of Vishu; the festival is also popularly called “Vishukkani”.
When is Vishu Festival Celebrated?
Vishu is celebrated as an astronomical new year in Kerala. It is celebrated in the Malayalam calendar month of Metam, which is the ninth month, corresponding to the Gregorian calendar months of April-May. Even though the first month of Malayalam calendar is Chingam (corresponding to August-September); the astronomical New Year, Vishu, is celebrated when the sun enters the Ashwini Nakshatra and is placed exactly above the equator.
Since India lies completely in northern hemisphere, Vishu heralds the beginning of spring and longer hours of day light, till the summer solstice in June.
History and Mythology of Vishu Festival
It is believed that the Vishu festival is being celebrated since the reign of Sthanu Ravi Varma, a Chera Dynasty (Perumal) ruler of Kodungallur in south India, between 844 to mid 880 CE.
It is on the day of Vishu that Sri Krishna, the eighth incarnation (avtar) of Lord Vishnu is believed to have killed Narkasura.
Another mythological legend relates Vishu to the day when Lord Rama killed Ravana. It is believed that only after Ravana was killed by Lord Rama that the Sun was able to rise from the east.
The Vishu festival is usually celebrated as a family affair, with close friends and relatives; hence the arrangements for the festival are done by the family members.
A main preparation for the festival involves, preparing a collection of auspicious items, to be seen first thing on the morning of Vishu. For this purpose, people start collecting items like – flowers of Indian Golden Shower Tree (Kani Konna), real currency, coins, silver items, deities etc. the idea basically is to collect everything you would like your upcoming year to be graced with. The deities usually are Vishu and Krishna.
Items like jackfruits, bananas, cucumber, coconut, betel leaves etc are also included in display for Vishukkani. Another significant item is Vaalkannadi, which is a type of metal mirror, is also included with the auspicious items.
Families purchase new clothes for the members, and also prepare delicious festival foods, as per the custom.
Rituals of Vishu Festival
The night before Vishu, the mother of the family arranges all the auspicious items in the prayer room, for Vishukkani. The items include images or idols of Lord Vishnu, Lord Krishna, fruits, flowers, coins, gold etc. and most importantly a metal mirror called Vaalkannadi.
Akshat, a mixture of rice and turmeric is placed in a special bowl made by an alloy of clay, copper and bronze. This bowl is called “Uruli”. It signifies the five elements of the universe – earth, water, fire, air and space.
The grandmother or the mother, who prepares Vishukkani, usually sleeps in the room to wake up to its auspicious view, first thing on the morning of Vishu. The mother gets up a little before dawn and light up the oil lamps, to get the first view of Vishukkani. She then goes to every member of the house and blindfold them leading them one by one to Vishukkani, so that when they open their eyes, Vishukkani is the first thing they see. Hymns from holy textbooks are recited and veneration of the deities is performed.
The devotees see their own reflections in the metal mirror, as an indication of looking into one’s own consciousness. The Vishukkani is even brought outside the place of worship for those who are incapable of going to it, like the weak, sick or elderly. It is also taken to the cattle and kept outside for the birds and nature.
Another major part of the Vishu festival is the Vishu Sadhya. In Malayalam, Sadhya refers to feast and is a main part of all Malayalee festivals. The special delicacies of Vishu include – Kanji, Thoran and Vishu Katta. They are prepared using rice, coconut milk, jaggery and various other ingredients.
The dishes are prepared by mixing various flavours like sweet, sour, salty, pungent etc and remind one to be prepared for different flavours of life experiences in the upcoming month.
Significance of Vishu Festival
Vishu festival heralds the beginning of astronomical New Year as per the Malayalam calendar and also the advent of spring season. Coinciding with the harvest season of paddy (rice), in summer, the festival also has agricultural significance.
When one views the Vishukkani, first thing in the morning, one is overwhelmed with the auspicious view of it and the various articles those glitter in the light of oil lamps. Opening your eyes to see what the upcoming year would be like is mesmerizing. Also looking into the metal mirror, one gets a reflection of own self, reminding that God resides inside us and not in heaven.
The various flavours of Vishu dishes signify the different experiences that the coming year is expected to have.
Related Indian Festivals
Vishu festival is also celebrated in other states but with a different name. The festival is celebrated as Vaisakhi in central, northern and western India. In Tamil Nadu it is celebrated as Tamil New Year, Puthandu. The festival is also celebrated as Poila Baisakh in West Bengal and Bihu in Assam. In Thailand and Cambodia it is celebrated as the Buddhist New Year – Songkran.