I received an sms from a fond patient of mine wishing me Happy Vishu greetings. Little did I know about it because it is not as famous as the Onam celebrations the Malayalees have. So I decided to check it out and gathered some information to share with all.
The festival of Vishu is celebrated with joy and mirth on the first day of Malayalese month of Medam. Vishu is celebrated on the astronomical New Year’s Day and Malayalis believe that the fortunes for the year depend on the kind of the object one sees first in the morning of Vishu Day. The previous day goes in preparing the auspicious articles for the next morning. Some raw rice is put in a circular metal vessel and a new washed piece of cloth is folded over the rice. A gold-coloured cucumber, betel leaves, betel nuts, a metal mirror, yellow flowers of the Konna tree, a book of palm leaves and a few gold coins are then placed over the cloth in the vessel. Two coconut halves containing oil with lighted wicks are placed in the vessel. A metal lamp with coconut oil is kept burning by the side of the big vessel. Early in the morning on Vishu day, one of the elderly female members of the house, wakes up and takes a look at the auspicious objects. She then wakes up the other members of the house to take a look. Special care is taken to see that they do not look at anything else.This is called ‘Kani Kanal’, the literal translation of this is ‘first sight’ ,where there is a prescribed list of items, which a person must see first thing on a Vishu morning to bring good luck.Children are brought blind folded from their rooms to see Kani Kanal, the first thing in the morning.There is also a tradition to give small amounts of cash to children of the family. This tradition is called Vishu Kaineetam. People believe that this custom will ensure prosperity for their children in future.After everyone has had a look, the vessel is even taken to the cattle for them to have a look too.
After the rituals are completed, the family members have a bath and take a trip to temples to offer prayers. Once the worship is complete, everyone sits down for a feast, which is not as lavish as the one for Onam but nevertheless elegant.
A grand sadya (feast) is prepared by women of the house and the whole family sits together at lunch to relish it. Dishes are usually prepared from jackfruits, mangoes, pumpkins, and gourds besides other vegetables and fruits, which are in plenty at that time of the season. People also wear kodi vastram (new clothes) on this day. Patassu (fire crackers) are burst in the midst of dancing and merry to mark the day.
A group of young men and women dress up as ‘chozhi’ , wearing a skirt of dried banana leaves and masks on their faces and go from house to house in the village dancing and collecting small amounts of money. On Vishu, these entertainers get good rewards for their performances. The money is spent on the Vishuwela (the New Year Fair).
Vishu occupies a unique position in more than one respect. It has none of the pomp and show that most other Hindu religious festivals have. In addition, Vishu has nothing to do with religion although its observance is as solemn as any religious occasion.