The festival of Vishu is celebrated with joy and mirth on the first day of Malayalese month of Medam. This corresponds to the month of April-May according to Gregorian calendar. The occasion holds a lot of significance for Hindus as Vishu marks the Astronomical New Year Day.
The traditional people of Kerala practice a lot of colorful rituals and customs on Vishu. Most of these traditions are based on a belief that Vishu must be celebrated well as the good things of the first day of the New Year will continue for the rest of the year too.
Rituals and Traditions
Most important ritual of the day is called 'Kani Kanal', the literal translation of this is 'first sight'. In Kani Kanal there is a prescribed list of items, which a person must see first thing on a Vishu morning to bring good luck. This include a cadjan leaf book, gold ornaments, fresh white cloth, a measure of rice or paddy, flowers of the Konna tree (Cussia fistula), halved jack fruits, halved coconuts and yellow cucumber. All these things are kept in a big pot and behind this pot is kept the bell metal mirror and a garlanded deity of Lord Krishna. Two standing oil lamps are also placed before the deity.
Preparations of Kani are done a night before by the lady of the house. Master of the house is the first person to Kani and then the other family members follow. Children are brought blind folded from their rooms to see Kani Kanal, the first thing in the morning. Vishu Kani is later distributed amongst the poor and needy people. Reason behind this ritual is the strong belief of the people that the fortune of the rest of the year depends on the first object they see on the Vishu day. 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.
A large number of people prefer to see Vishu Kani in temples. A huge rush of devotees can be seen in the temples of Guruvayur, Ambalapuzha and Sabarimala where special prayers are organised to mark the day. People stay overnight in the courtyards of these temples a night before Vishu so that they see Kani, first thing on Vishu in the temple. Devotees close their eyes and set their eyes on Kani and deity so that when the doors to the deity opens at 2:30 am, the first thing they see is Kani.
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).