April officially marks the beginning of summer in Kerala. The schools are usually closed for 2 months starting April. The month also marks the beginning of a harvest season. Vishu is celebrated in the month of April by all Malayalees across the world. Vishu is celebrated on the 1st day of Medam which comes around April 14th. It marks the beginning of a new year too. It is a time to revisit the traditions and culture passed down through generations.
The Legend behind Vishu
Photo by Fæ
There are many legends connected to Vishu. Some say it is celebrated as the day when Lord Krishna killed Narakasura, the demon. Some say the Sun God was allowed to rise from the east after the death of Ravana on this day. Ravana had restricted the Sun God from rising from the east. Whether it is Lord Vishnu or Krishna, the celebration is about the victory of virtue over evil. Vishu is celebrated ceremoniously to mark the beginning of a prosperous year ahead.
There are 3 main parts to celebrating Vishu across the state – Vishukkani, Vishukkaineettam, Sadhya. The preparations begin the previous night. The pray-area is cleaned and decorated for the Vishukkani. It is the auspicious first sight to start a new year with. Early in the morning, the elder ones in the family get up and light the lamp set in front of the Vishukkani. They wake up the others, blindfolded so that their first sight of the day would be the Vishukkani. Then they take bath, wear new clothes and visit the temple. The elders bless the younger ones with Vishukkaineettam which is pocket money.
Photo by George Augustine
The lunch is a grand feast using seasonal vegetables and the unbeatable king of desserts, Payasam. Along with the dishes for Onam Sadhya, dishes made of mango, jackfruit and kanivellari are also included. In certain places, the sadhya is replaced with Vishu Kanji or porridge. Crackers are busted early in the morning after the Vishukkani is seen. People visit their relatives and elders to seek blessings on this auspicious day. The children enjoy this day well because they collect a decent pocket money to spend during their holidays.
Setting up the Vishukkani
Photo by Govind K Saji
For the Vishukkani, a large bronze vessel called Uruli is filled with raw rice and kept in the pray-area. Lord Krishna’s idol or photo is kept near it. On the rice, fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables are spread. Usually, during this time mango, jackfruit, and yellow cucumber (kanivellari) will be freshly available. Konnappoo or golden yellow colour flowers are a must for Vishukkani. A coconut is cut into two halves and in each half, gold and silver coins are placed. A mirror is placed such that it reflects all of what’s arranged. Currency notes and coins are also placed for the Vishukkani. A Kasavu neriathu is folded like a Japanese fan and arranged on a Kindi or open kettle made of bronze. Flowers and Valkkannadi (metal mirror) are also kept here.
The idea is to start the New Year viewing all these auspicious items for prosperity that lasts the whole year.
In the earlier days, the elders of the family would rarely give pocket money to the youngsters. On the day of Vishu, they give some coins or money as the beginning of an auspicious year. These days, many temples also offer a one-rupee Vishukkaineettam for the devotees who visit on this auspicious day. This money is supposed to bring them good luck till the next Vishu.
Matta Chanda or the Barter Market
This is a special market traditionally run at Chendamangalam near Kochi. It was started long before the money system of purchasing got established in markets. Much before that, the barter or exchange system prevailed. The merchants would sell things in exchange for something else. Even after the money system was established, a group of farmers, weavers, potters, blacksmiths etc continued with it. They used to change conducting this special market which starts 2 days before. Though it is no longer a barter system, certain things are available only in this market.
Vishu is a special celebration for the people of Kerala. It is preparing for a prosperous year with the help of fruits, flowers and Vishukkani.
Photo by Rameshng