The fondest memory of Vishu begins at the crack of dawn when we are asked to put on our best clothes the night before and instructed not to leave the bed, no matter the sounds we hear. As we drift off to sleep, we hear our mother and grandmother giggle as they work hard, the clanking of metals, the smell of flowers and the creaking of wood. And the following day, we were woken up with palms covering our eyes, guiding us to experience Vishukkani visually.
As we sat in front of the big mirror with the statue of Krishna on the side, the front would be lined with boxes of golden jewellery, fruits, malar, uruli and other traditional Kerala items like the Vaalkannadi. While we know how a Vishukkani is supposed to look, we may not know why it’s celebrated as the Malayali new year and the traditions that have led to its beautiful custom of Vishukkani. In this article, we will start our journey by first explaining the significance behind Vishu, followed by the reason we have the extravagant arrangement of Vishukkani and the importance of keeping the tradition alive.
The significance behind Vishu
Vishu falls on the first day of the month of Medam in the Malayalam Calendar (April 14 or 15 in the Gregorian calendar). It is celebrated throughout India under various names like Vaishaki, Tamil Puthaand, etc. The word Vishu is taken from Sanskrit and initially denoted a celebration of the Spring Equinox.
Since Vishu marks the first day of the Astronomical New Year, Vishnu, the God of Time, is worshipped. The sun is believed to rise precisely from the East on this day, marking it a New Year. The legend follows that Ravana did not allow the sun to rise from the East, and only after his death did the Sun slowly start changing its direction. Lord Vishnu’s avatar Lord Krishna is worshipped in particular because he defeated the demon Narakasura on this day.
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Why do we keep the Vishukkani?
Among other things, Vishukkani most importantly symbolises abundance. Viewing this scene as the first when our eyes open is believed to attract prosperity for the coming months.
The Vishukkani has the statue of Lord Krishna, which is decorated with flowers, and the Nilavilakku spreads the message of the lamp that shines brightly forever. The fruits are placed inside the uruli, the golden bell-shaped vessel, and the raw rice and other eatables to ensure that the year is abundant and enough food for the family. The mirror, which reflects the Vishukkani, depicts us sitting with all the riches of wealth and food. We say a prayer thanking the gods.
The jewellery is an heirloom, thus, forging a relationship from one generation to another. The most important of all is the yellow flowers of Kanni Konna, which blooms specifically during this time. The bright yellow is synonymous with the golden colour of the jewellery and adds a golden glow to the kanni. The new clothes, including the saree and mundu, are white with a kasavu border. All the Vishukkani items are primarily in colours of white, yellow, orange and golden, which are associated with the sun.
Vishu celebrates the Sun; the new year is expected to be filled with riches, optimism and happiness. Everything a family needs to survive is arranged according to Vastu and traditions. The whole kanni is set up by the oldest female member of the family, a tradition carried on from the Matriarchal days. According to the belief, this action is said to celebrate the woman who sets up the kanni as she is credited for keeping the family together throughout the year. The scriptures are also displayed, and verses are read to appease Lord Krishna.
Keeping traditions alive
Vishu’s deep and cultural significance symbolises many messages like the start of a happy new year, the triumph of good over evil, the spread of brightness over darkness, happiness over gloom and an abundance of everything we need. Vishukkani is followed by temple visits, and relatives come in to give kaineetam, a way the elders bless the younger ones, passing on their wisdom, love and luck. The family then gathers for the sadhya with dishes unique to each district of Kerala.