The festival of Vishu is celebrated with joy and mirth on the first day of Malayalese month of Medam. This corresponds to April-May according to Gregorian calendar. The Vishu festival is significant to Hindus since Vishu marks the Astronomical New Year Day.
Traditional people of Kerala practice a lot of colourful rituals and customs on Vishu festival. Vishu is held on the first day of the New Year. Since all good things continue all year round, people celebrate Vishu well.
Vishu Rituals and Traditions
Most important ritual of Vishu festival is known as ‘Kani Kanal’. The literal translation of this phrase is ‘first sight’. According to Kani Kanal, there is a prescribed list of items to bring good luck. A person must see the items first thing on Vishu morning. Items include a Cadjan leaf book, gold ornaments, and fresh white cloth. Others include a measure of rice or paddy, halved jack fruits, halved coconuts and yellow cucumber. Also, flowers of the Konna tree [Cussia fistula]. All these items are kept in a big pot. Behind the pot, there is a bell metal mirror and a garlanded deity of Lord Krishna. Also, there are two standing oil lamps placed in front of the deity.
Lady of the house prepares for the ritual, Kani Kanal the night before. On Vishu, the master of the house first performs Kani Kanal. Thereafter, the other family members follow. Children are brought blindfolded from their rooms for Kani Kanal. Later on, the items from Kani Kanal are distributed amongst the poor and needy people. People believe their fortune for the year depends on what they first see on Vishu day. People strongly believe in the traditional custom called Vishu Kaineetam. Children of the family receive a small amount of cash. This custom is observed to ensure their children’s prosperity in the future.
Large numbers of people prefer to see Vishu Kani in temples. Devotees rush to temples of Guruvayur, Ambalapuzha and Sabarimatla. Special prayers organised to mark the Vishu day. On the eve of Vishu, people spend overnight in courtyards of the mentioned temples. They see Kani, first thing on Vishu day in the temple. The devotees close their eyes to set their eyes on Kani deity. At 2:30 am, when the doors to the deity open, the first thing the devotees see is the Kani deity.
A grand sadya [feast] is prepared by women of the house. The whole family sits to enjoy the lunch. Generally, dishes are prepared from jackfruits, mangoes, pumpkins, and gourds and other vegetables. Also, fruits that are plentiful at this time of the season are also served. People wear Kodi Vastram [new clothes] on this day. In the middle of dancing and merriment, Patassu [fire crackers] are ignited to mark the Vishu day.
A group of young men and women dress up as ‘chozhi’. They wear a skirt made of dried banana leaves and masks on their faces. This group go from house to house in the village. They dance and collect small amounts of money. On Vishu, the entertaining group receive good rewards for their performances. They spend their money on the Vishuwela [New Year Fair].