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A traditional vishu kani setting
|Observed by||Malayalees and Palakkad Tamils|
|Date||First day of Medam (Malayalam Calendar)|
|2012 date||April 14|
|Observances||Vishu Kani & Vishukkaineetam|
Vishu is a Hindu festival celebrated in the Indian state of Kerala and in the Mangalore and Udupi districts of Karnataka, usually in the second week of April in the Gregorian calendar. It marks the new year in accordance with the Malayalam calendar, known as the Kolla Varsha. This occasion signifies the sun's transit into the Meda Raasi (first zodiac sign) according to Indian astrological calculations, and represents the vernal equinox. "Vishu" in Sanskrit means "equal".
The most important event in Vishu is the Vishukkani, which literally means "the first thing seen on the day of Vishu after waking up". The Vishukkani consists of a ritual arrangement of auspicious articles like raw rice, fresh lemon, golden cucumber, betel leaves, arecanut, metal mirror, yellow flowers konna (Cassia fistula), and a holy text and coins, in a bell metal vessel called uruli in the puja room of the house. A lighted bell metal lamp called nilavilakku is also placed alongside. This is arranged the night before. On Vishu, the custom is to wake up at dawn and go to the puja room with eyes closed so that the Vishukkani is the first sight in the new season. Reading verses from the Hindu Holy book Ramayanam after seeing the "Vishukkani" is considered auspicious. It is also believed that the page of the Ramayanam which is opened up will have a bearing on one's life in the coming year. Devotees visit temples like Sabarimala Ayyappan Temple or Guruvayur Sree Krishna temple to have a "Vishukkani Kazhcha" in the early hours of "Vishu" day.
"Vishu" is celebrated with much fanfare and vigour in all parts of Kerala. Setting off firecrackers is part of the celebration, especially for children. People wear new clothes (Puthukodi) for the occasion and elders of the family give money, called Vishukkaineetam, to children, servants and tenants.
Vishu is also a day of feasting. The foods consist of equal proportions of salty, sweet, sour and bitter items. Feast items include Veppampoorasam (a bitter preparation of neem) and Mampazhappulissery (a sour mango soup).
The Malayalam word kani literally means "that which is seen first", so "Vishukkani" means "that which is seen first on Vishu". Arranged in the family puja room the night before by the mother in the family, the Vishukkani is a panorama of auspicious items, including flowers, fruits, vegetables, clothes and gold coins. In Jyotiṣa(Indian astrology), Vishnu is seen as the head of Kaala Purusha, the God of Time. As Vishu marks the first day of the Zodiac New Year, it is an appropriate time to offer oblations to Hindu gods.
In the Malayalam Calendar, the new year starts on the first day of Chingam, which comes in August or September. However, people in the Malabar area consider Vishu the astrological new year. They ask Vishu Kani to bring luck and prosperity for the year starting from Vishu Day Medam 1st.
The Vishukkani, also called Kanikanal, is inseparable from Vishu. According to the age-old belief of Malayalees, an auspicious kani (first sight) at dawn on the Vishu day is lucky for the entire year. As a result, the Vishukkani is prepared with a lot of care to make it the most positive sight so as to bring alive a wonderful, propitious year ahead.
The responsibility of decorating the Kani belongs to the oldest lady of the house.
Saddhya is a major part of all Kerala festivals. However, Vishu Kanji and Thoran are more important during Vishu. The Kanji is made of rice, coconut milk and spices. For Thoran, the side dish, there are also mandatory ingredients.
Fireworks are an important part of Vishu celebration in all of Kerala. In the morning and the previous evening, children enjoy setting off firecrackers.
Similar festivals are celebrated in Punjab and Assam, India, In Assam, this day is called Bihu, in Punjab Baisakhi (originally Vaishakhi), in Tamil Nadu Tamil Puthandu(Tamil new year) or Vishu punyakalam. Tuluvas celebrate Bisu.
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