Tuesday, April 18, 2006
We celebrated "Vishu" on the 14th April. Vishu or Mesha Vishu as it known is the New Year's Day for Malayalis (this is the new year day as per the Solar calendar followed for all calculations pertaining to fixing dates of rituals, festivals, seasons and weather predictions as well as Panchanga preparations though 1st day of the Malayalam month Chingam is taken as the new year day for the Malayalam Era) and also for Tamilians. The southern most states and also the north-eastern states and north western states celebrate 14th April as their new year's day. In the states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, New Year's Day is celebrated a few days prior to this. They observe Chandramana Ugadi (The day following the New Moon day) or lunar New Year. Mesha Vishu is Souramana Ugadi or solar New Year.
In the north eastern states also, it is called Bihu, where as in the other northern states, it is known as Baishakhi. April 14th is the day the sun enters the Aries (Mesha) sign beginning the movement towards northern hemisphere marking the beginning of hot days.
In Kerala, the day marks the beginning of the agricultural season. They would have had one or two pre monsoon showers and the land would prepared for sowing. Farmers start sowing on that day after Vishukani. It is the most auspicious day for commencing agricultural activities for the new season.
Vishukani is the most important ritual on "Vishu" day. Kani means the first sight you see in the morning. There is a popular belief that the first sight you see on any morning decides the happenings of that day. Accordingly, people always like to see a good kani everyday. So the kani on Vishu day becomes all the more important because, the kani you see on Vishu day is believed to be the indicator for the life during the year to follow. People make sure that the kani that they see on Vishu is one of prosperity and well being and packed with all good things in life. The colour yellow is considered auspicious and has a special place in all Hindu Rituals.
Preparations for the Vishukani are started the previous evening. The place for Vishukani, usually the  pooja room, is readied by cleaning and decorating with a rangoli made of rice flour. The kani things are kept in a wide mouthed bronze utensil, known as Uruli. Raw rice is spread inside the uruli and on top of the rice is kept the all important vegetable of the kani, the golden kanivellarikka. (It is a type of gourd which turns golden yellow with streaks when ripe). On top of the Vellarikka comes another very important item of the Kani, the golden kanikonna flowers (Cassia Fistula). This is the season for the kanikonna flowers and the landscape is filled with trees bearing the drooping golden flowers. The very important Keralas's own coconut is cut into two equal halves and kept on either side of the kanivellarikka. Gold and silver coins are kept inside each half of the coconut. Betel leaves, betel nuts, a white dhothi, and all types of seasonal fruits and vegetables are kept in and around the uruli. Kumkum and turmeric pieces symbolising prosperity and auspiciousness and well being is also kept. This is the season when mangoes and jackfruits are aplenty in Kerala and all types of gourds like, ash gourd, pumpkin, and snake gourd are all available. A mirror is kept at the head side of the uruli so as to reflect all the kani things. A lamp with oil and wick is kept ready to be lighted in the morning. This done, the whole thing is covered with another bigger utensil or a white cloth.
On Vishu day, the head of the family, the oldest male member who is the "karanavar" and the lady of the house wake up early in the morning (when we were children our grandma used to wake up at 3 am). The lady lights the lamp and after seeing the kani, the karanavar sits near the kani ready with his bag of coins. Then the lady of the house wakes up each member of the family and leads them towards the kani with their eyes closed. They are to open their eyes only in front of the kani, so that the first thing they see on vishu morning would be one of prosperity and abundance. After prostrating to the Gods each member prostrates before the Karanavar and each one is gifted with a cash award, symbolising plentiful in the days to come. In Kerala, people crack firecrackers on Vishu morning. All visitors to the house on Vishu day are awarded with a cash prize. Normally every temple in Kerala will also keep Kani and people after the Kani in their home, take bath and go to the temple to see the Kani there and for prayers. Of course, the pujari will not be in a position to give cash gifts to all , but the God/Goddess will give them plenty during the days that follow throughout the year.
After all members of the family have seen the kani, the uruli with kanithings are taken to the manger for the cows to see the kani. Keralaites considered cow as their family member and wanted the year to be one of well being for the cows as well.
The Vishu day is as usual a feasting day with a sumptuous lunch.