Vishu is a regional Hindu festival celebrated in Kerala. It marks the beginning of the astrological New Year and the arrival of spring in Kerala. Vishu is also a harvest festival for the people of Kerala. It befalls at that time of the year when the indigenous crops are ready for harvest.

Vishu is celebrated on the first day of the month Medam in the traditional solar calendar followed in Kerala. Medam 1st is the day on which the Sun re-enters the Medam or Mesa rasi (Aries) and starts the next cycle. In the Gregorian calendar, the date would be April 14 or 15. It is believed that the celebration of this festival started in the year 844 AD. The term Vishu was derived from the Sanskrit-Malayalam word Viṣuvam which means ‘equal’. The celebration of this festival is also related to the spring or vernal equinox on which the duration of day and night are equal.

Vishu Celebrations

Vishu is a public holiday in Kerala. It is a festival symbolizing agricultural prosperity and fresh hopes for the New Year. People celebrate Vishu by following some traditional rituals and observations. These include arranging Vishukkani offering Vishu Kaineettam, having Vishu Sadya, and other merrymakings such as lighting the fireworks. Generally, Lord Krishna is worshipped on this day. 

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Vishukkani is a display of auspicious items along with freshly harvested fruits in front of an idol or picture of Lord Krishna. People arrange Vishukkani at home and in temples and view this auspicious arrangement at the dawn of Vishu.

Vishu Kaineettam is the tradition of the family’s elder members giving money as a gift to the younger generations and servants. Vishu Sadya is the traditional Kerala feast (Sadya) with some special Vishu preparations.

Vishu is, indeed, a special day for some of the famous temples in Kerala, such as Guruvayur Sree Krishna temple, Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple, Sabarimala Ayyappan temple, and Kulathupuzha Sree BaalaShastha temple. There would be a huge influx of devotees in the early hours of the day to have Vishukkani Kazhcha, viewing the Vishukkani. Devotees may offer special pujas to Lord Krishna too.

When is Vishu 2021?

Vishu 2021 is on April 14, Wednesday. The important timings of the day are the following.

Vishu 2021 Timings:

Sankranti Time : 2:39 AM, April 14

Sunrise : 6:18 AM, April 14

Sunset : 6:31 PM, April 14

What is the significance of Vishu?

Agricultural Significance of Vishu:

Vishu befalls at that time of the year when the indigenous crops are ready for harvest. It marks the movement of the Sun to Aries or the Mesha Rashi, which the farmers consider as the right time to begin ploughing the land. It is indeed a celebration of agricultural affluence. The most important Vishu custom of Vishukkani is a display of freshly harvested agricultural products, including mangoes, jackfruit, cucumbers etc., along with other auspicious materials.

In the traditional Kerala Calendar, Vishu befalls on Medam 1st and Pathamudayam befalls on Medam 10th. Pathamudayam is an important day for the farmers who consider it as the ideal time for sowing seeds. It is the tenth day of the month Medam, and the term Pathamudayam means ‘tenth sunrise’. Traditionally, this day is celebrated by selling and exchanging agricultural products. To symbolize the ten sunrises starting from Vishu, traditional oil lamps with ten wicks are lit in houses on this day.

Astrological Significance of Vishu:

Vishu is an astrologically important occasion. Though the official Malayalam New Year is the first day of the month Chingam, it doesn’t have any astrological significance. As per the Indian astrological calculations, it is Vishu that marks the astrological New Year of Kerala. It signifies the Sun’s transit into the first rasi Medam or Aries. It was associated with the spring or vernal equinox in the past, the occasion on which day and night have equal durations. The Sun entering into Medam or Aries was used as the way of observing the equinox. Even the term Vishu was coined from ‘Visuvam’ meaning equal day and night. Gradually, due to the wobble of the earth, vernal equinox got shifted to 24 days before the Vishu, on the 7th day of month Meenam.

Pathamudayam, which follows Vishu, is observed on the 10th day of Medam month. Astrologically, the Sun will be at ten degrees in the sign of Medam or Aries on this day. The traditional belief is that the Sun is most powerful on this day, and astrology supports this notion.

Mythological Significance of Vishu:

There are some mythological tales related to the celebration of Vishu. One such story is that Krishna killed the demon Narakasura on this day. This is one reason for worshipping Lord Krishna on Vishu.

Another myth is associated with Surya Dev (Sun God) and the demon king Ravan.  Once, Ravan prevented Surya Dev from rising from the east. Surya Dev re-started rising from the east only after the defeat of Ravan. So, the belief is that Vishu is a celebration commemorating the return of Surya Dev.

What is Vishukkani?

Vishukkani is the most important ritual of Vishu. The Malayalam word ’kani’ means ‘that which is seen first. So, Vishukkani refers to the first sight at the dawn of Vishu. There is a belief that one’s future is a function of what one sees or experiences in the beginning. If one begins a day or a year viewing good or auspicious things, then the whole day or year would be lucky. Since Vishu marks the beginning of the New Year, it is customary to view Vishukkani at the dawn of Vishu.

Vishukkani is a grand display of auspicious items viewed as the first sight on the day of Vishu. It includes freshly cropped agricultural products such as rice, mangoes, jackfruit, coconut, lemon, bananas, areca nut, cucumbers, etc., betel leaves, gold, currency notes or coins, silk cloth, a mirror, a holy Hindu text, and golden yellow Kani Konna flowers.

Sometimes, the fruits would be set on an Uruli, an open-mouthed shallow circular vessel made out of ball metal. All these things, along with a Nilavilakku (the traditional bell-shaped oil lamp) will be arranged in front of an idol or picture of Lord Krishna. A Vishukkani would be incomplete without a bunch of Kani Konna flowers or Konnappoo (Indian laburnum). They are bright yellow flowers, which usually bloom at the time of Vishu.

Vishukkani is usually arranged in the evening before Vishu. On Vishupulari (the dawn of Vishu day), the elderly lady of the home would wake up early and light the Nilavilakku arranged in the Vishukkani. Then, the other members of the house would wake up and come to the place where the Vishukkani is set, with closed eyes. They would open their eyes in front of the Vishukkani to view it as the first sight of the New Year.

The grand visual of Vishukkani with lit up Nilavilakku in front of the image of Lord Krishna is believed to bring good luck and prosperity for the entire year. This custom is called Kanikaanal (viewing the Kani). The mirror arranged in Vishukani is symbolic of viewing oneself as a part of the abundance one sees or experiences.

Some people used to read the verses from Ramayana or Bhagavad Gita after viewing the Vishukkani. It is also believed that the page which is opened would have some relation to the person’s life in the coming year.

Vishu Sadhya

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Sadhya is the traditional Kerala meal served on special occasions. Keralites prepare Sadhya at their homes on Vishu too. Apart from the usual dishes for Sadhya, some special items are prepared on Vishu using jackfruits, mangoes, pumpkins, and other seasonal vegetables and fruits. Vishu Kanji and Thoran, Vishu Katta, Veppampoorasam, Mampazhapulissery, Mampazhapachadi, Chakka erissery, Vishupuzhukku, etc. are some of the special dishes prepared on Vishu.

Vishu Kanji is a preparation using rice, coconut milk, and spices. There are some mandatory ingredients for the side dish Thoran also. Vishu Katta is a delicacy prepared using freshly harvested rice powder and coconut milk served with jaggery. Veppampoorasam is a bitter preparation of neem and Mampazhappulissery is a kind of sour mango soup.

The preparations such as Mampazhapachadi, Chakkaerissery, Vishupuzukku etc. give a mix of sweet, sour, salty and bitter tastes. Such traditional festive recipes combining different flavours are a symbolic reminder that one should expect all flavours of experiences in the coming New Year. 

Other customs of Vishu

Vishu Kaineettam is an important tradition of elders giving money to younger ones and dependents of the family. The other popular traditions include buying Puthukodi or new clothes, setting off fireworks, and arranging processions in which groups of people move from house to house and collect rewards for their performances. 

Regional Variations of Vishu

Vishu marks the New Year in the traditional solar calendar. It is celebrated in Kerala, Tulu Nadu region in KarnatakaMahe district of Union Territory of Pondicherry, and some areas of Tamil Nadu. In the Tulu region, this festival is called Bisu. This same day is celebrated as New Year in other regions of India that follow the solar calendar. Thus, the people of Punjab and Haryana celebrate Baisakhi, Tamil Nadu celebrates Puthandu, Assam celebrates Bihu, West Bengal celebrates Naba Barsha and Orissa celebrates Pana Sankranti.

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