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CELEBRATION TIME!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

As the spring festival Vishu is being celebrated, women busy themselves with preparations for flower rangolis, the Vishukani and Sadhya feast. Rajalakshmi Unnikrishnan explains what it means to her

The Vishu festival is celebrated on the first day of the Malayalam month, Medam, coinciding with the months of April/ May. Normally it falls on April 14, and this year, 2018, it is celebrated on April 15.

Vishu is the beginning of the spring season and it is a Hindu festival in Kerala celebrated with much fanfare and energy.

The three key aspects of Vishu are

  • Vishukani (Divine Darshan of Creator and creation – Nature);
  • Vishu Kaineetam (exchange of money—Mahalakshmi—by elders to youngsters);
  • Vishu Bhalam (Strength/ Results).

Vishu is a family function and normally all family members come under one roof of the ancestral home with parents and grandparents, as the case may be. Vishukani is kept on the eve of Vishu day before Lord Vishnu or Lord Krishna, decorated with flowers, especially Konna Poovu (Laburnums—golden yellow flowers) and arranged with beautiful gold ornaments and seasonal fruits around the deity.

On the day of Vishu, all the family members wake up very early in the morning, much before sunrise. With closed eyes and someone, starting with the eldest, helping them, they walk up one by one walk up to the kani site to see the first glimpse of the Lord with all decoration goodies around it. It is lighted with a wick and oil is poured in two coconut halves kept on both sides and in-front of a bronze lamp called ‘Vilakku’. It is regarded as very auspicious and as a symbol of good luck and prosperity to follow throughout the year until the next Vishu arrives.

After the darshan, the whole Kani arrangement is taken over to all corners of the home, including showing it to nature, plants and animals at home, an all-inclusive darshan to all.

As in other festivals, Vishu is also accompanied by bursting of crackers and fireworks starting early morning after the Vishukani rituals. Thereafter all family members go to the nearest temple.

I love this festival because it is colourful and elders hand over Vishu Kaineetam to youngsters followed by a grand Sadhya (feast) with all friends and relatives.

The Vishu Festival
In Kerala, the start of the Zodiac New Year—when the sun enters into Sidereal Aries, Ashwini nakshatra—is celebrated as Vishu. Several mythological tales are associated with it; one of these says that Vishu is the day Lord Krishna killed Narakasura, a demon. According to another tale, Ravana, the demon king never allowed Surya Dev, or the Sun God, to rise from the east, and it was only after Ravana’s death that Surya Dev could do so.

It is said that what one sees when one first opens one’s eyes on Vishu morning is an indication of what one can expect in the year to come. Thus on Vishu, an effort is made to assure one opens one’s eyes before an auspicious image—the Vishukani.

While the festival is called ‘Vishu’ only in Kerala, across India festivals sharing the same spirit—such as Ugadhi in Andhra Pradesh and in Karnataka, Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra, Bihu in Assam and Baisakhi in Punjab—are celebrated around the same time of year.

Traditionally, the mother or grandmother of the family arranges the Vishuka­ni in the puja room, with flowers, fruits, vegetables, gold coins and images of Lord Vishnu. She will then sleep in the puja room, and wake up during the auspicious hour of the Brahma muhurata (4.00 – 6.00 a.m.). She lights the oil lamp, savours the auspicious sight and then wakes up the rest of the family. With her eyes covered, she leads them to the puja room to share the auspicious sight.

The celebratory Sadhya (banquet in Malayalam) is a vegetarian feast that can consist of 24-28 dishes, served as a single course (and sometimes going up to 64 items). It is traditionally served on a banana leaf, without cutlery.

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