Kerala is often called God’s Own Country for its natural beauty. What is a little less known is that the People of this God’s Own Country also celebrate some of the world’s most colorful festivals. Vishnu, the New Year festival is a special occasion for every Keralite, when the New Year is welcomed with prayers and colorful festivities. It usually falls on April 14th of Gregorian calendar.
Since Vishu is the beginning of a new year, there is a belief that you need to begin the day in an auspicious manner to ensure prosperity for rest of the year. “Vishukanni” is an important concept during Vishu. It literally means the first thing you see on Vishu after waking up. A ritual arrangement is made in the Puja Room consisting of several auspicious items like kanikonna flowers, rice, cucumber, beetel leaves, linen, arecanut, mirror, jackfruit, mango, a gold ornament and a holy text. This is made by the Women of the household in a large dish made of bell metal. A lighted bell metal lamp called nilavilakku is also placed alongside a garlanded deity of Lord Krishna. This elaborate arrangement is completed on the night of the last day of the previous year. You are supposed to wake up on Issue with eyes closed! And proceed to the Puja room and open your eyes to sight the “Vishu Kanni” in the New Year. The Vishukanni is then distributed among the poor.
Some people visit Temples the night before and stay in the courtyards. They prefer to sight the Vishukanni in the temple. Pilgrims visit Guruvayur, Ambalapuzha and Sabarimala for starting the New Year in an auspicious manner.
Once the Vishukanni is over, it is time for celebrations. Everyone in the family wears new clothes. The elders in the family donate money in the form of coins to Children, Servants and the Needy. Children burst crackers.
Vishu also means feasting across the day! The items prepared for Vishu are of all tastes- spicy, bitter, sweet and sour. Dishes are usually prepared from jackfruits, mangoes, pumpkins, and gourds. Some of the specialties are Veppampoorasam, a bitter preparation of neem and Mampazhapachadi which is a sour mango soup.
There is abundant street entertainment during Vishu. Young people put up a traditional dance performance after dressing up in a skirt made of dried banana leaves and wearing masks. The entourage goes from street to street entertaining people.
The Kanikonna flower is an integral part of Vishu. There is an interesting legend behind its origin.
Once upon a time, in a village in south India lived a boy named Unni. He used to love the stories of Bala Krishna’s pastimes at Ambadi told by his mother every day. Unni developed a strong desire to see Bala Krishna. He started visiting the Krishna-temple near his house and prayed.
Lo & Behold, Lord Krishna granted him an audience moved by his devotion. Krishna also untied his Golden Waist chain, “Aranjanam” and gifted it to Unni. Next day, when the temple opened, the “Aranjanam” was missed. The news about the theft spread everywhere. Unni’s mother was livid as she thought he had stolen it. She threw the “Aranjanam” which landed on top of a tree.
The tree developed golden yellow flowers and the Kanikonna flower was born.
For a travelogue on the world famous Krishna Temple at Guruvayur, click here.