Thursday, April 12, 2007

Vishu- Keralite's New Year


vishukonna(cassia fistula)
Keralites celebrate this year, April 15 as their New Year day. Pampered at its western coast by the Arabian Sea, Kerala is the smallest state in India.

Its population of 30 million speak Malayalam, a language formed out of Tamil under Sanskrit influence. Nearly one third of its population live overseas in Africa, Europe, America, Canada, Australia, the Middle East and Asia.

Keralites celebrates their New Year as Vishu. It is the day on which the sun enters the Mesha zodiac according to astronomical and astrological calculations popular in the state. On the celestial map it comes after the autumnal equinox. Zodiac is a band of 12 constellations around the sky with the ecliptic passing through its centre.

Setting of the Kani



The celebrations kick off in the early auspicious hours of the day (between 4 am and 6am) with the watching of the Vishukkani (kani). Kani as shown in the picture is an arrangement of few natural articles easily available in any Kerala home during the season. It is set out by the lady of the home. She does it the previous night after the household went to sleep so that nobody else sees it before the right time.

Vegetables and fruits golden in colour, rice or paddy, konna (cassia fistula) flowers, a clean folded linen, a coconut half, beetle leaf, a book, coins, rounded metallic mirror and gold are the items needed to set the kani.

It is set in a bell-metal pot (any round pot will do). To start with, spread the paddy into its centre. Oil is poured into the coconut half to which a cotton wick (cloth folded and tied to form a bulb at the bottom) is lowered. This coconut lamp is placed over the paddy at the centre of the pot. Everything else is arranged around it in an orderly fashion with the mirror behind to reflect its light when lighted. Prayer room is an ideal place to set the Kani.

When the lamp is lighted at the auspicious time, the kani is ready to be seen by the household. Normally the lady of the house leads everybody in the family one by one to the kani blindfolded so that it is his or her first sight of the day.
The golden colour of the fruits and the flowers resemble the colour of the Sun. The light from the coconut lamp reflected from the round mirror when shines through the yellow article creates a spectacular miniature sunrise.

After the turn of the people the kani is taken to the outside to be seen by the cattle, the birds and all living animals and plants.

However the arrangement of the kani may vary from places to places.

Vishukaineetam or giving Vishu gifts is the second item of the celebration. It is the responsibility of the man of the house. He presents coins to everybody in the household and receives them from the most beloved one in the family.

Seeing spectacular sight and getting presents on the first day of the New Year takes care of the entire year is the belief behind Vishukani and Vishukaineetam.

As the day unfolds youngsters get serious with firecrackers and females with cooking a sumptuous lunch. It is prepared in the Kerala culinary style to include the four prominent rasas (tastes): bitter, sour, sweet and hot.

Meals are served on plantain leaves. All members of the family sit together for the meals. After the meal people visit friends and relatives and indulge in entertainments.

While Vishu embodies prosperity, beauty, wellness, knowledge, communal life, family organisation and friendship at a mundane level it unfolds ‘an elementary oneness’ of the universe at a spiritual level.

The time the sun enters the Mesha zodiac has implications for life on earth that are affected by seasons and other aspects of nature.

Every year, in Kerala, learned Jyothisis predict such effects based on the astrological calendar called Panchangam. This is an ancient Indian practise.

Vishu a secular event

Vishu observations are secular. Nothing about religion is mentioned in its original texts in spite of the contemporary Kerala temple practices to attach it with the deities.

Vishu is not the only New Year celebrations in India. It is commemorated in various parts of India under various names during March-April. In Tamil Nadu it is celebrated as Puthu Varsham. In parts of Tamil Nadu closer to Kerala, people celebrate Vishu as New Year. In Andhra Predesh it is known as Ugadi. The Bengalis celebrates it as Polia Baishak and the Assamese call it Bihu festival. Baishakhi is the Punjabi New Year.

Nepalese celebrate it by the third week of March while the Kashmeeris observe it on the second week of March. Many olden traditions in the world observe New Year on the days of vernal or autumnal equinoxes which falls during March.

Indians in general and Keralites in particular are people who wish to carry on with their traditions wherever they happen to live. It is important to pass on their ancient wisdom to their younger generations. Even if you live away from home it is not difficult to organise a Vishukkani for the auspicious time of the day.

One can replace many original things in the kani with the locally available products. For example, in South Africa a yellow pumpkin and a yellow ripe mango can replace the jackfruit and golden coloured cucumber. Any yellow flower of the season can replace the konna flowers. Coconuts are available all over South Africa and a cotton cloth wick can be made out of pure cotton (or any small lamp will do).

I wish all Keralites and all who celebrate new year now, a very Happy Vishu and a prosperous New Year.

3 comments:

  1. Happy vishu to every body.
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  2. Well, this page is good. Thanks guy.

    ReplyDelete