It is said everything good or bad depends on the first step we take. If your first step is wrong, the whole journey will be full of obstacles. “Getting off to a good start is essential, as the beginning is the foundation upon which everything that comes after rests”. Indian culture, perhaps more than any other, stresses the importance of beginning things properly. “The position of the stars and planets is taken into consideration to insure auspicious beginnings, homas are performed and stotrams are chanted to Lord Ganesh in order to remove potential obstacles before the start of any undertaking. Prayers to God are always offered.
It is believed “grace alone is the deciding factor”. By taking into consideration even subtle nuances beyond our intellectual understanding when we begin a project, we are both showing the sincerity of our effort as well as our faith in the words of the scriptures and the Guru. The 15th of April is celebrated in Kerala as Vishu this year i.e., on the first day of Medam or the Malayalam month falling between the months of April and May of the Gregorian calendar, and it symbolizes the beginning of the spring season. Vishu, is a Hindu festival celebrated in Kerala as the harvest festival and the astrological New Year of the Malayalis. Vishu indicates the movement of the sun to Aries or the Mesha Rashi and marks the day from which the farmers begin the ploughing of land and other agricultural activities. Vishu has been celebrated in Kerala from 844 AD.
Let me explain the significance of Vishu. In Sanskrit Vishu means equal, which implies the day with equal number hours of day and night or the equinox. The day of Mesha Sankranti or Mesha Sankramam, Vishu is a family festival. It is a festival dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is celebrated by worshipping Lord Vishnu and Lord Krishna. Vishu Kani, Vishu Kaineettam and Vishubhalam are the three most important aspects of the Vishu celebrations.
Several mythological tales are related to the celebration of Vishu; and as per one such story Vishu is the day when Lord Krishna killed Narakasura a demon. As per another belief Vishu is celebrated as the return of Surya Dev. According to the other folklores Ravana the demon king, never allowed Surya Dev or the Sun God to rise from the east. It was on the day of Vishu, after the death of Ravana, the sun or Surya Dev started to rise from the east. Since then, Vishu is celebrated with great zeal.
As per the religious faith of the people on the previous night of the Vishu festival a Vishu Kani in the prayer room or worship area of the house before the idol of Lord Vishnu and Lord Krishna by the eldest lady of the house. Vishu Kani is regarded as the symbol of good luck and prosperity by all Hindu Malayalis. In Malayalam Kani means “which is viewed first” therefore, the term 'Vishu Kani' means the first thing to be seen at dawn or the early hours of the day. The devotees believe this would bring them prosperity throughout the New Year.
The Vishu Kani consists of a sacred ceremonial preparation of all auspicious goods considered to be the omen of good luck and prosperity. These goods include coconut, betel leaves, yellow ‘Kani Konna’ flower, Kanmashi or kajal, raw rice, lemon, golden cucumber, jack fruit, a metallic mirror, a holy book, cotton dhoti and coins or currency notes. All these articles are collected in a bell-shaped vessel made of metal which in Malayalam is called “Uruli”. A traditional bell-shaped metal lamp called “Nilavilakku” is also lighted and placed together with the Vishu Kani before the deity. On the day of Vishu, as per the traditional belief of the people all the members of the family have to wake up early in the morning by dawn with closed eyes go to the worship area of the house, to get the first sight of the Vishu Kani because it would bring them good luck throughout the year. Therefore, the Vishu Kani is arranged with great care and precision to create a positive picture.
After seeing the Vishu Khani, people recite verses from Ramayana, the Holy book of the Hindus, which is considered sacred. Malayalis believe that the first page of the Ramayana which is opened by the devotee has a significant impact on his/her life in the upcoming year. After this the children and adults burst crackers and this continues from morning to night. Known as “Vishu Paddakam” or the bursting of crackers is an integral part of the Vishu celebration enjoyed by all big and small. This is followed by a traditional feast known as “Vishu Sadhya”. The feast will have all Kerala delicacies. Kheer or Payasam is a must.
I wish all a very happy Vishu!