Vishu (Malayalam: വിഷു, "Bisu" in Tulu Language) is the astronomical new year Hindu festival celebrated in the Indian state of Kerala, nearby regions and their diaspora communities. The festival follows the solar cycle of the lunisolar as the first day of month called Medam. It therefore always falls in the middle of April in the Gregorian calendar on or about 14 April every year.
A traditional Vishu kani setting with auspicious items.
|Also called||Malayalam: വിഷു|
|Observed by||Malayali and Tuluva Hindus|
|Type||religious (Hindu), social|
|Observances||Vishu Kani, Vishukkaineetam, Vishukkanji, Kani konna, Vishupadakkam (fireworks)|
|Ends||after 24 hours|
|2017 date||Fri, 14 April|
|2018 date||Sun, 15 April|
|Related to||Bihu, Bwisagu, Baisakhi, Pohela Boishakh, Puthandu, Pana Sankranti|
Vishu literally means equal, and in the festival context it connotes the completion of spring equinox. The festival is notable for its solemnity and the general lack of pomp  The festival is marked by family time, preparing colorful auspicious items and viewing these as the first thing on the Vishu day. In particular, Malayali seek to view the golden blossoms of the Indian laburnum (Kani Konna), money or silver items (Vishukkaineetam), and rice. The day also attracts firework play by children, wearing new clothes (Puthukodi) and the eating a special meal called Sadya, which is a mix of salty, sweet, sour and bitter items.
The Vishu arrangement typically includes an image of Vishnu, typically as Krishna. People also visit temples like Sabarimala Ayyappan Temple or Guruvayur Sree Krishna temple or Kulathupuzha Sree BaalaShastha Temple to have a 'Vishukkani Kazhcha' (viewing) in the early hours of the day.
The Malayalam word "kani" literally means "that which is seen first", so "Vishukkani" means "that which is seen first on Vishu". The traditional belief is that one's future is a function of what one experiences, that the new year will be better if one views auspicious joyful things as the first thing on Vishu. Therefore, Malayali Hindu women spend the day before preparing a setting, usually a tray, of auspicious items. This setting is the first thing they see when they wake up on the Vishu day.
The Vishukkani setting consists of items such as rice, golden lemon, golden cucumber, coconut cut open, jack fruit, kanmashi Kajal, betel leaves, arecanut, metal mirror (Vaalkannadi), golden yellow Konna flowers (Cassia fistula) which bloom in the season of Vishu, holy Hindu texts, coins or currency notes, oil lamp (nilavilakku), and an image of the Hindu god Vishnu.
The tradition has been that one of the members of the house, typically the mom or elderly person lights up the lamps at dawn, then goes to each member of her family one by one, blindfolds and wakes each one up, walks them to the front of the setting. She then releases the blindfold so one can see the setting, and then greets the Vishu day.
The Sadhya (feast) is a major part of all Kerala festivals. However, special dishes called Vishu Kanji, Thoran and Vishu katta are more important on the new year day. The Kanji is made of rice, coconut milk and spices. Vishu katta is a delicacy prepared from freshly harvested rice powder and coconut milk served with jaggery. For Thoran, the side dish, there are also mandatory ingredients. Other important Vishu delicacies include Veppampoorasam (a bitter preparation of neem) and Mampazhappulissery (a sour mango soup) Even temple offerings called bewu bella, include a mix of sweet jaggery, bitter neem, and other flavors.
The mixing of sweet, salty, sour, bitter and astringent flavors for the new year Vishu meal is similar to the pacchadi food prepared on new year day such as Ugadi by Hindus elsewhere in the peninsular regions of the Indian subcontinent. These traditional festive recipes, that combine different flavors, are a symbolic reminder that one must expect all flavors of experiences in the coming new year, that no event or episode is wholly sweet or bitter, experiences are transitory and ephemeral, and to make the most from them.
The tradition of buying of new clothes for the occasion of Vishu is called Puthukodi or Vishukodi. There is also a popular tradition of elders giving money to younger ones or dependents of the family. This is called Vishukkaineetam. Another tradition is of giving alms and contributing to community charity. Children enjoy setting off firecrackers.
The Vishu new year day is celebrated elsewhere but called by other names. It is called Vaisakhi by Hindus and Sikhs in north and central India, which too marks the solar new year. The new year day on or next to April 14 every year, is also the new year for many Buddhist communities in parts of southeast Asia such as Myanmar and Cambodia, likely an influence of their shared culture in the 1st millennium CE.
However, this is not the universal new year for all Hindus. For some, such as those in and near Gujarat, the new year festivities coincide with the five day Diwali festival. For many others, the new year falls on Ugadi and Gudi Padwa, which falls a few weeks earlier.
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