Vishu is a Hindu festival celebrated in the Indian state of Kerala and in the Mangalore and Udupi districts of Karnataka, usually in the second week of April in the Gregorian calendar. It marks the new year in accordance with the Malayalam calendar, known as the Kolla Varsha. This occasion signifies the Sun’s transit into the Meda Raasi (first zodiac sign), according to Indian astrological calculations, and represents the vernal equinox. “Vishu” in Sanskrit means “equal”.
The most important event in Vishu is the Vishukkani, which literally means ” the first thing seen on the day of Vishu after waking up”. The Vishukkani consists of a ritual arrangement of auspicious articles like raw rice, fresh lemon, golden cucumber, betel leaves, arecanut, metal mirror, yellow flowers konna (Cassia fistula), and a holy text and coins, in a bell metal vessel called uruli in the puja room of the house. A lighted bell metal lamp called nilavilakku is also placed alongside. This is arranged the night before. On Vishu, the custom is to wake up at dawn and go to the puja room with eyes closed so that the Vishukkani is the first sight of the new season. Reading verses from Hindu Holy book Ramayanam after seeing the “Vishukkani” is considered auspicious. It is also believed that the page of the Ramayanam which you open up to will have a bearing on your life in the coming year. Devotees visit temples like Sabarimala Ayyappan Temple, Guruvayur Sree Krishna temple to have a “Vishukkani Kazhcha” in the early hours of “Vishu” day.
“Vishu” is celebrated with much fanfare and vigour in all parts of Kerala. Setting off firecrackers is part of the celebration, especially for children. People wear new clothes (Puthukodi) for the occasion and elders of the family gift money, called Vishukkaineetam, to children, servants and tenants.
Vishu is also a day of feasting. The foods consist of equal proportions of salty, sweet, sour and bitter items. Feast items include Veppampoorasam (a bitter preparation of neem) and Mampazhappulissery (a sour mango soup).