Vishu is the New Year festival in Kerala and is the second largest after Onam (which is celebrated in September). Vishu occurs on April 15th on the western calendar or the first day in the month of Medam in the Malayalam calendar. Occasionally the Tamil New Year occurs on the same day.
Based on tradition it is important to begin the new year on the right foot because the way it starts is an indicator for the rest of the year. Upon waking on Vishu, the first thing that the eye should see is something auspicious: Lord Vishnu’s picture decorated with flowers and jewelry. This is called Vishukkani.
The night before the festival Vishu, the pooja, or prayer, room is cleaned and decorated with the most important deity in Hinduism, Lord Vishu, the protector of the universe. Surrounding the deity are gold ornaments, gold and silver coins, kasavu mundu (the traditional saree of Kerala), and fruit and vegetables like mangos and jackfruit.
On Vishu day, everyone in the house wakes up very early and, one by one, they are brought with their eyes closed by the oldest member of the family to the pooja room. They open their eyes in front of Vishukani. After Vishukani is seen by everyone, the oldest member gives a gift of money to every family member representing prosperity and happiness. Traditionally gold or silver coins were given but now paper bills have replaced the coins. As soon as this is over, the family sets off firecrackers.
Women dress in the traditional clothing of Kerala, the mundu and veshti (wrap around skirt and shawl), that have artistic designs woven with gold threads.
In Kerala, people flock to the famous temple of Krishna at Guruvayoor to see the Vishukani. All of the temples have special poojas followed by fireworks where they use a kadina which is exclusive to Kerala. A kadina is a strong steel cylinder that is closed at one end. In the closed end, a pin hole has been cut. One third of the cylinder is filled with gunpowder. Over that, pieces of paper topped with pebbles are placed. The kadina is placed in a wide open field and a thin line of gunpowder is placed from the pin hole all the way to the edge of the field where it is lit. When the flame reaches the kadina, a deafeningly loud noise is made.
The lunch for Vishu is elaborate and consists of the traditional Kerala vegetarian delicacies which are served on banana leaves.
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