We vish you a Merry Vishu and a Happy New Year!


Okay, full disclosure: I have no idea whether my title is inapposite or borderline offensive. If it IS either of those things, I apologize in advance. I was just trying to be cute while exposing my lack of knowledge for a good cause– learning more about Vishu! There is no better way to understand something than to admit my ignorance to all of you. Because if there is one thing I have learned over these past six (!) years at the Mutiny, it is that when I mess something up I will be corrected by commenters and trolls alike, faster than my Dad could say, “Edi, MANDI!” back in the day.

Could I have looked Vishu up instead of harassing all of you? Sure, but how much can one read about the unknown without one’s eyes glazing over? But just to prove I Googled it, here’s the obligatory blockquote from Wiki:

Vishu is a festival celebrated in the state of Kerala in South India. The same day is also celebrated as New year in several other parts of India such as Punjab (Baisakhi), Assam (Bihu), Tulu Nadu region in Karnataka where it is known as Bisu as well as in Tamil Nadu. The festival marks the first day of Malayalam Year and falls in the month of Medam (April – May). Vishu generally falls on April 14 of the Gregorian calendar…”Vishu” in Sanskrit means “equal”…

Although Vishu (first of Medam) is the astrological new year day of Kerala, the official Malayalam new year falls on the first month of Chingam (August – September). However, 1st of Chingam has no significance either astrologically or astronomically. Chingam is the harvest season in Kerala and southern parts of coastal Karnataka.

The most important event in Vishu is the Vishukkani, which literally ” the first to be seen on the Vishu day”. The Vishukkani consist of a ritual arrangement of auspicious articles like raw rice, fresh linen, golden cucumber, betel leaves, arecanut, metal mirror, the 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 arrangement is completed the previous night. On the day of Vishu, the custom is to wake up at dawn and go to the puja room with the eyes closed so that the Vishukkani is the first sight of the new season.

According to that entry, Vishu is bigger in Northern Kerala. My family is from South-Central. I wonder if that’s part of why I’m so ign’ant about Vishu…or if it’s the whole “Christian” thing. No matter, I’ll happily welcome any excuse to consume more Mampazhapachadi. I looooove eating pachadi, especially if it’s Paavakka-based. With tortilla chips. DON’T JUDGE ME.

So what inspired my whirlwind interest in Vishu? This:


Jinal is a co-founder of Dsplaced, “A collective storytelling experiment” which features many stories with a Desi bend; the three “largest” tags in the site’s cloud are “Bombay”, “New York” and “Mumbai”. She is based in New York. I follow her on Twitter and initially felt bad about not being able to suggest anything in response to her tweet, since I love being Malayalee and sharing all manner of coconut-tinged goodness with the world. But that’s where you come in, dear Mutineers– especially if you’re in NYC. Do you have any suggestions for her (and everyone else who may be wondering about the same thing)?

How do you celebrate Vishu? And if you’d be kind enough to indulge my curiosity, how do you define it or explain it, for those, like me, who’d love to know more? Finally, if you want to leave lyrical comments reminiscing about Vishu or relating childhood memories of it, well, you know I’ll swoon.

27 thoughts on “We vish you a Merry Vishu and a Happy New Year!

  1. Vishu aashamsakal etc. etc. I do have a question for the folks on this board- how do Mallus celebrate their New Year on 4/14 year after year (with the exceptional 4/15 like this year) when there doesn’t seem to be a concept of a leap year?

    When I was growing up Vishu was the time for fireworks in north Kerala. Diwali/Deepavali really was never big in Kerala back then. Now, with the homogenization of India, Diwali and cricket have swept Kerala as well- more is the shame!

  2. Wow! Thank you for this. I’m a die-hard Gujju married to a Mallu. So while I’m not a staunch Jain follower, I thought it would be nice to pick up the best of both religions/ ways of living and immerse them into our lives. I’m still reading up and trying to learn about the spiritual significance of Vishu but process-wise, this is what I gathered.

    Per my mother-in-law, I should offer fruits, a gourd, flowers, a zari-wala cloth or dupatta, gold and coins to Vishnu Dev at night. Ideally, I should also light a diya night long and when we wake up in the morning, we should walk to this offering with our eyes closed and the diya should be the first thing we see. Oh and the elders offer money (auspicious!) to the younger kids in the family. And then we wish all the Mallus we know a very happy Vishu! If we were in Kerala, we’d be lighting fireworks I suppose!

    Thanks again for this. Will be doing my best for tomorrow!

  3. Iniya Putthandu Nalvazhthukkal! Although, legally, the TN government has ‘canceled’ this holiday – crazy!

    Gotta love those obscure Mallu holidays. ummm – it’s somewhat significant, actually. and considering the same holiday is celebrated around the country, just under different names, means that it’s not so obscure. for instance, vaisakhi is a pretty important holiday for sikhs…

  4. Puthandu Vaazhthukkal, Happy Vishu and Happy New year to all the states in India and abroad that follow the Solar Calendar.

    The Tamil New Year follows the Nirayanam vernal equinox and generally falls on April 14 of the Gregorian year. April 14th marks the first day of the traditional Tamil calendar and is a public holiday in both Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. Tropical vernal equinox fall around 22 March, and adding 23 degrees of trepidation or oscillation to it, we get the Hindu sidereal or Nirayana Mesha Sankranti (Sun’s transition into Nirayana Aries). Hence, the Tamil calendar begins on the same date observed by most traditional calendars in India as in Assam, Bengal, Kerala, Manipur, Orissa, Punjab, Tripura etc not to mention Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The 60-year cycle is ancient and is observed by most traditional calendars of India and China, and is related to 5 revolutions of Jupiter, or to 60-year orbit of Nakshatras (stars) as described in the Surya Siddhanta.

    I don’t know about Mampazhapachadi, but mangapachadi with veppam-poo (neem flowers) is made on varusha pirappu. Mangai = raw mango, Mampazham = Ripe Mango. The speciality of this pachadi is that it has the ‘arusuvai’ (literally the six tastes), since it has sweet, sour, salt, chile hot, bitter and astringent tastes signifying that life comes in all flavors and we have to treat it all with equanimity.

  5. Oh, the golden days……Central Travancore Christian, so didn’t have Vishukkani as in your picture and Jinal’s description. But we used to get Vishukkaineettam (money) both from our father and our driver (who was a Hindu, he will also bring us Vishukumbilappam made from Jackfruit, which like Mango is in season), which we could splurge on cutex (nail polish), love-in-Tokyo (scrunchies etc.) and spring vala at a pallyperunnal (Orthodox) that followed in two week’s time at mom’s native place. Since Vishu is the beginning of year, we would also get up early in the morning, open the schoolbooks for a few minutes (otherwise, who would during the summer vacation?), and be very careful not to get into any fights with siblings in the belief that what happens on the first day of the year protends things to follow the rest of the year.

  6. Could someone clarify which Hindu God is depicted in the picture. It looks like some avatar of Vishnu Bhagwan – may be Ram, may be Krishna? It’s the beauty about secular upbringing in India. I am a born Hindu Brahmin, attended St. Xavier’s High, ran by Jesuit Christian Missionary in Ahmedabad. Most students were Hindus, followed by Jains, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Zorastrian, and even some (closet) atheists. When I grew up we celebrated holidays of all religion. Vishu, Vishnu, Tomato, Potato. Does not make any diffrence. Let’s celebrate new solar year. Without Sun our planet will not be here, and they tell me eventually Earth will be gobbled up by Sun – some day. HAPPY VISHU !!

  7. @Yo Dad: Not sure if you care, but anyway, the god in the picture is Krishna, also known as Guruvayoor appan – the Lord of Guruvayoor, which is a town in north-east Kerala. Krishna in that temple is always portrayed/adorned that way. If I’m not wrong, April 14th which is a New Year for those that follow the Hindu Solar calendar (Tamil Nadu, Kerala and some eastern states), whereas most of India has the traditional Sanskrit Hindu Lunisolar calendar which starts in Mid-late March. The latter was also the calendar of the Sakas or Scythians, who were invaders from Iran-China area…

  8. Vishu is about starting the new year surrounded by good things of life. In a practical manner that includes: good food, lots of money, flowers and beauty. And the most auspicious of all –your own self. Hence the mirror with a gold chain and seeing everything wonderful in the kanni surrounding you. In my family we did not include a photograph of God because most of the time it was arranged near the shrine in the home. Best of all elders in the family will gift money to those you are younger and if you happen to be the youngest you can get the biggest haul of cash.

    Of course this was the season for mangoes and jackfruit and the Vishu lunch included delicacies made from them like Jackfruit payasam (yumm..) Mango pachadi etc.

    Happy Vishu to all readers of Sepia Mutiny and wish you all the happiness in the coming year dear Anna. From Prema Auntie.

  9. Having spent my childhood in Central Travancore, I do remember the cash associated with Vishu but not much else. These days, it’s just an e-mail from my dad wishing me a Happy Vishu.

  10. One of my favorite childhood memories is of Vishu. Mom and dad would wake my brother and me up at 6:00am (which was real early by summer holiday standards.) We were asked not to open our eyes and look at anything just yet. They would then hold our hands and direct us to the pooja room while we had our eyes clenched shut. Even though we were quite drowsy, I remember being excited. There was something magical in the whole thing. The quiet house, the fresh morning air and the smell of the incense sticks as you approached the pooja room. We would then open our eyes to the wonderful vision in the pooja room, similar to the picture Anna posted. Deepams, lit incense sticks and a beautifully decorated Guruvayurappan would greet us. Mom would make us look at each item displayed before God and explain its significance: Rice grains and Fruits-so that we would never go hungry, Coins-so that we would never experience hardships, Books-so that we would gain knowledge. We would then pray for a bit and then read some sentences from the books. After that we would go wash up [oil baths! 🙂 ], change into new clothes and rush downstairs for a yummy breakfast! Sigh..I sure do miss all that. This is one custom which I know I will pass on to my kids.

  11. Vishu Greetings All-

    I am a mallu who grew up in northern part of India detached from Onam, Vishu etc. I do recall getting “kaineettam” of Re 1.00 or 50 paise etc occasionally, but don’t really have a clear memory of Vishu.

    My wife on the other hand is a hard core Vishu celebrator( is that really a word?) She grew up in Gujarat but her family is from Guruvayoor. When she would insist of getting yellow flowers(equivalent of Konna)and veggies, I would ridicule her for her stubbornness. Over the years, I have realized that traditions are traditions and we are losing them gradually, hold on to whatever you can and cherish it.

    So this morning, I woke up, lit the oil lamp in our little pooja area. My wife had prepared a vessel with all kinds of yellow flowers, fruits and vegetables. I picked up my 2 sleepyhead boys ( 7 and 9) and made them open their eyes in front of the “Kani” that my wife had prepared. Although, they were reluctant, they became willing participants as we gave them $2.00 each as “Kaineetam”. They were planning on how to spend the money while I took off for work this morning.

    Thanks for the post Anna, nicely written……I feel like giving you a big hug!

    On a side note- the song “traditions” have been playing in my head all day. Darn! can’t seem to shake it.

  12. just wanted to clarify that Anna is ALL ALONE in her love of Paarkkai pacchadi. paarkkai, if it must be eaten, should be stuffed with kari podi and fried like my epic Marwadi neighbor does. just FYI.

    also, Putthaandu VazhtukkaL!

  13. I wonder if that’s part of why I’m so ign’ant about Vishu…or if it’s the whole “Christian” thing.

    partly the Christian but mostly coz you were raised in the USA 🙂 Unlike Onam which is a Mallu festival (not a Hindu one), Vishu has tended to be more Hindu centric. But many Christians do celebrate a bit of Vishu. Vishu Kani is reasonably well established.
    Vishu is one of those days when Mallu women get dressed in traditional finery. Great eye candy 🙂

  14. Vishu Aashamsakal to all :)! Only thing I’d add to do would be a listen to this quintessential Vishu song — “Kani Kaanum Neream” –http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ffte4U77xYA. We’d always listen to or sing this song on Vishu morning after seeing the Vishukanni and receiving Kaineetam.

  15. Aries is considered the ‘head’ of the astrological chart, and Vishu is the day the Sun moves into it. It is considered the beginning of the new year in other cultures as well, particularly in Iran, which also has a tradition of sun-worship. They have a Vishukani too!


    (I am using Chrome, Anna, could you make that into a link?)

    To answer your question, Kani is about seeing (and asking for) ‘the bounties of nature’, so you can make variations based on where you are. We buy lots of nice-looking vegetables and fruits, this year our kani had oranges, apples, mangoes and a green Papaya! I have seen english cucumbers (instead of Vellarikka) in others’ pictures. My wife puts some of her gold ornaments. A northern Kerala tradition is to make neyyappam for Vishu, and sometimes that bowl also appears in the Kani.

    You can think of putting all that in front of Jesus or Mary for a Christian version of it! 🙂 Or a big picture of the Sun for a new-age/green version.

  16. Anna,my family too is from the south central part of Kerala…Tiruvalla to be precise. My parents excuse of not celebrating the event was because it had a ‘Hindu’ Lineage and we were Christian.

  17. Anna, thanks for the informative post – now I know one more meaning to my name (most of my life it was supposed to be a mix of my parent’s names) :).

  18. A week late but nevertheless – happy belated Vishu. I have to echo fishEyes’ sentiment of the holiday. I would lay awake on Vishu morning with my eyes squeezed shut, giggling and waiting for my mom to come take us to see the Vishukani. When I would open my eyes, it was a visual representation of all of my mother’s hopes for us in the new year: health, money, knowledge, and a spiritual connection with good. Seeing my reflection in the mirror as my mother stood behind me and my sister beside me as we sang our morning bhajanas, made me feel full of optimism and hope. I have set up a Vishukani for my husband and I for the past five years and this year with our two boys, it was that much more special. I saw how the vellaku lit up Rishi’s face and I realized that it was as much a joy for my mother as it was for me.

  19. The Vishukanni seems like such a wonderful tradition and easily implementable. Though I nor any of my family is from Kerala or Tamilnadu, I think we will adopt this tradition. I can’t wait to see the excitement on my kids faces when I bring them to see the Vishukanni.

  20. “I looooove eating pachadi, especially if it’s Paavakka-based. With tortilla chips. DON’T JUDGE ME.”

    Like WOW! How cool! You must be the only person in the world who eats pachadi with something so un-Indian has tortilla chips! What a special snowflake!

    Perhaps Christians would do better not to comment on Hindu holidays and leave the Hindu holidays to those of us who celebrate them. Even if we may NOT be Desi.

    But is it only OK for someone to be of a non-indigenous religion if they are Desi? So that way Desis can be Christians but non-Desis cannot be Hindus?

  21. Pardesi Gori or whatever else you are calling yourself these days,

    Let me see if I can clear the water that seems so muddy to you. People of Kerala view Vishu as a festival of all Malayalees (it is merely the first day of the year according to our calendar for crying out loud). So it is a festival celebrated by a particular culture, not that of a religion. Thus some one who is “Pardesi” was, is and will be an outsider by definition, kapeesh?

    What if a group of Indians in India started celebrating Thanksgiving? Wouldn’t that be a mockable spectacle?

  22. “I looooove eating pachadi, especially if it’s Paavakka-based. With tortilla chips. DON’T JUDGE ME.” Like WOW! How cool! You must be the only person in the world who eats pachadi with something so un-Indian has tortilla chips! What a special snowflake! Perhaps Christians would do better not to comment on Hindu holidays and leave the Hindu holidays to those of us who celebrate them. Even if we may NOT be Desi. But is it only OK for someone to be of a non-indigenous religion if they are Desi? So that way Desis can be Christians but non-Desis cannot be Hindus?

    My personal experience with non-desi hindus is that they dont really know much about the religion and what they know they seem to digest in a very formulaic and western way. You seem to have a very large chip on your shoulder which intrigues me particularly since the most devout hindus I know are the ones with the least amount of religious paranoia. Furthermore – if you have an issue with non-hindu desis “commenting” on hindu holidays then perhaps you as a non-desi should also not feel so entititled to be commenting on desi matters just the same. Or should desis just feel honored by your presence? Food for thought.

  23. I have followed this blog since Day One, and it is obvious to me that all the writers here at Sepia Mutiny are the sort who research their topics and write thoughtfully about whatever subject crosses their desk. There is no reason that anyone should have to limit themselves to writing about their own religion.

    This is a beautiful piece, where we get to see Anna’s thought process and see her learning new things. What a humble thing to post! It’s not a crow of “look at me, here’s everything I know” — it is “I do not know. Enlighten me.”

    And those who choose to trample on someone in such a moment of vulnerability are only showing their own insecurity.