Vishu- An Expression of Keraleeyatha

published on April 13, 2012

Onam, Vishu and Athira, are the very own festivals of Malayalies. Of these, in terms of the richness of festivities, Onambetter known as Thiruvonam stays in front, Vishu settles down for the second spot Vishu.jpgand the third position is occupied by Athira which is also referred to with a prefix Thiru that is, Thiruvathira But, due to our strange propensity to become the ‘rootless wonders’, we have already thrown out the Athira festival which in fact is the most beautiful of the trio in terms of its cultural, ritual and conceptual moorings, into the dustbin of history. I am yet to be aware of another festival that is evolved, solely as an elaborate and unique women’s festival. Sorry, I was using the present tense unconsciously with reference to this strikingly feminine celebration. Thiruvathira is no more. Kerala had managed to sacrifice this ‘feudal legacy of innocent but spiritually meaningful enjoyment of our Womenfolk’ in the cruel altar of modernity.

Let us return to the main track.  Thiruvonam (Shravana/Alpha Aquilone) and Thiruvathira (Ardra/Alpha Orionis) being based on lunar calendar, they are celebrated on the dates on which the respective nakshtras or asterisms fall. Therefore the dates on which they are celebrated differ from year to year. Whereas Vishu, one of the few Kerala festivals that is based on solar calendar, falls on more or less the same date, that is the first day of the month of  Medam (April 14th).

Vishu does enjoy another speciality too. Due to the sequential position of Medam in the Malayalam Calendar, the month that heralds Vishu, it is the third festival of the trio the other two being Onam and Athira. Then, if we take note of importance, it is the second, the first being Onam. Nevertheless by the Hindu Calendar, Vishu opens up the new year !  In that angle Vishu is the forerunner of the three major festivals. But, irrespective of all these quibbling exercises, being the festival of Kaineetam and colourful fireworks, Vishu indubitably occupies the No.1 slot in the hearts of the Children and in such matters; theirs is the only acceptable opinion!

Vishukani or Kanikanal

The Vishukani and Kani Kanal are inseparable from Vishu. According to the age-old belief of Malayalees, an auspicious kani (first sight) at the crack of dawn on the Vishu day would prove lucky for the entire year. As a result, the Vishukani is prepared with a lot of care to make it the most positive sight so as to bring alive a wonderful, propitious and prosperous new year!
Normally, the responsibility to put the kani in order falls on the experienced shoulders of the eldest lady of the house. A traditional kani is prepared as described below. There could be minor deviations from place to place.

Vishukani Preparation

A reasonably sized Uruli (see picture) is used to arrange the Kani.
[ Uruli is an open-mouthed shallow circular vessel made out of bell metal. It is available in all sizes from a diameter of a few inches to even 10-12 feet! Of course, the bigger ones are called charakku, odu etc .]  

Unakkalari (raw rice) is the first ingredient that goes into the Kani Uruli to act as a support base for the other items to be positioned.Placed over that is a freshly laundered white kasavu pudava (a typical Kerala style dhoti with golden embroidery), followed by a carefully selected Kanivellari (golden coloured, shapely cucumber), Vettila (betel leaves), Pazhukkapakku  (reddish yellow coloured ripe areca nut), golden coloured mango fruit, ripe yellow jack fruit(halved) and a shining brass valkannadi (hand mirror).

In many places, Ramayanam or any of the scriptures written on Palm leaves (also called as Grandham) is also added to the auspicious constituents of the Kani arranged in this Uruli. Similarly, Ashtamangallyam may also be is kept in the Kani Uruli. After this, a gold coin or gold ornament is placed on top of all. Then keep a pair of halved coconuts upright, filled with oil along with cotton wicks.

Then in a small flat-bottomed vessel is kept a little rice, a silver coin and some flowers. After the Kanikanal, thinking of a wish, if one takes the coin and check if its top side is head or tail. Depends on this one may know if his/her wish would be realized or not.

Now keep the Kani Uruli in front of the statuette or picture of Sree Krishna Bhagavan (in Northern Kerala, the valkannadi signifies or is the embodiment of Sree Bhagavathi, the Jaganmata Jagadeeswari). Then decorate the Kani Uruli, Picture and the surroundings with Konnappoovu (Indian Laburnum. See Box). Place a lit Nilavilakku (bronze oil lamp) nearby in such a way as it imparts a golden yellow hue to the Kani-ambience. 

Now the subdued yellow splendour of Nilavilakku and its brilliant reflections on the bronze Uruli, golden coloured kanivellari, gold ornaments and bronze mirror boost the overwhelmingly yellow abundance of the Kanikonna flower clusters and in turn augment the beauty of the yellow clad divinity that is Lord Sree Krishna Paramatma. When one opens the eyes for the first time in the Brahma Muhurtha, to look at Bhagavan’s this glorious image, where is the chance that any thing can go wrong in the new year, why the whole life?

Probably it may be appropriate here to briefly refer to the symbolic and the spiritual significance of the Kani and its constituents.

The Kani is the tangible representation of the union of Prakruti and Purusha. The Uruli is Prakruti or Prapancha. In it, occupying fully is Kala Purusha, Maha Vishnu, the Sree Krishna Paramatma. Kanikkonna is Hiscrown, Kanivellari is His face, coconut lamps are the eyes, Valkannadi is the mind, the Grandham is the wordand so on. The Kaineetam is the blessing of Prakruti, Shakthi, Devi, the Dhana Lakshmi.


After preparing the Kani on the night of the Vishu eve, the eldest lady of the house (grand mother, mother or the eldest sister) would sleep near to the Kani, keeping the match box close at hand. She gets up much before the Lord of the Day rises above the eastern horizon. Keeping the eyes closed, she lights up the lamps and with prayers on lips, she opens her eyes to behold the golden scene that spreads in front and the image of the ever smiling face of Balagopala. After her Kanikanal, she wakes up other family members one by one and guides them to see the Kani in the Pooja Room. The children are brought keeping their eyes covered by her loving hand or a cloth to prevent them from opening the eyes and see the mundane before seeing the divine.

After the human beings, it is the turn of the plants, animals and all things movable and immovable. The Kani Uruli is then taken outside to show them. It is also taken to the cattle shed, bank of the ponds etc. and finally around the house three times.

In some places (that include mine too), children and youth prepare the Kani and take it around the neighbourhood chanting Keerthanams accompanied with musical instruments. They get Kaineetam from all the houses they visit.

 Vishukani  is important in many famous temples such as Ambalapuzha, Guruvayoor and Sabarimala.  

Vishu Kaineetam

Children wait eagerly for this ritual. The elders of the family starting with the grand father or father give away Kaineetam to the younger ones. The Kaineetam consists of coins (now mostly notes) with Konna flowers, rice and the gold from the Uruli. The gold and the rice are returned to the Uruli and touch the eyes with flower. In my childhood, it was a custom to give Kaineetam to all the people associated with the house such as servants, field workers and land-tenants. The principle is the symbolic sharing of the prosperity and wishing happiness for all.

 Vishu Kanji
Saddhya is a major part of all Kerala festivals. But for Vishu, Vishu Kanji and Thoran are more important. The Kanji is made of rice, coconut milk and spices. For the side dish, that is Thoran also there are mandatory ingredients.

 Vishu Patakkam
Fireworks is an important part of Vishu celebration in many parts of Kerala. In the morning and the previous evening, children enjoy bursting crackers.

Vishu –A Cultural Umbrella

Vishu in fact is a snapshot of the cultural landscape of Kerala. It has integrated every thing during its period to its umbrella like presence. Just as an example: there is a migratory bird which normally visits Kerala during this period. It is referred to popularly as Vishu Pakshi (Pakshi means bird).

There are many songs on the theme of Vishu.Vishu in fact is a symbol of the man’s desire to coexist with the nature.

Vishu – Its Future???

However, how many of us are traditionally celebrating and enjoying Vishu, so that the growing up generation can grasp its message, appreciate its beauty and be proud of our cultural richness. It is sad that many of us forget to live properly in our eagerness to live richly, stylishly and only for ourselves.

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