Kerala’s New Year’s Day, celebrated on 14 April this year, is a festival of pomp and splendour that a great many Malayalis look forward to all year round. To begin with, what is Kerala’s New Year’s Day called? Unlike most of the terrifying words of the language, this Malayalam word contains only two syllables and won’t have your tongues in a twist. Kerala’s New Year’s Day is called Vishu (pronounced: wish+ooo). And as a fazed fan of this fantabulous festival, I find it to be my faithful duty to enlighten just about everyone on why Vishu is such a cool festival.
1. Free gifts and money!
If Malayali kids love Vishu it’s because of this one outstanding reason. As part of the tradition, the elders of the family give gifts or small amounts of money to their children, called Vishukkaineetam. It is believed that this will ensure the good fortune of the off-springs.
2. Waking up to grandiose beauty.
Grabbing someone in their sleep, blinding them, and hauling them away; doesn’t sound very festive, does it? Well, believe me when I tell you that this is one of the stark features of Vishu, and it is exceptionally fun.
Vishukani, also known as “that which is first seen on Vishu”, refers to a ritualistic process which begins with the mother of the house (usually) waking up super early in the morning and decking up the pooja room with an assortment of lamps, religious books, bits of yellow flowers called Konna and a number of other significant items. After this, everyone else is woken up, immediately blindfolded (because their eyes aren’t to fall upon anything else before they get to the pooja room!) and brought to see the magical Vishukani.
3. Go on a shopping frenzy
Much like other festivals, Vishu also sees the tradition of splurging on some brand new clothes to adorn yourself with. But unlike other festivals, within the white and gold fabrics of your clothes are entwined the rich history and culture of Vishu, the bewitchment of which you carry with you all through the day.
4. The spicy, the savoury and the sweet
Yes, I’m talking about the traditional Vishu Sadhya (feast).
No, it’s not brimming with coconut oil.
With the arrival of the New Year, get your palates ready for some delectable treats. Drown in the divinity of Mampazhappulissery, a sour mango soup, and snack up on the sugary Vishu katta, a rice cake served with jaggery. And that’s just two of the million other things you can eat straight out of the traditional banana leaf platter.
5. Bottle rockets, sparklers and Lakshmi bombs
That’s right. Firecrackers! No festival is ever complete without the cacophony of the crackers. It is generally children who cheerfully partake in this event, on the night before and the morning of Vishu. The festivities don’t end there. If you live in Kerala, in the evening you could set out to visit the fair to carry on with the merriment of the day.
So now that you know why Vishu is such an amazing festival go on and find a Malayali friend to spend this 14 April with. And if you happen to be older than your friend, make sure to carry some extra cash!