An important festival celebrated with much fanfare and energy in the Indian state of Kerala and the Tulu Nadu region in Karnataka, Vishu holds a special place in people’s hearts. The Vishu festival is observed on the first day of the Medam month in the Malayali calendar. In the Gregorian calendar, this festival is generally observed sometime between April and May. On this auspicious day, Malayalis pray to Lord Vishnu and his avatar Lord Krishna, this is a very big part of Vishu history.  

Vishu History

This festival coincides with other festivals in other parts of the country, like Vaisakhi that is celebrated by Hindus and Sikhs in the north and central India. Even the Tamil New Year day called Puthandu is celebrated on the same day as Vishu. There is a very deep history of this festival. Let’s look at certain aspects and reasons as to why this festival is celebrated. 

Religious Reason:

  1. Lord Vishnu is considered to be the God of Time and hence is worshipped during new beginnings and since it is the new year for Malayalis, Lord Vishnu is very important.
  2. Another belief states that the Vishu celebration happens because it is the day when Surya Dev returns to the sky after the death of Ravana who had held me captive.

Historical Reason:

  1. Vishu festival has been mentioned in the incomplete historical text, Trikodithanam Shasanam originally written by Bhaskara Ravivarman who ruled Kerala for a certain period in the 10th century.
  2. According to historians, this festival was already being celebrated in the 9th century during the reign of Sthanu Ravi.
  3. Vishu celebration history is a very well documented field, we can also see that there have been very few changes in the traditions and rituals throughout the years.

Vishu Significance

There is no straight-cut definition of Vishu in the language of Malayalam but Vishu meaning can be found in the ancient language of Sanskrit. In Sanskrit, it means or implies the day with an equal number of hours of day and night or as we know it now as an equinox. Sadhya is a necessity in all Malayali festivals and it is not different in this case. This is also the day when farmers begin the agriculture work and is also considered a harvest festival. Vishu Kani and kaineetam are two of the most important rituals that are followed by countless people all over Kerala.

Celebrations & Rituals

There are a few key practices that every Malayali follows on Vishu, these are:

  • Vishu Kani
  • Vishu Sadhya
  • Vishu Padakkam
  • Vishu Kodi
  • Vishu Konna
  • Vishu Kaineetam

Early Morning Rituals: 

  • Malayalis observe Vishu Kani at home, with a tray full of auspicious items and an idol of Lord Krishna is kept
  • The tray consists of items like rice, golden lemon, golden cucumber, coconut cut open, jackfruit, kanmashi (better known as Kajal ), betel leaves, areca nut, a metal mirror (Vaalkannadi), golden yellow konna flowers, holy scriptures, money, and an oil lamp
  • According to tradition the elderly wake up first and light the lamp, after which they wake up all the other family members one by one and guide them towards the Vishu Kani
  • Kazhcha is the tradition of visiting temples and indulging in prayers and meditation in the morning. There are many temples but the prominent ones include, the Sabarimala Ayyappan Temple or Guruvayur Sree Krishna temple

Food & Special Dishes:

  • Sadhya is an essential part of the Vishu celebration and various dishes are made that cover all the basic tastes, like sweet, sour, bitter, and spicy.
  • The person who prepares the meals on Vishu has to carefully select recipes so that all the basic tastes are covered, there are many Vishu recipes
  • Food is always served on a banana leaf. Even restaurants and eateries serve food on a banana leaf on this day to truly bring out the Vishu meaning

Other Practices:

  • Children are given money and gifts by the elders which signify the act of giving and receiving so that this continues throughout the year
  • New clothes are usually purchased around this time for the entirety of the year 
  • Many temples set off fireworks to welcome the new year with zeal and enthusiasm, even children partake in this tradition by bursting firecrackers at home

Let’s also look at the gifting tradition in depth after which we will look at some simple Vishu special dishes that anyone can prepare at home.

Gifting Tradition/Kaineetam

It’s a common misconception that kaineetam can be taken or given only in the morning. People usually prefer to give kaineetam in the morning but it can be given during any time of the day. Kaineetam is a big part of Vishu significance because it symbolizes prosperity and well-being for the younger members of the family. Some wealthy families also distribute wealth to neighbours, relatives, and servants. 

Vishu as a whole is not a festival where there is the only celebration, there are solemn moments too. Visiting temples, praying, and waking up early are a few of those elements but the celebration aspects of it can be easily compared to other major festivals like Diwali. Buying new clothes, bursting firecrackers, gifting money are a few of the apparent similarities that come to mind. 

Vishu Recipes

Speaking of traditional rituals, no festival can be complete without its respective dishes and Vishu is the same, there is a lot of feasting but there is an equal amount of thought behind it. Listed below are a few Vishu special dishes. 

1. Mambazha Pulissery

This delicious curd based mango curry is sure to tingle your taste buds with its authentic Kerala taste. Cooked with spices and fresh coconut, its tangy flavour just adds to its deliciousness. This dish is best paired with hot steaming rice. So, why not dive into the making of this mouth-watering recipe?

Prep time: 15min

Cooking time: 20min

Services: 4-6 

Ingredients:

  • 4 ripe whole mango 
  • ½ tsp of turmeric powder (haldi)
  • 1 tsp of red chilli powder 
  • ¼ tsp of fenugreek powder (methi)
  • 1 tbsp of jaggery (gur)

To Grind

  • ½ cup of grated coconut
  • 1 ½ cup of thick sour curd 
  • ½ tsp of cumin seeds (jeera)
  • 4-5 green chillies 

To Temper

  • 2 tsp of coconut oil
  • ½ tsp of mustard seeds (rai)
  • 1 dry red chilli
  • 1 sprig of curry leaves 

Method 

  1. In a thick bottom, the vessel peels the skin of mangoes and add them with turmeric powder, red chilly powder, salt to taste. Add ½ cup water and mix well by squeezing the mangoes by hand.
  2. Let the mixture come to a boil and cook well on a medium flame.
  3. Grind the ingredients mentioned under the ‘To Grind’ section to a fine paste by adding some water then add this paste to the mango gravy.
  4. Put in the required amount of salt and jaggery, mix well.
  5. Heat a pan and add mustard. When it sputters add the rest of the ingredients from the ‘To Temper’ section.
  6. Pour the seasoning into the mango curry and then add roasted fenugreek powder. 
  7. Cover the dish for 15 min to set the flavour.

2. Sambar

The famous south Indian lentil and vegetable stew is not unknown to us.  Be it dosa or idli, Sambar is a must-have side dish along with these south Indian delicacies. Made with pigeon lentils, tamarind and sambar powder, the sambar is sure to linger some unique flavour combination on your taste buds.

Prep time: 20min

Cooking time: 30 min

Serves: 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cup of mixed vegetables (drumstick, potato, tomato, shallots, onion)
  • 2-3 green chillies 
  • 1 cup of tur dal
  • ½ cup of tamarind pulp 
  • ½ tsp of Asafoetida (hing)
  • Coriander – few sprigs

To Temper

  • 1 tsp of mustard seeds (rai)
  • ¼ tsps of fenugreek seeds (methi) 
  • Curry leaves – 1 sprig
  • 3 tsps of coriander powder (dhaniya)
  • 2 tsps of red chilli powder
  • 2 tsps of sambar powder
  • 1 tbsps of coconut oil 

Method

  1. Pressure cook tur dal with water and ¼ tsp of turmeric powder for 4-5 whistles.
  2. In a vessel add potato, onion, drumsticks, and a little water and cook until done.
  3. In a frying pan add a tbsp of coconut oil and saute ladyfingers, shallots, and tomatoes.
  4. Add tamarind pulp, all vegetables, sambar powder, coriander powder, red chilly powder, and asafoetida to the cooked dal and give it a thorough boil. Adjust the salt.
  5. Heat some oil in a wok and splutter some mustard seeds and add methi seeds, red chilly powder, curry leaves. Fry for a minute and add to the dal mixture.
  6. Remove from flame and add ½ tsp coconut oil and coriander leaves.

3. Chakka Pradhaman

How can we not finish a festival with a dessert? For all the sweet tooths out there, this dish is made with jackfruit jam, coconut milk and jaggery. The richness of this dessert will surely make you drool for it.

Prep time: 10 min

Cooking time: 30 min

Serves: 5-6

 Ingredients

  • 2 cups of jackfruit jam
  • 500 gms of jaggery (gur)
  • 1 cup of thin coconut milk 
  • 1 cup of semi-thick coconut milk 
  • ½ cup of thick coconut milk
  • ¼ tsp of cardamom (elaichi)
  • ¼ tsp of ginger (adrak)
  • ¼ tsp of cumin (jeera)
  • 1 tbsp of chopped coconut pieces 
  • 10-15 cashews (kaju)
  • 1 tbsp of raisins (kishmish)
  • 2 tbsps of ghee 

Method

  1. Grate 1 ½  coconut and squeeze the coconut with your hands to get ½ cup thick milk.
  2. Add 1 cup warm water to grated coconut, blend it, and then squeeze out 1 cup semi-thick milk.
  3. Return grated coconut to the blender and add 1 cup of warm water, blend it and squeeze out 1 cup of thin coconut milk.
  4. Heat thin coconut milk in a heavy bottom vessel with jaggery, when it melts add jackfruit jam.
  5. Add the semi-thick milk and keep on stirring at low heat to thicken the mixture.
  6. Repeat the same procedure with thick coconut milk and switch off the flame.
  7. Heat ghee in a small pan and fry coconut, cashew, raisins, and pour all three over the payasam.
  8. Serve hot or cold.

All these dishes add a lot of depth to the Vishu festival and make Vishu a special occasion. Starting from the history and significance, all the way to the present traditions and rituals. We have also associated this festival with the various mythological beliefs and the harvest schedule of farmers. If we look closely every tradition has a belief or reason behind it. Prosperity for the young members of the family is a very important point in this festival. With the true Vishu meaning now known, it’s clear that this festival is an important one for several Indians.

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