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Happy Vishu! Here's a fun guide to the Malayali New Year

Durga M Sengupta | Updated on: 14 April 2016, 15:07 IST

The year starts today.

Well not if you go by the Greorian Christian Calendar. But for most Indian Hindus, today is when we should ideally be clinking glasses and screaming Happy New Year.

But clinking glasses was never really part of Indian tradition (weddings aside). And what makes India wonderful is that each state celebrates this new year with its own unique tradition.

While Bengalis savour their payesh, here's what Malayalis are upto down south.

1. Waking up mad early

The Vishukani is a hugely significant, almost Christmassy, part of this day.

The Malayalam word 'kani' refers to 'what is seen first' and therefore the Vishukani is what you see first on the new year.

It is set up the night before in a dark room. There are beautiful lamps, raw rice, lemon, coconut, jackfruit, betel leaves, a metal mirror, the yellow flower that blooms this season (kanni konna), holy texts, coins, and usually an idol of Krishna.

And here's what it looks like. | Photo: WikiCommons

One must wake up just before sunrise and walk to this room with eyes closed (and without stumbling) and open their eyes only when they reach the Vishukani. Ask any Hindu Malayali child and they'll tell you that one of their favourite memories from childhood was to be escorted to the kani by their parents, with their hands covering their eyes. Like a little game that ends with witnessing something rather beautiful.

Many families read from the Ramayana after witnessing the Vishukani and some believe that the page on which you open the text impacts the individual's year ahead.

2. New clothes and money!

The other favourite memory for these children is the yearly Vishukaineettam (kaineettam cutely means to 'hold your hand out'). You hold your hand out to your elders who happily fund you for the day, sometimes week, and sometimes (depending on how happy they are) for a month.

New clothes bought on Vishu are called Puthukodi or Vishukodi ('kodi' means new clothes) and elders are often generous enough to buy these over the expenses already beared. And well, no one's complaining.

3. Foooood

Vishu food isn't an elaborate feast like the Onam Sadya (yum!) but it is unique to just this one day of the year.

It consists of Vishu Kanji, Thoran and Vishu katta. Kanji is a starchy rice dish prepared with coconut milk and spices. Vishu katta is a biscuity delicacy made of freshly harvested rice powder, jaggery and coconut milk. Thoran is an accompaniment.

4. Other fun stuff

So this thing about Kerala that you may not know is that we're not big on Diwali. So one must burst crackers some time of the year, right? (#SayNoToCrackers)

Vishu paddakam (again, 'padakkam' means crakers) are burst in the mornings and evening on Vishu day.

Now go on. Boast your new-found knowledge to your Malayali friends.

And don't forget to ask their parents for Vishukaineettam.

You're welcome.

First published: 14 April 2016, 15:07 IST
Durga M Sengupta @the_bongrel

Feminist and culturally displaced, Durga tries her best to live up to her overpowering name. She speaks four languages, by default, and has an unhealthy love for cheesy foods. Assistant Editor at Catch, Durga hopes to bring in a focus on gender politics and the role it plays in all our interactions.