Among the various Hindu festivals in Kerala, Vishu occupies a unique position in more than one respect. As symbol of the unostentatious Malayali, Vishu is free from the usual pomp and show and merry-making associated with other festivities. When almost all the festivals are connected in some way or other with religion, Vishu has nothing to do with it, though it is observed with religious solemnity. The first day for Medam is the unchangeable day of Vishu, whereas other festivals are determined according to the lunar asterisms on which they fall.
This day on which Vishu falls is the astronomical new year day and it is celebrated as such. The Malayalis believe that the fortunes for the year depend upon the nature of the object one sees first in the morning of Vishu Day. In order to fulfil the desire to look at the auspicious articles, they prepare a 'Kani' (anomen) on the previous day for seeing in the next morning. In circular bell-metal vessel known as 'Urule' some raw rice is put and over it a folded newly washed cloth is spread. A golden coloured cucumber, betel leaves, betel nuts, metal mirror, yellow flowers of Konna tree (cassia fistula), a Grandha (book of palm leaves) and a few gold coins are then placed over the cloth in the vessel arranged in a decorative fashion. Two coconut halves containing oil and lighted wicks are also placed in the vessel which illuminate the articles inside it. A bell-metal lamp filled with coconut oil is kept burning by the side of the vessel. Early in the morning of the Vishu at about 5 O'clock, one of the members of the house, usually the eldest female member gets up and lights the lamp and looks at' Kani' . She wakes up other member, one after another and the Kani is shown to everyone of them, taking particular care not to allow anyone to look by chance at other things. The vessel is taken to the bedside to the members or if it is too big to be carried, it is placed at one spot and the members are led there blind-folded. Even the cattle are not deprived of this privilege, as the Kani is taken to the cattle-shed and placed before them to have a look.
The next item is giving of handsel (Kaineetom). The eldest member of the family takes some silver coins and gives them to a junior member with some raw rice and Konna flower. This is repeated in the case of other members also and they in turn give such handsel to their juniors, relatives, servants etc. After this the children begin to fire crackers.
In the morning all talk bath and put on their forehead the marks of ashes and sandal paste and go to the temple for worship. After worship, they prepare a feast which is moderate and elegant.
In certain parts of Kerala, where the paddy cultivation commences after the monsoon, there is an observance called chal (Furrow) closely associated with Vishu . This is nothing but the auspicious commencement of the agricultural operations, in the new year.
Customs and manners may change from region to region, but the belief of the Malayali that his fortune for the year depends on the first thing he sees on the astronomical New Year day, is shared by the people of other countries also in different forms. For example, in European countries there is a belief that the first person who enters a house on the New Year day is supposed to have an influence on the inhabitants of that house for the whole year.
What has been offered to the readers in the foregoing paragraphs is only a resume of the fairs and festivals of Kerala, which we do not claim as exhaustive. Some of Kerala's fairs and festivals have a religious character and others secular. Some are rooted in hoary myths and other connected with man's attitude towards nature, fertility and harvest. Some of the festivals are of a universal nature. Whatever be the origin of the fairs and festivals of this land, whether religious or secular, whether some of them are celebrated within the entire country or even outside, Kerala has given them a colour and tenor of her own.
In spite of all their difficulties and tribulations, the people of Kerala have a joyous approach to life. This innocent joy is given vent in all the fairs and festivals of the land. This is also the secret of the different castes festivals of each other and contributing to a truly cosmopolitan life.