Avani Avittam, as I remember, was a day when the men of the family went to the temples, in the morning for performing the Upakarma, in the temples. Upakarma(/upaakarma/) means beginning or “Arambham“, i.e. to begin the study of the Veda (Veda Adhyayanam). For example, Yajur Upakarma means to begin the study of the Yajur Veda. Those belonging to the Yajur Veda observe the Upakarma in the month of Sravana (August-September), on the day of the full moon (paurnami). Why begin study of the Vedas on this particular day? This auspicious day also happens to be the day when Lord Narayana assumed the avatar of Lord Hayagriva. Lord Hayagriva as we all know restored the Vedas to Brahma and also is the God of Knowledge. (Courtesy – Ramanujam.org)
The next question is: why do this every year? In the not too distant a past, Veda Adhyayanam was performed only during the period Avani to Tai (from mid-August to mid-January). Therefore, one is supposed to perform an “utsarjanam” in the month of Tai, i.e., a giving up of the learning of Vedas from Tai to Avani. Just like a Upakarma function there was a Utsarjana function in Tai. The period between January to August was then devoted to learning other branches of our shastras. Thus the cycle of Upakarma and Utsarjana with regard to Vedic studies was established. However, this method took 12 or more years to learn just one veda. Slowly this became impractical and Vedic studies continued throughout the year.
The main purpose of the Upakarma function is to offer prayers and express our gratitude to those rishis who gave us the Vedas — the rishis through whom the Vedic mantras were revealed. These rishis are known as “kaanda rishis”.In the Upakarma Homam as well as in the tarpanam, the offerings are made to the kaanda rishis. In fact this tarpanam is so important that it is included as part of our daily worship.
On the Avani Avittam day(the full moon day bearing the nakshatra “Avittam” in the tamil month of Avani) Brahmins after a holy dip ,change the sacred thread and wear a new holy thread. This ritual is known as Upakarma, which means beginning. The sacred thread is referred as ‘Poonool,’ ‘Yajnopavita’ or ‘Janeyu.’
Today`s lunch menu was a little spread, consisting of:
Vishu – the dawn of the new month of Chitrai also celebrated as Tamizh Puthandu or the Tamil New Year`s Day in Tamil Nadu has been a very special occassion inour family. Many of our ancestors had roots in kerala, so many of our cultures and practises have been handed down from them over the years. Although my parents have been born and brought up in Tamil Nadu, we do follow Vishu on April 14`th ever year.
Vishu symbolises the fact that you need to start right and have the whole year right. What we see on the first day of the new year has to be pure, auspicious and signify abundance and good fortune. Hence the custom of opening one`s eyes to Vishukkani – that which is seen first on Vishu. The preparations for Vishu starts in our home almost a month ahead. All the waste in the house is gotten rid of and cleaned and made pure. Homes are cleaned and painted in anticipation of the oncoming new year.The pooja rooms are also cleaned and the pictures of the Gods wiped clean and decorated with the Kumkum and Chandan.
When I was in school, amma and me would go to Ranganathan street the evening before Vishu, and buy guavas, jackfruit bananas and yellow cucumber. I do not exactly know the significance of these particular fruits and vegetables, but I have heard that the “Kani” should signify auspiciousness through the yellow colour. Madurai amma would make the pooja room resplendent with her beautiful “maakolams” which are basically rangolis etched n the floor with a watery mix of ground rice paste and water. When they dry up after an hour, they look so beautiful on the marble floors. After we all go to sleep, Madurai amma would set up the Kani.
The centre of the Kani would be her lovely heavy mirror laden with a lovely gold necklace. Then she would keep two silver lamps ready with wicks in place and oil poured, right in front of the mirror. The mirror would also have a lovely jasmine garland adorning it, taking care that it does not disturb the sight in front. The mirror when seen on the morning of Vishu, signifies Devi and also the reflection of the things in front of the mirror, shows that these would be multiplied by her Grace.
A coconut would be broken exactly in half, and set one on either side of the mirror with a whole yellow lemon in it. Care should be taken that the lemons are as fresh as possible with no flaws or eyes. I am guessing the lemons and coconut signify prosperity and good tidings.
Madurai amma would then set two lovely silver cups one with raw rice and one with raw toor dha, also in front of the mirror. We pray t the Goddess that we shall be in abundance of rice and lentils always.
There would be smaller silver cups filled with silver coins, gold coins etc. Gold coins are symbols of monetary affluence, as well as cultural and spiritual wealth, which the elders of the family must share freely with the younger generation.
The Vishukkani is also laden with flowers, fruits as mentioned and some vegetables. We also keep chandan and kumkum in the Kani as it completes the preparation.
Madurai amma would wake up very early, light the lamps and the incense sticks and set everything ready for the rest of us to get up and see. She would then close our eyes and bring us to the Pooja room one by one. The significance is to look at such goodness and bounty, which will in turn render our lives with such goodness and bounty. As we open our eyes to drink in the beauty of the lamps, the fragrance of the jasmine, the jackfruit and the incese all in one, the sight we behold is as beautiful every year as if we see it for the first time. The reflection in the mirror only adds to the beauty of the grandeur already resplendant in all its glory. We would see the lemons, the coconuts, the coins, the gold and then finally prostrate to the Lord. After our bath in the morning, its customary to take the blessings of all the elders in the family, for the fulfillment of the new year.
Vishukkani spells out abudance – both spiritually and materially. Food, wealth, good fortune, knnowledge and light, should accompany us at all times. The wonderful sight we behold on the first day of the new year, must keep with us, all year and permeate our being.This year, I missed the jackfruit and jasmine, which is so charecteristic of my memories of Vishu…Nevertheless, I made my Vishu for my family, in true spirit, with the fruits and vegetables that I could get in here. My daughter was thrilled to see the Vishukkani in the morning….I saw her excitement on her face, and was instantly transported to some ten fifteen years ago….