CNY v. Vishu

The only bit of vishu I witnessed in kochi this year were these left over flowers!

I distinctly remember a day about two years ago; when I found out that my Economics-tutor was married to a person whose parents hailed from the same state in India as my parents. However, the memory of my own amazement is blurred by that of my dear friend’s later proclamation (to anyone who would listen), ‘Anju and Ms. Lim are relatives’.

However my first Vishu spent in Kerala makes me ponder whether the differences in the cultures of both our races are limited after all. It started out that Vishu afternoon when for some reason (or no reason), my brain started tabulating the similarities between Vishu and Chinese New Year (CNY). The similarities baffled me, but underlying all that was a twinge of guilt knowing the fact that I was more familiar with CNY than Vishu.

For starters, both these festivals mark the beginning of a new year in these cultures and they fall pretty close by (ok, about 2 months apart!). And both cultures have their reasons to celebrate, have their own set of functions and superstitions surrounding the event. Although I am no expert on either of these festivals, I decided to write this to consolidate my own knowledge, and acquire some more along the way.

One of the first things I hit on was the one thing that endears the younger generations to these festivals ~ the pocket money they collect from the elders. The tiny inconsequential detail that the Malayalees call it ‘Vishu-kaineetam’ and the Chinese term it ‘Ang-Bao’ (or ‘the red packet’ as my friends tell me!) does not negate the fact that children from both the cultures hop around from one relative to the next for this addition to their pocket money and later choose to brag about the amount they managed to amass (the word ‘received’ just would not have done justice to that euphoric feeling of accomplishment that only one who has lived that experience can comprehend!)

<Take a break from my ramblings, watch this Indian Ad that I like, it talks about how money is more than just a currency in India –

Or.. continue reading>

In a Chinese family the festival precedes a lot of spring cleaning since sweeping during or right after CNY means sweeping all the wealth and prosperity for the year. The beautiful thing about CNY is that it is filled with symbolic references all of them generally have to do with wealth, proseperity and longevity. Each ingredient of the Yusheng – I was once told – is filled with symbolic meaning. In the Malayalee household, the mother generally prepares a kani for her family. The kani has various objects –vegetables, the image/idol of Lord Krishna, some other objects and sometimes a mirror. Vishu begins with the mother waking up her family in the morning and blindfolding them and walking them to the kani, so that the first thing they set their eyes on is the auspicious kani, in order to have a bright year ahead.

Both (Vishu and CNY) are occasions for the families to re-unite at the end of a busy year. It is more than anything a family get-together. It is a time to strengthen the familial bonds; a time to catch up on each others’ lives. If there’s one saying that both the Chinese and Indians believe it would be ‘blood is thicker than water’. Family forms an integral part of the individual’s life in both the cultures.

And both these occasions see a flood of new movies being screened on the TV that would provide for a great form of amusement when the families laze around the television after a heavy meal. Food, of course, forms the most important part of the whole festival (I for one, have my favourite dishes from both these events).

The two festivals have their own theme colour for the occasion. While for the Chinese it is the red ~ to ward off the evil spirits, the Malayalees tend to use a lot of konna-poovu during this season ~ thus, rendering a yellow colour to the occasion.

While some Malayalees spend the evening playing card games, the Chinese prefer to play Mah-jong.

All in all, there are all these similarities but each similarity has its distinctness that ensures its uniqueness. What I can only postulate from this list of similarities I have derived is that maybe at first glance, my Chinese friends and I do not seem to have a lot in common, but at the end of the day we are similar in spite of all our distinctness and uniqueness!

(The author apologises if any of the details mentioned here is fallacious as she has never truly and completely experienced CNY or Vishu in its entirety and has had to base this on her limited knowledge and little tid-bits from her childhood memories of Vishu at her friends’ places or the 4 CNYs that she has seen in Singapore.)

3 Responses to “CNY v. Vishu”
  1. Vijay Shenoy says:

    Keep writing… cheers

  2. Vinay says:

    Recently i too have been intrigued by the similarities which kicked off after noticing “hang bao” and comparing with “vishu kaineetam” .
    It got me thinking around some other Chinese influences seen in Kerala ,
    – Chinese Fishing nets used in Kochi
    – The temple architecture in Kerala seems pretty much Chinese influenced , its unlike the temples in Tamil Nadu.
    – There are similarities being drawn between Sabarimala and Buddhist traditions.

    Quite possible that there was a long term Chinese influence in Southern India , which just missed the interest of historians.

    • annajohn says:

      Haha, I like the possibility you mention.

      There’s something else I have noticed, the ‘cheena chatti’ we use was probably influenced by the chinese wok!


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