Vishu Festival (Kerala, India) and the Biblical parable of Talents

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Vishu and Onam are two festivals celebrated in Kerala Indiawhich lies between 8 and 13 degrees (approx.) north of the equator. Therefore the sun would be at the zenith in April on its apparent northward movement, and again in August on its southward movement. These two events are celebrated as Vishu and Onam respectively, which also explains why there is a 4 month difference between the two celebrations. In the celestial cycle, this would mean the beginning of four months of summer. Translated into practicalitiy, it would also mean the word ‘go’ to everyone to get to work and earn money by farming or commerce.

Vishu celebration is a joyous occasion that also reminds me of the parable of talents in the Bible. On Vishu the head of the family gives out gifts of money to all the household members! I would like to think that this was intended as a bounty to all able bodied persons as working capital for business! Now this activity has lost such a significance and is largely symbolic. Children still look forward to receiving a gift of money, but it is not too much to talk about.

For the benefit of readers who don’t follow the Biblical parable of Talents, let me explain that it is a story told by Jesus, which goes like this. Talents – a measure of gold in biblical times – are given out to servants before the master goes away for a long jaunt, without mentioning anything at all about what to do with them. Now, after a long while the master comes back, and sure enough wants to see what happened to his talents. All servants had multiplied the supplied capital with commercial activities, except one, who chose to keep them under safe custody buried in a hole! The parable ends with the master proclaiming harsh punishment to the safe-keeper. This parable is widely understood to be a moral lesson in support of engaging in activities to expand one’s available capital and resources and as a strong indictment of laziness. Normally one would imagine that the safe-keeper did well, especially since nothing had been mentioned about what to do with the ‘talents’; but we are shocked to see this safe-keeper being punished! That is a surprising ending indeed, serving as an exaggeration of the negatives of laziness.

In order to make the astrological phenomena easily understandable, folklore and superstitions have been associated with them in every culture. In the case of Vishu too, there are countless stories involving gods and heroes.

I haven’t seen Vishu being looked at in this practival way anywhere else. I definitely hope to hear from my readers about this point of view.

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