For generations, the tradition of making ‘Onavillu’ — a ceremonial bow that is part of the rituals observed during Onam season — has been followed religiously by the Vilayil Veedu family at Karamana here. They are immensely busy as the bows are in unprecedented demand among devotees.
With its bright hues and intricate artwork emblazoned on the wooden planks and tassels hanging off the ends, the craft demands much care and attention. The slabs of wood, generally made from Kadambu and Mahogany trees, are carefully cut into standard dimensions, ranging from 3.5 to 4.5 ft in length and 4 to 6 inches in breadth, depending on the pictures depicted on the plank.
The colours are used purposefully. While green signifies mercy and strength of the mind, red stands for love and courage, and yellow for knowledge. Natural dyes are utilised for depicting themes such as Ananthasayanam, Dasavathaaram, and Krishnaleela.
The legend that surrounds the ‘Onavillu’ is related to King Mahabali’s return to Kerala, the occasion of Onam celebrations. Lord Vishnu promised the King that the Lord could be seen only in the form of paintings and the divine architect, Vishwakarma, was bestowed with the duty of producing the pictures, leading to the birth of the ceremonial ritual during Onam.
The bows, once prepared, are first offered to the deity at Vilayil Veedu, and then they are taken to the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple on Thiruvonam Day.