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‘Onavillu’: A spiritual tradition revered through the ages

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Sacred art: Craftsmen giving the final touches to ‘Onavillu’ .
Sacred art: Craftsmen giving the final touches to ‘Onavillu’ .

T. Nandakumar

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It is the busiest time of the year for the Vilayil Veedu household at Karamana here. The male members of the family are hard at work, giving the finishing touches to various models of the ‘Onavillu,’ a ceremonial bow that is offered to the deity at the Sri Padmanabha Swamy temple here as part of the annual rituals during Onam festival season. Considered a symbol of prosperity, the ceremonial bow is in great demand from devotees who take it home to be carefully preserved.

The art and craft of making the Onavillu is the sole preserve of the traditional artists of the Vilayil Veedu family at Karamana in Thiruvananthapuram.. The ‘Onavillu’ is a broad piece of wood, tapering on both sides, on which miniature paintings of Ananthasayanam, Dasavatharam, Sreerama Pattabhishekam, and Sreekrishnaleela are portrayed.

The consecration of ‘Onavillu’ at the temple is an age-old tradition that has continued over the years from the 16th century. The main artists who continue the work today include Umeshkumar, Binkumar, and Sudarsanan. The family members observe a 41 days penance prior to commencement of the work. The ‘villu’ is available in three measures — 4.5, 4 and 3.5 feet long and 6, 5.5 and 4 inches wide.

The wood of Kadambu, maruthu, jack fruit, and aanjili trees are preferred for making the ‘villu.’ The wood is cut to the required dimension before applying the colours. The red tassels used to adorn the ‘villu’ are made by the convicts in the central jail at Poojappura here.

The ‘villu’ are first offered to the family deity at the Valiya Veedu for three days. They are then taken to Sri Padmanabha Swamy temple on Thiru Onam day and displayed at the Natakasala before being offered to the deity. While the Ananthasayanam version of the villu is consecrated to Lord Padmanabha, the one with the Dasavathram painting is offered to Lord Narasimha and the ‘villu’ showing the Krishnaleela is dedicated to Lord Krishna.

The one with the painting of Sreerama Pattabhishekam is consecrated to the idol of Sree Rama. The ‘villu’ are removed on the third day. The Temple Trust then distributes the ‘Onavillu’ to devotees.

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