An integral part of Kerala`s Onam festivities in Thiruvanthapuram is the making of the Onavillu(the bow). The Onam are considered a symbol of prosperity. They are ibroad piece, of wood, tapering on both sides, on which miniature paintings of Ananthasayanam, Dasavatharam, Sree Rama Pattabhishekam, and Sreekrishna leela are portrayed. The bow is offered to the city’s ruling deity Lord Sree Padmanabha Swamy as part of the annual ceremonies of the Onam festivities.
The art and craft of making this ceremonial bow is the sole preserve of the male, members of the Vilayil Veedu family at Karamana in Thiruvananthapuram. The family member observe a 41 day penance before the commencement of the work. The wood of Kadambu, maruthu, jackfruit and aanjili trees are cut in the required dimension, that is, 4.5ft, 3.5ft and 3ft in length, before being painted on. The villu are adorned with red tassels.
There is a very interesting legend behind the Onavillu related to King Mahabali and his tryst with Vamana. When he was being pushed down into earth by Vamana, King Mahabali requested him to reveal his true identity, upon which Lord Vishnu appeared before him. King Mahabali requested that he allowed to visit his beloved land every year and also that he would be able to see the Lord during the visit. Pleased by the King’s nobility, Lord Vishnu granted him the boon, but said that King Mahabali would be able to see him and his avatars only in the form of painted images. The divine architect Lord Vishwakarma was summoned to do the painting of Dasavatharam on pieces of Kadambu wood.Thus was born the Onavillu, even today put on display every year for King Mahabali to see. Each villu is dedicated to one diety: 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 and Sreerama Pattabhishekam to Sree Rama.
The consecration of the Onavillu at the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple is an age-old tradition that has continued over the years from the 16th century. The ‘villu’ are first offered to the family deity at the Vilayil Veedu for three days. They are then ceremoniously taken to Sri Padmanabha Swami temple on Thiruvonam day and displayed at the Natakasala before being offered to the deity. On the third day, the Onavillu are distributed to the devotees.