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Last Updated Sunday October 22 2017 05:22 AM IST

This family is keeping a 300-year-old Onam tradition alive

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This family in Thiruvananthapuram is keeping a 300 year old tradition alive this Onam The colorful Onavillu. Photo: Natrajdr, (Wikipedia)

Onam is just a couple of days away and the preparations are in full swing to usher in the good times. 

The members of the Vaniyammoola Vilayil family in Karamana, Thiruvananthapuram are a busy bunch. This family, which migrated to erstwhile Travancore from Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu, has the rights to make the traditional and colorful 'Onavillu' offering at the famous Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple during Onam. 

Considered sacred by devotees, the 'villu' is a bow shaped wooden panel with paintings on both sides with themes like 'Ananthasayanam', the mythical serpent  Aanantha, 'Dashavataram', incarnations of Lord Vishnu, Sreerama Pattabhishekam, anointing of Lord Rama as King and so on. 

The demand for Onavillu has been increasing among devotees every year as they believe that it is auspicious to keep it at home and will bring prosperity.  According to the family, erstwhile king Marthanda Varma had given them the right for the 'Onavillu' dedication at the royal temple on the Onam day and they have been continuing the tradition for the last 300 years. 

After observing a rigorous 'vrata' (abstinence from worldly pleasures) for 41 days and reciting mantras, they make six pairs of 'Onavillu' to be dedicated to the deity.  They also make the ceremonial bow to be distributed among devotees according to the demand. 

Binu Kumar Achary, a senior family member, said work of the Onavillu for this year's ceremony is in the final stages. 

"As per custom, we used to keep the ceremonial bows at our family temple here for three days before they were taken to Sree Padmanabha Temple.  All six pairs of bows will be dedicated to Lord Padmanabha on Thiruvonam day morning," he told PTI. 

Besides Binu, four of his siblings are also involved in making the sacred bows. They all gather at their family workshop, shunning mundane pleasures and dedicate the whole period for its making, he said. Belonging to the Viswakarama community (artisans and sculptors), the family had played a key role in designing and carving the magnificent sculptures at the Padmanabha Temple during the time of its rebuilding in the 18th century. 

"According to the family history, King Marthanda Varma, who rebuilt the Padmanabha Temple in the present form, had brought and settled down our ancestors here," he said. The craftsman said the wood of mahogany or kadambu is used for the base panel. The wood is cut and chiseled into thin slabs of up to 4.5 feet length and paintings are done on it. Only natural dyes made of plant leaves, white sand, and finely powdered stones are used to make them. Varnish is the only chemical used to give the panel a final finishing. 

"The style of murals is adopted in the painting. But we are not following the traditions of Kerala murals but that of Tamil Nadu temple paintings," he said.  The Lord Padmanabha Temple shot to international fame after priceless treasures were found in its secret vaults in the year 2013. 

Lord Padmanabha is the presiding deity of the Travancore royal family which managed the shrine for a long time.  An architectural marvel, the temple witnesses heavy rush during Onam season. It has also become a major tourist spot in the state capital.

Also read: Travel | Your one-stop guide to traveling in Kerala during Onam

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