THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Who hasn’t heard of the ‘Onavillu,’ the flat, red-painted, tapering wooden bows depicting the ‘Ananthasayanam’ and other scenes from Hindu mythology? But this Onam, there’s something new. The ‘Cheru Onavillu,’ a miniature version which is just a foot in length.
Also called the Pallivillu, the bow traditionally comes in six versions; the Ananthasayanam which is 4.5 feet long, the Dasavatharam, Sree Ramapattabhishekam and Sree Dharma Sastha which are four-feet long and Vinayakan and Sree Krishna Leela which stand 3.5 feet long. Craftsmen of the Vilayilveedu family at Melarannur, Karamana, the traditional manufacturers of the Onavillu, offer the bows to the deity at the Padmanabha Swamy Temple on Thiruvanom day.
“This year, we are introducing the ‘Anantha Chaitanya Villu’ or the Cheru Onavillu which is just a foot long. This is ideal for offices, shops and houses where space is a problem,” Binkumar Achari said. On Thiruvonam day, 12 bows - they come in pairs - will be taken to the temple as offerings.
On Wednesday morning, the craftsmen of Vilayilveedu posed with some of the finished bows. Traditionally, the family prepares the bows using kadambu or mahogany wood. “In the olden days, natural colours were used to paint the bows. Now they are difficult to obtain, so we use colours used for the ‘Kalamezhuthu’ ritual,” Sulabhan Achari said.
It’s said the bow-making has been in the family for centuries. Do they ever change the paintings? “Never,” says Binkumar. “For artists in general, repetition is taboo. But, for us, it is a blessing. You can’t change tradition, can you?” he says.
The youngest of the craftsmen is Ananthapadmanabhan, a school student.
There are years when the family made around 1,500 bows. In the recent past, these craftsmen were also involved in a tiff with the officialdom of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple, that decided to outsource the bow-making.
But that controversy is more or less dead and buried now, they said on Wednesday.