‘Onavillu’ is a ceremonial bow with painting and is dedicated to the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram on the day of Thiruvonam. Stories from Puranas are inscribed on the Onavillu, also known as ‘Pallivillu’. The right to create this has been bestowed on the Karamana Melarannoor Vilayil Veedu family. The family traditionally occupied a significant position in the temple and were the Vasthu experts associated with it.
It is possible that Onavillu could be one of the oldest temple rituals in Kerala and is believed to be as old as the Padmanabhaswamy temple itself. The dedication of Onavillu has briefly stopped, but was re-introduced in 1424 AD during the reign of Veera Iravi Varma. In 1731, when king Marthanda Varma of Travancore renovated the temple Anandapadmanabham Moothasari of Vilayil Veedu was the ‘Sthapathy’ of the temple. There is even a small sculpture of the Moothasari at the eastern entrance of the temple.
The legend of Onavillu is linked to Mahabali. When Vamana revealed his true identity through vishwaroopa, Mahabali requested lord Vishnu to show all his 10 avatars and related stories. At this point, Vishnu summoned Vishwakarma Devan. It is believed that it was Vishwakarma who first created the Onavillu. Lord Vishnu also promised Mahabali to create the avatar paintings through Vishwakarmars from time to time every year and show him. This is the legend behind Onavillu.
Onavillu is made using the wood obtained from kadamba and mahagani trees. The lengths of Onavillu are three-and-a-half feet, four feet and four-and-a-half feet. The design of the same is modelled on the boat on which the ‘thazhikakudam’ of the temple is placed. A total of 12 onavillus or one pair each are made. These include Dashavatharam villu, Ananthashayanam villu, Sreerama Pattabhishekam villu, Krishaleela villu, Sastha villu and Vinayaka villu. Natural colours are used in painting these. The family observes abstinence for 41 days during the creation of Onavillu. The dedication of Onavillu happens around 5 am in the morning. It is received in a grand way in front of the temple. Each pair is then dedicated to different idols in the temple. There also used to be a percussion instrument named Onavillu in the past made using the wood of coconut tree.