God’s own country is a well-deserving name given to Kerala. With its lush landscapes and dazzling backwaters, the state features in the bucket list of most travellers. Besides being a picturesque getaway, Kerala is also inhumed with a rich history of various cultural practices, making it a profound destination to explore.
Among its many prosperous tangible and intangible heritages is the craft of Olakkuda- the making of Palmyra leaf umbrellas. This historical craft was once the symbol of high status and was used by the Nambudiris (Kerala Brahmins) and Syrian Christians. The traditional Umbriel is a Malabari craft, popularly practised by locals across the state. The face of these umbrellas has changed over time and now includes both handmade ones and those that are mass-produced.
There are about 15 different types of Olakkuda, but the five varieties which are widely used and popular in Kerala are the vallikuda, thoppikuda, marakkuda, ambalakkuda, and onakkuda. Each of these variants differs in size and weight while the shape remains almost similar for all. The popular umbrella which is made up of dry palm leaves, bamboo, and cane has many purposes other than just providing shade. It is a display of extraordinary talent, artistry, and precision carried out from the past. However, with the arrival of cloth umbrellas, this home-grown artisanal asset is sadly becoming a thing of the past.
Olakkuda holds high significance during the land's most exuberant celebration, Onam, when the demand for these umbrellas soars tremendously. To make the younger generation aware of their cultural heritage and keep the craft alive, Kerala's art and culture NGO, Folkland had held a festival to signify the cultural importance of these hand-crafted umbrellas. The festival also customized some of the traditional umbrellas, making them foldable so that they are easy to carry and could be used by today’s generation.