Centuries old festival of dolls remains integral to Dasara in Karnataka
Mysuru/Bengaluru Nazarbad is a quaint locality, about two kilometres from the famed Mysuru Palace lit up in its glory, with most of its residents seated on the roads, no wider than 10 feet, chatting away with the neighbours. Amid a power outage in the area, one building stands out in the darkness: Bombe Mane or the dollhouse.
Every Dasara, a festival organised in the state since the times of Maharajas to celebrate Goddess Durga’s victory against the demons, the unique art of dolls representing the rich heritage of Indian culture comes to life. Customers take their time in this shop, bedazzled by the vivid colour and collection of craftsmanship on display.
“The culture of dolls began during the Vijayanagar Empire and came into Mysore (now Mysuru) after Raja Wodeyar took to the throne in 1610,” RG Singh, the secretary of Ramsons Kala Pratishtana that runs the Bombe Mane told Hindustan Times.
A Rajput by origin, Singh’s forefathers were brought to Mysuru by 18th-century ruler Tipu Sultan. He is part of several small yet significant groups that represent Karnataka’s rich cultural heritage.
Dasara dolls or Bombe is a common sight in most households in Karnataka, especially during the ten days of Dasara. The main dolls of the festival are a pair depicting a husband and wife and figurines of various deities. This festive display of dolls is known as Golu.
Each family or individual choose a theme or ensemble to display with a mix of deities, persons in different occupations and a doll from one of the various mythologies.
Singh said that different festivals support a different kinds of occupations like the buying of agricultural produce during Sankranti. He said that the Bombe Habba (doll festival) supports artisans and pot makers involved in making them.
“During my grandmother’s time, we didn’t have the kind of readymade collapsible ‘steps’ you get in the market today. So I remember my mother and grandmother made use of anything available at home to build the steps – which always had to be in odd numbers – like bricks, books, planks, etc. They would then start by keeping the kalasam (metal pot) first, followed by the marapaachi bommais (rosewood dolls), and then arrange the other dolls, of which the dasavatharam set and the old Chettiyar couple was a must,” said Nithyashri Govind, retired school teacher, who religiously celebrates this festival.
She added that there was a culture to sow mustard seeds either on the floor on top of a sheet or a tray and watch as the seeds sprung into the grass during that time. “Once the ‘grassland’ was ready, we’d add sand and make a small pond and add animal figurines to it. After I got married, my sister-in-law started keeping a more elaborate set-up and would even pick particular scenes from the Ramayana etc as the theme of that year’s Golu,” she added.
“These toys represent the culture of the people, which they worship, including occupations, deities and recreations of historical events,” NV Narasimaiah, a Bengaluru-based historian said.
There is also a culture of buying a pair of dolls of the king and consort, as a way of keeping in touch with the royalty and prosperous past in their homes and to pass the heritage on to the next generation.
However, over the years, different styles of doll making and models have seeped into the culture, allowing the traditional industry and its practitioners to sustain their way of life.
Singh said that there was a factory where their store stands today since they were forced to move their manufacturing operations from a residential area.
History has it that Tipu Sultan had moved his palace when he took over as the ruler of Mysuru and set up a Mint in this locality, which came to be known as “Nazarbad”, which means gold in Persian.
Historians attribute the introduction of various doll making styles to Tipu Sultan, who had brought in these from Persia. However, there is no documented evidence to show the connection.
These included the famed Channapatna toys, which has a market globally now. Professor Narasimhaiah said that though there is a varied version of Tipu’s contribution to this form of art, it is clear that the 18th-century ruler of Mysore “did not destroy the worship of dolls.”