Pune’s South Indian darbar of dolls in creative assembly for Navratri
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Pune’s South Indian darbar of dolls in creative assembly for Navratri

The Tamils call it ‘Bommai Kolu or Golu’, the Telugus call it Bommala Koluvu, while the Kannadigas call it Bombe Habba. It all involves a showcase of dolls on a series of odd-numbered steps. And it all is the celebration of Navratri, South Indian style

pune Updated: Sep 25, 2017 15:59 IST
Prachi Bari
Prachi Bari
Hindustan Times, Pune
Navratri,South Indian,golu
Uma Ganesh and her family perform the golu puja during at their house in Pune. Golu is the South Indian way of celebrating Navratri. (Pratham Gokhale/HT PHOTO)


The festive fervour of ‘Bommai Kolu or Golu’, which means an assembly or darbar of dolls in Tamil, is celebrated during Navratri among South Indian families.

Telugus call it Bommala Koluvu, while the Kannadigas call it Bombe Habba, which involves a showcase of dolls on a series of odd-numbered steps.

“These steps are symbolic of the various births we take in our quest to reach a divine status. So, the lowest step has all the things that come from mud - like plants, grains, fruits and vegetables; the second step has water animals like frogs, fish; the third has birds; the fourth, animals; the fifth, monkeys; the sixth, men as they are now in various professions; the seventh, great men and women like Mahatma Gandhi, Vivekananda, Mother Teresa; the eighth, avatars of gods like Rama, Krishna, Sita and the ninth one has gods like Ganesha and Durga,” informs Padmaja Shastri, resident of Hadapsar, who has been keeping the dolls for the last 18 years.

This festival is especially important for women and girls as on the nine days, nine forms of Shakti (power) are worshipped. The first three days are meant for Goddess Durga who symbolises power; the next three days are for Lakshmi, who is the goddess of wealth and the last three days for Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and learning - all these aspects are considered important for South Indians to succeed.

In the evenings, a lamp is lit in front of the golu and devotional hymns and shlokas are chanted. Those who can sing, sing, while those who can dance, dance. The religious significance apart, golu is a time for socialising, it is a time for meeting friends and relatives as well as a time to acquaint people of various regions and religions with South India’s cultural traditions.

Golu it is not all about tradition. It is also a time to showcase creativity in terms of arrangement and display of dolls. It is interesting how the same dolls become parts of different thematic scenes created on the floor around the steps.

“For the younger generation, the making of the golu steps is a time when they can show their creativity. Though dolls keep getting added every year, the placement of the dolls is always different. Sometimes, with the same set of dolls, they are able to showcase it in the current context,” explains R Savitha, resident of Wakad.

She also says that one cannot discontinue the tradition of golu once you have started it. “Unless something like a death happens in the family... even then the tradition is not discontinued, but kept in a small manner, maybe with only a few dolls and one step,” Savitha says. Usually, steps are arranged in an odd number pattern and the minimum is three steps.

In Ganesh and Uma Natarajan’s house in Kalyaninagar, Golu is an elaborate setup. “There are close to 40 different scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Village scenes, including a Ravana darbar, have over 800 dolls participating. These we have collected over 25 years from various parts of the country and from 18 countries in the world,” says Uma of her doll collection.

Padmaja has moved away from tradition in more ways than one. “For instance, when people come to see golu, it is customary to give them a bag containing tamboolam (betel leaves, betel nuts and one or two fruits), haldi-kumkum and a gift. The belief is that whatever you give, the devis sitting at your home these nine days will return it you. This is usually given to ladies and girls. Except the haldi-kumkum, I give the rest to the men and boys also,” she says.

First Published: Sep 25, 2017 15:58 IST