During the festival of Navaratri in South India, it is customary in the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, as well as in some Tamil communities within Sri Lanka, to celebrate the festival of dolls.This festival known as Kolu / Golu in Tamilnadu, Bombe Habba in Karnataka and Bommala Koluvu in Andhra Pradesh is celebrated with great pomp and show in South India. This is an exhibition of various dolls and figurines in odd numbered steps.
When people come to a person’s house to see the Golu, usually they are given Prasadam (the offering given to God that day), Kumkum and a small bag of gifts. These are only given to girls and married women. In the evenings, a Kuthuvilakku (traditional brass lamp) is lit in the middle of a decorated Kolam / Rangoli, before the Golu, and devotional hymns and Shlokas are chanted. After performing the Puja, the food items that have been prepared are offered to the goddesses.
Golu is adorned with dolls, predominantly with the dolls of Hindu gods and goddesses depicting Hindu mythology. It is a traditional practice to have at least some wooden dolls. There should also be a figurine of a boy and a girl together called Marapacchi Bommai.
The homespun charm of Golu during Navaratri in South India is primarily due to the display of awe-inspiring varieties of colourful dolls(Bommai). The delicate things are made of soft earth and glow with glaze, gold pigments, colours, motifs and designs. The Golu dolls are seasonal showpieces made to grace the home only during these auspicious days and are displayed as a festive collection.
In former centuries, Navaratri dolls were made by craftsmen from Vandipalayam, near Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu. The Kullalar community of potters made fine dolls using clay from the banks of River Kedilam which had the right amount of sand and clay deposits suited for fashioning these intricate dolls. Colourful clay dolls were initially painted with vegetable dyes. In modern times, plastic colours contribute to their sheen.
The dolls of any Golu are a combination of religious, mythological and secular character. Animals and plants form a part of the Golu too. While the top tiers of a Golu are meant for figures of gods and goddesses (The Dasavataram dolls, Arupadaiveedu Murugan dolls, the Ashtalakshmi or eight goddesses are hugely popular), saints, singers, poets like Thyagaraja or Muthuswami Dikshitar are also displayed.
There are also large number of dolls of shopkeepers, merchants like the Chettiar and Chettitichi dolls, a wedding procession, a cricket team playing on a field, pretty vegetable sellers, farmers, flower sellers.
The odd nationalist figures like Gandhi or Nehru Topi too can be spotted standing somewhere in the steps. Kondapalli wooden Raja-Rani dolls called Marapachi dolls are a must in every Golu collection. The bottom steps and the floor around the Golu space are earmarked for clay dolls, wooden dolls and toys, and rag dolls as well.
Choppu or a children’s kitchen set and doll houses are also displayed to please the little girls of the families. With lovely lights sparkling and in the glow of silver oil-lamps, incense and fragrance of Agarbattis and floral offerings, the dolls of any Golu add beautiful colour to the Navaratri celebration. Here are some pictures of this colourful ,delightful festival.