Being from Delhi, I only thought Navratris meant fasting and these were the nine days in which Gujaratis played Garba while Bengalis enjoyed visiting Durga Puja Pandals!
Travelling in India during festival time is thus always an eye-opener and gives me an opportunity to learn about various customs and traditions practiced in different regions of the Country.
And this time around I learnt about “Golu” – a “Toy/Doll” festival celebrated during the time of Navratri in Southern India, as I visited one of the Temples in the the temple town of Karaikal in Puducherry.
“Golu”, has a different name in each of the 4 South Indian states. It is also known as “Kolu or Bombe Habba” in Kannada language in the state of Karnataka, as “Bomma Gullu” in Malayalam language spoken in the state of Kerala, as “Bommai Kolu” in Tamil Nadu or “Bommala Koluvu” in Telugu language spoken primarily in Andhra Pradesh.
Most girls grow up playing with dolls and setting up doll houses and Golu festival seemed to me to be an extension of that very hobby as it is young girls and women who display dolls, figurines, scenes from everyday lives along with idols Goddesses Saraswati, Parvati and Laxmi.
It involves building a rack of odd-numbered shelves of Kolu (or Padi)- usually 3, 5, 7, 9, or 11, set up using wooden planks.
The Kolu is then covered with fabric and it is then adorned with various dolls, figurines and toys according to their size, with the deities at the top.
As per the traditions, the first dolls to adorn the Golu should be “Marappacchi”, a pair of male and a female dolls. You can see one such “couple” in this photo I have clicked. In earlier days it was done to make adolescents aware of gender morphology.
If you see carefully in the featured photograph above, you can also see a half-cropped head of the figurine of Gandhiji in the lowermost tier.
I learnt that there are many stories about the origin of Golu. One of them has a significant connection with agriculture. It is said that in order to encourage de-silting of irrigation canals, Golu was celebrated, so as to create demand for clay materials – that are then used to make all these dolls.
Golu is symbolic of the feminine power and symbolizes that everything on earth has one creator, the mother.
Whatever be the stories behind “Golu”. This insight into the Golu festival and marvelling at all these dolls I saw in front of me, reminded me of the famous quote by ‘Ibn Battuta’ that “Traveling—it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”
Indeed it does! So, travel, because, India is Calling!