In spite of an increasingly pan-Indian population, Chennai still celebrates Navarathri with a dazzling array of kolus.
Chennai is one great melting pot these days. The city has embraced panneer, chapattis and bhel puri with the fondness reserved for idli, dosa and thayir sadam (curd rice). With its pan-Indian population, Navarathri, which in Chennai meant kolu (display of dolls), pattu pavadais (silk skirts for young girls), a platform for budding musicians to display their talents at the homes of the hosts and an opportunity for women to network socially and go visiting each other, today also includes the Dandiya and Durga Puja in equal measure.
Says Vijayalakshmi Hariprasad, entrepreneur, who has been organising a Dandiya as a fund raiser for the Rotary club of Ambattur for several years now, “I feel that in South India we are definitely more open to cross-cultural influences and Dandiya is now an integral part of the calendar of many South Indians . Not the entire crowd that comes to these do-s is North Indian or Gujarati and many South Indian guests go out of their way to dress the ethnic, Gujarati way and learn the dance moves and make sure they are having as much of a good time as their Gujarati counterparts.”
And what is heartening is that it is not only the desis but also the expats who are soaking in the festive ambience.
Ranjini Manian, CEO of Global Adjustments Services Pvt. Ltd., a relocation services company, organises a kolu annually, to which a large number of expats are invited. “Overall I do see kolu as a great time for social interactions. Music is the essence of kolu so I have always had live music performances at kolus. This year we are even doing a Dandiya and Bollywood dance class in the spirit of Durga and a talk on the LSD principle (Lakshmi Saraswathi Durga).”
Time to shop
Navarathri is also a good time to shop for all those shimmering, resplendent silks. Mr. K. Rajaram of Sundari Silks says about 30 to 40 per cent of his annual sales is generated during this time as people consider this an auspicious time to buy silks and jewellery.
Kolus are also held at places like the Geeta Bhavan and Khadi Gramdyog Bhavan etc and Durga Puja is organised by the various Bengali Associations in the city.
What really appeals to Dipankar Lahiri, executive in a Multinational company and a true-blooded Bengali, about Durga Puja in Chennai is the fact that the celebrations are much more “homely”. “In West Bengal the crowds at these functions are simply over powering,” he notes .
“There is a huge revival of interest in traditions and customs, possibly because people are getting tired of mall cruising and the fast food culture,” feels Sujatha Shankar, a Chennai-based architect, and a Maharashtrian by birth whose ancestors moved to Thanjavur in the South after Shivaji’s time .
According to her there is so much of osmosis happening. “Setting up of the kolu is a very therapeutic experience for me,” she confesses. Interestingly, many of the dolls that she uses in her kolu are heirlooms from her grandmother and include dolls of Indian Gods made in Britain. “They are very British in their rendering and in the colours used, unlike Indian dolls which are in earth colours.”
The breakdown of the joint family, of course, has left the lady of the house shouldering a great deal of responsibility during this season. Lalitha Sreenivas, who has been setting up a kolu and following all the traditions year after year, has a more scaled-down version in her puja room these days. She is saddened that today kolu has become less personal and people even have professional ushers receiving and seeing off guests.
But, regardless of all that, these nine nights are a time for dolls, dolling up, for going visiting, for shaking a leg and other celebrations.