Thanuja Srinivasan’s elaborate kolus see more than a 100 people visiting her every day

Recently, when Thanuja Srinivasan saw someone selling smiling plastic cows for Rs. 20 each in Town Hall, she bought six of them. Then, she spotted a plastic dining set with matching chairs. She bought that too.

The cows are now part of an elaborate maatukottai set she has put up for this year’s kolu, and the dining tables and chairs grace the Raja Rani wedding set.

For 18 years, Thanuja’s kolu at her Amman Nagar home has been the talk of town. More than a 100 people visit her each day to admire a kolu put together with a lot of love, creativity and hard work.

A portion of Thanuja’s living room has been converted into a village with fields, a sandhai and even a temple tank. A corner resembles Mount Kailash with snowy peaks (created using cement and salt) and meditating sadhus. A tribal settlement occupies another nook, with people roasting meat over a spit and dancing around a fire.

The centre of attraction, though, is her nine-step kolu, featuring heirloom bommais and the traditional marappachi bommais. The wooden kolu padi is more than 75 years old and Thanuja acquired it when someone gave away their bommais and kolu sets.

Thanuja’s kolu has been put together with ingenuity. For the tribal settlement, she made dwellings using hay; for the maatukottai, she created cowdung cakes using mehndi; she converted a discarded homa kundam into a temple tank with steps. Now, a couple of fish swim inside.

When Thanuja got married, she was given 101 bommais as seer. She added them to the existing bommais in her marital home. Then, she began collecting more. “The street side shops are my biggest hunting ground,” she laughs. “When I visit Chennai, I keep a sharp lookout for miniature things. My mother scolds me even now!” But, she has kept at it and today Thanuja has more than a thousand dolls, which are unpacked out of 40 cartons.

Every year, Thanuja visits the bommai makers and sellers who set up shop near Perur. This year, she found what she had been searching for long — an 18-piece Siddhar set and the tribal set. “I’ve always dreamt of a Kailash set with meditating sadhus, and an adivasi theme,” she says.

Thanuja has also made flowers using discarded plastic water bottles. “I make them through the year, and find a place for them in the kolu,” she says.

Preparations for the kolu start at least 15 days before. That’s when she draws up a list of possible themes. Two days before kolu, her family unloads the 40 cartons from the loft. The wooden padi is bolted into place. Designs take shape in Thanuja’s mind and she sets aside the bommais she wants to use this year. The rest are carefully packed away. Then she mixes and matches, creating sets, sometimes adding matching posters on the walls.

This year’s main theme is Go Green. There are fields with paddy, small gunny sacks of harvested paddy and a tractor taking the grain to the market. “I like to showcase everything that is possible in a concept. It takes time, but I love doing it,” she says.

As we walk out, the neighbourhood kids walk in. “Dei, this is what Aunty was making the other day. See how different it looks now,” says a boy, pointing to a golden chariot.

During kolu, Thanuja makes about a kg or two of sundal. When that gets over, there’s pottukadalai podi or kadalai mittai to the rescue. Sometimes, she ends up leaving the kolu for as much as 13 days when friends ask her to wait till they come along.

“That allows me to spend extra time with my bommais. Dismantling the sets and putting away the bommais is the saddest part about the kolu. Sometimes, azhugaya varum,” she sighs.

If you want to see her kolu, call her 0422-2410647 or 97902-60038.