Lakshmi Panduranga is a self-taught dollmaker, who makes dolls for Navaratri every year
Step into the hall and the dolls grab your eye. Dolls in every size from little figurines of Ganesha, the little bedecked umbrellas, the kalash (pot) with the devi’s face to the much larger figures of the Indian deities flanking the central figure of the Devi dressed in grand magenta silk holding her trishul aloft and blessing all those who have come to see her.
The goddess is seated on a large golden throne. She wears a bejewelled crown and several necklaces with an ornate braid draped over her shoulders. The deities surrounding her are immaculately dressed, shimmering away in their silk finery and colourful stone jewellery.
The pantheon stands against a dark green backdrop, pinned with flowers, folk figures and more silk. Silver lamps stand tall amidst the dolls, flowers, fruits and decorated plates.
The arrangement has been put together by Lakshmi Panduranga, a homemaker based in Basavanagudi. Lakshmi has made most of the dolls, their costumes and jewellery, including the thrones and the backdrop.
“I love celebrating Navaratri. I have been doing this for the past 20 years and every year, I decorate the goddess in a different avatar. This year the goddess has assumed the form of Manidweepavasini or the devi darbar. She is flanked by Lakshmi and Vishnu on the right and Brahma and Saraswati on the left. The deities Ganesha and Karthikeya are also placed on either side and below them stand Narada with sages on either side.”
“My mother used to make dolls since I was a child and she inspired me to take it up. She didn’t teach me how to make the dolls though. The craft, I think, runs in my blood.”
Lakshmi makes her dolls with wax and clay moulds using rice flour. She refers to the picture and draws the outline.
“I first create the faces. I paint over them and make the decorations using kundan stones. I then mount the face of the deity onto a lamp which I then use as a reference to tie the silk saris or robes.”
She carves out the deity’s hands and feet using thermocol which she again, decorates. “It usually takes me about two hours to get the shape of the head. I start the process about two months before Navaratri, and I take two days to put together the arrangement. The concept manifests in my head and it is all completely original.”
New and old
Sometimes Lakshmi makes new figures and other times, she redecorates the old ones. “So the collection builds up. Sometimes we exhibit the dolls at our family functions or at the Sangathi Samaj. We have also made calendars from the images which we distribute among family and friends.”
Lakshmi has given demonstrations of her doll making process at the Sangathi Samaj. “This has inspired many others to make their dolls at home. I consider what I do as service to the divine. “People usually buy readymade dolls but I feel like I am dedicating my talent to God. This is also my way of preserving our tradition and inspiring the next generation.”