Mysore during Dussehra becomes a haven for doll-makers

My tryst with Mysore Dussehra starts in a small humble village called Belavatha located somewhere amidst the lush fields between Srirangapatna and Mysore. Walking along the narrow slushy lanes, I discover a mini Mysore recreated in the village by one family of artisans.

Murugesh Jayaram says he has been fascinated by monuments since he was sixteen, but his world is about miniatures. He sees a building and he immediately sets about creating a miniature version of it. His house is a workshop, filled with models of the Mysore Palace, the Lalit Mahal Palace, St Philomena Church, all carved in wood. Murugesh admits that he cannot even draw a straight line. “Sometimes, I just look at a building and it is embedded in my mind,” he says, adding that photographs help him work better. "Someday I would like to do a model of the Taj Mahal,” he says.

Murugesh’s miniatures are the show-stoppers this festive season in Mysore. He is one of the many artisans commissioned by RG Singh, who has brought the concept of Bombe Mane or house of dolls to Mysore. More than 5,000 dolls made by artisans across the country are on display. There is 82-year-old Chandramma from Koppal in Karnataka, Ranganath from Varanasi, Nageshwar Rao from Kondapalli in Andhra Pradesh, and Shivashanmugham from Mayavaram in Tamil Nadu, among others. The dolls are made of clay, wood and other material.

Amidst all the gods and goddesses is a celebration of Mysore. Murugesh’s palaces stand in the centre with soldiers guarding the gates. The smallest model is about six inches high while the largest stands at 12 feet.

I meet Vinay from Royal Mysore Walks, who organises an artisan tour, among other tours, and he connects me to Raghu and RG Singh, who are now creating a replica of the 1939 Mysore Dussehra procession. Displayed at Bombe Mane, the Jumbo Savari includes 2,000 dolls, carefully recreated from old photographs and postcards to get the style and look right. “The doll-making industry in Mysore is almost dying and we have actually commissioned an artist from Jaipur for this,” says Raghu. I see almost 700 dolls and a huge idol of the goddess Annapurni. I learn that Singh was inspired when he saw people sitting on the ghats at Varanasi, which reminded him of dolls arranged on steps.

The dolls are displayed throughout the Navratri-Dussehra season and Bombe Mane is thronged by local people who buy these for their homes. “Mysore has so many craftsmen and we hope to keep the tradition alive,” says Singh, as I pick up a wooden doll displaying the fury of Chamundeshwari.