Next year, if you want to adorn your kolus with dolls resembling idols of goddesses, ask Gomathy Srinivasan

Navaratri 2013 has become a sweet memory for many denizens in the city. The dolls for the kolu have all been arranged in boxes and put aside for the festival next year. However 78-year-old Gomathy Srinivasan is already making plans for the Navaratri next year. She is wondering and planning what to make for the ‘bomma’ kolu, because this grand old lady makes the main figurines herself.

From a distance, the figurine she makes could easily pass off as the idol of a goddess from a famed South Indian temple. Even as one looks fascinated at the well-defined features and the immaculate pleating and draping of the garment of the doll, one is amazed to learn that this true-to-life figurine of the goddess is the result of a two-day labour of love by Gomathy Srinivasan.

For Gomathy, making these figurines of goddesses has been her way of ushering in and celebrating the Navaratri festival for the past 15 years. Her dolls have been a star attraction in the ‘bomma kolus’ not just in her house, but also at her son’s home in Dubai.

The Tamil speaking community celebrate Navaratri with ‘bomma kolus’, an aesthetic arrangement of dolls.

The amiable Gomathy’s eyes light up as she explains the doll-making process. It begins with her cutting out pieces of cloth to make the different parts of the doll, sewing, stuffing and lining them with synthetic cotton and sponge. She uses a fabric called ‘disco cloth’ that is golden in colour and has a rubbery texture. Gomathy makes different kinds of dolls. While some rest on chairs, some stand upright. Various pieces of the doll are joined using wires.

The resplendence of the dolls depends on the carefully made visage and well-chiselled features. “I had them custom-made in metal from Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu years ago.” Six-yard or nine-yard saris are skilfully draped on to dolls. False hair or a black shawl completes the hair-do.

The dolls are then adorned with an assortment of jewellery including a crown, neckpieces, earrings, bangles, finger rings and anklets. Colourful beads, stones, sequins, cardboard and even a used x-ray film goes into making the ornaments! Painstakingly, she has made and built up a rich collection of accessories for her dolls. “Every time I see something new, I think of how best to use it for my dolls,” she says with child-like excitement.

In spite of age-related illnesses, Gomathy still does all tasks associated with making the dolls all by herself, as also its care the rest of the year. Over the years, she has recreated some of South India’s most popular goddesses such as Kanyakumari Devi, Madurai Meenakshi, Andal and Mookambika. After the Navaratri, the dolls are carefully dismantled and stored carefully in special boxes until the next year.

On passing this art to others, she says candidly, “I don’t know how to teach anyone; I just do it on cue.” Gomathy whose tryst at making dolls began in her 60s says she feels the presence of the goddess in them. “It is a divine blessing,” she smiles.