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Attractive Age-old practice
Attractive Age-old practice

Kolu Padis continue to carry on the tradition in most of the households, writes S. AISHWARYA

Yet another year of regaling kids with stories about the colourful dolls displayed on the ‘padis,’ covered with impeccably bleached dhotis, has rolled by. The dolls would have to wait for 12 months now to get rejuvenated again with freshpaints and scented oils and take the centre-stage on the ‘kolu padis’.

For homemakers, packing the dolls after ‘Navarathiri’ is as hectic as arranging them before the festival. Crushed packing papers would be replaced with fresh ones and placed in wooden chest, cushioned with straws. “Navarathiri period is always very demanding. But no one minds it,” says Archana Ramanathan, who has filled the seven-stepped ledge with carefully arranged decades-old dolls inherited from her mother-in-law.

With working women straddling two worlds splurging time on elaborate ‘kolu’ has ceased to be a possibility. But women aren’t giving it up altogether.

A pleasure

“It is all about time management. I get the dolls ready a week before Navarathri. Arranging the dolls, per se, takes not more than an hour. It is the preparations for the padis that guzzles a lot of time. My husband and children help me in making the padis,” says Radhika Srivatsan, a management executive in a city-based outsourcing centre.

Are the towering padis of grandma’s time getting restricted within showcases alone? Not really, if one gets to see the astounding display of dolls at Sudha Gopalakrishnan’s home in Srirangam. From the quaint Ganesha idols to non-religious Chettiyar dolls, her 11-step display of the dolls talks volumes about her hard work.

Stepping into the huge hall leads one into a world of folklore, fables and mythical histories. Even as one is stumped by the magnificence of the main display, a lush of greenery beside it beckons you.

“These are artificial lawns on which I have created a Gokulam,” promptly explains Mrs. Sudha. Gokulam, where Lord Krishna spent his childhood, is depicted in its pristine best. From the birth of Krishna in the prison to his ‘rasaleelas,’ the whole story unfurls through 50-odd dolls.

What makes it more charming are the interesting camouflages of furniture and household sets in creating Gokulam. The wooden tea-stand dons the role of prison with an addition of an entrance gate made with cardboard. Cutleries wrapped in green sheets made up for the trees. The ‘gopikas’ and ‘Vasudev’ were brought as separate dolls on different occasions and brought together on the Kolu padi to narrate a grand mythology.

“She works all through the year to collect the dolls. Wherever she finds curios, she tries fitting them into any of the sets to make it more detailed,” says a visitor to her ‘kolu.’


Gokulam apart, Sudha created Tirupati in a small hall with its popular celebrations — from Brahmotsvam to weddings on the hill town. The miniature culinary assortments or ‘choppu’ in copper, brass and German silver found space on an exclusive five-step platform.

“They are century-old play things for girls. It is a traditional way of introducing girls to household management through play-way method,” she details.

As one exits, the glittering crystal chessboard, with ‘Chettiyar bommai’ and his spouse on either side of it, courts attention. Besides the board, other indoor games like ludo with golden-plated dices on it, ‘pallankuzhi’ filled with cowries, and carom with crystal coins– are all displayed in miniaturized form.

Soundarya, who had earlier planned to restrict the ‘kolu’ to a single padi, had to make it bigger for her five-year-old daughter. “She was very much interested in elaborate kolu. I had to lower the wooden trunk from the loft for more dolls. But then no opportunity can be better than this to narrate fables and mythical stories for my daughter. Dolls are best story tellers,” she says.

Costly affair

With the cost of varnish and paints scaling exorbitant heights, purchasing kolu sets have become a pricey affair too. “A litre of varnish has shot up from Rs. 60 to Rs. 110 in a year. It is impossible to fix the prices of the dolls at a constant rate year after year,” says V. Chinnadurai, a doll maker from Tiruvanaikoil.

Smallest among the lots, the one-and-half inch dolls are the hottest attraction every year. Despite new introductions of multi-hued Plaster of Paris dolls with tinges of glitters speckled on them, clay dolls remain unbeatable in terms of sales.

“Navarathiri is all about multiplying happiness. The festival is to spread goodness and benevolence. That’s the reason why we distribute ‘sundal’ and gifts to the neighbours,” Ms. Sudha says. So why fume over the extra padis and bigger park set of your neighbour? After all, the spirit of Navarathiri lingers in harmony and goodwill.




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