History & Culture

Flickering lamps of tradition

Bomma kolu. Photo: S. Mahinsha

Bomma kolu. Photo: S. Mahinsha   | Photo Credit: S.MAHINSHA


The practice of hosting Bommala Koluvu for Sankranti is on the wane, with the exception of a few families.

The penchant to perform a traditional Indian wedding that's long, ritualistic, full of glam and gaiety has been on the rise among our own younger lot and also those who are new to our culture. The same gusto is wanting when it comes to celebrating our festivals. The reason? Not far to seek. A wedding is a display of wealth in the garb of showcasing our culture. Festivals are within the confines of the family and, to a certain extent, the community. And when we are invading the shores abroad in droves, it is but natural for the second generation to shift gears and observe Mardi gras or Thanksgiving rather than carry a Sankranti tradition to a foreign land! It's only when our little desi US citizens, egged by their American friends, question us about ‘our Indian' culture does it strike us that we had buried a vital part of ourselves in the precincts of our grandmas' homes in disdain. We have a way out though-yes, we google as our kids ogle in amazement for our ignorance just to tell them what is what.

Back home, festivals have also a vogue syndrome. For instance, it is ‘in' to observe Karva Chauth and religiously take to Varalakshmi Vratam. The same cannot be said of Bommala koluvu, or showcasing of dolls, mostly replicas of gods and goddesses for three days commencing with Bhogi. While in Andhra Pradesh, the dolls are put up for show during Sankranti, elsewhere, the custom is adhered to during Navaratri.

Once upon a time, it was an ardent pastime for women and children to arrange the dolls in aesthetic, thematic fashion and invite neighbours and friends for a dekko. Evenings would be one rush with rustling silks and dazzling jewellery and women getting in and out of koluvu visits with hands full of tambulams. Each family would view the others' bommala koluvu, entertain one another with songs and move on to other such homes — in short, a social gathering.

The significance of putting up dolls during the period of Sankranti is rather logical. The Hindu almanac has it that the sun commences its northward (Capricorn – Gemini) journey (Uttarayanam) on Sankranti. The confluence of the previous Dakshinayanam and the Uttarayanam is considered to be auspicious to the gods (representing first half of the year) as well as forefathers who represent the second half of the year. Obsequies are mostly performed for ancestors and as a part of joyous celebration of a new period, mud/plaster of Paris replicas of gods and goddesses of all sizes and shapes, bright-hued are put up in a staircase fashion. The tiers are usually in odd numbers as custom would have it.

A designed or stark white cloth is thrown across the make-believe stairs. All the gods of the Hindu pantheon, including the Dasavatara, Ashtalakshmi, rishis, etc find a place on the tiers. They are placed in order of size and many take great care to carve themes with the dolls like for instance Brindavan with Krsna and gopi dolls in the raasleela posture.

The ‘Kailash' is made out of white cotton balls in a conical order to represent Himalayas and in a niche are placed Lord Shiva and Parvati. Tiny, instant gardens are grown on the floor on either side of the stairs on a layer of wet mud and a sprinkling of mustard seeds the previous night. Little green sprouts erupt turning the little space into a patch of green! Anything can be visualised within the greenery, say the Panchavati where a Sita doll is put amid deers, elephants, birds and such others. A Lakshmana stands guard on the outer ring!

The idea of putting up koluvu is symbolically viewed as ushering in the Uttarayanam with all the gods and goddesses who have formed a divine court within our home sending signals of protection and grace all through the year. Auspicious sweet dishes are cooked on all the three days as naivedyam to the gods at the koluvu and the prasadam is distributed to the visitors. An oil lamp is kept burning on the last step all through the three days.

Children are involved as happy helpers and in the process, the importance of our tradition gets instilled into them. Many a family still follows the custom, more so in the semi-urban areas and to a much lesser extent in metros. New sets of dolls are added every year.

By the way, peek into your neighbour's home to have a full view of ‘Bommala Koluvu'. It begins tomorrow.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 10:27:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/Flickering-lamps-of-tradition/article15518033.ece

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