Celebrating Navaratri with an elaborate kolu display has been a much-loved and highly anticipated tradition for retired banker T. Desikan and his family for several decades.
The second floor of his Srirangam residence on Teppakulam Street this year has come alive with about 4,000 terracotta, wood and papier mache figurines arranged artistically on metal shelves. And like every modern-day Kolu that has a theme, Mr. Desikan’s display is centred around tableaux from the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana this year.
“I actually have 6,000 dolls in my collection, but this year’s theme restricted our choice a little,” Mr. Desikan, 67, told The Hindu .
The display area has one side showing 50 scenes from the Mahabharata, and 60 from the Ramayana. “Two more scenes, ‘Vaali Moksham’ and ‘Luva-Kusha Pattabhishekam’ will complete the epic but the dolls that we ordered for them are stuck in transit,” said Mr. Desikan. The Mahabharata set needs at least 30 more scenes to be considered complete, he added.
With a generous budget (between₹ 25,000 to ₹40,000 on the dolls alone), Mr. Desikan credits his daughter Sudha for spurring him to look for Kolu figurines that would form entire story episodes. “As a 6-year-old, she asked me why we couldn’t showcase the moral and folk tales that we read in books during Kolu instead of just putting up a mishmash of dolls, and this is how I got inspired to start collecting sets,” he said.
Ms.Sudha (a teacher and doctoral scholar in English Literature who is based in Srirangam) and her brother Parthasarathy (an IT professional in Bengaluru) spend weeks deciding on the theme and selecting the best candidates for the Kolu display.
“It’s like breathing for us. We’re always researching ideas, looking up pictures in books and trying to see how we can set it up for Kolu,” said Ms.Sudha, who also handles the job of cleaning and repainting of dolls every year. And while Kolu is essentially considered women-centric, Mr. Desikan avers that the menfolk play an important role too, by sourcing the dolls from different shops and taking care of the carpentry and display arrangements.
Work has already started on 2018 by the way, and it will be about scenes from the Bhagavat Gita. The dolls in Mr. Desikan’s collection come from Kanchipuram, Madurai, Panruti and Vandipalayam, besides some bespoke sets (like the ‘Lanka Dahanam’ tableaux this year and a mirrored display case for Goddess Andal) that have been locally manufactured. Heirloom dolls and playthings that are nearly 100 years’ old, are also part of the collection.
While the dolls now come in lighter papier mâché versions that are easier to arrange and repack, the new Goods and Services Tax (GST) has made them dearer this year. “A statuette that used to cost ₹.30 has now gone up to ₹200, and nearly everything related to the material cost has risen dramatically,” said Mr. Desikan.
Despite this, he has bought 25 new dolls this year. “Ultimately, the purpose of all these religious celebrations is to show us that we should respect all faiths equally. This is a time of social interaction, and divine blessing,” said Mr. Desikan.