After a year of mostly virtual celebrations, there is a festive frenzy this season. Encouraged by customers eager to shop again after many months of lockdowns, vendors began setting up shop on roadsides in Mylapore and T Nagar, the hub of Navratri doll sales, nearly three weeks ago.
Families that have the tradition of displaying dolls for the nine days of Navratri , buy new ones to add to their collection. This season, as people turn to the comfort of nostalgia, there is a growing market for antique dolls.
Divya N, designer and faculty member at National Institute of Fashion Technology, says, “People have always kept inherited dolls in the golu, but now they are actively buying old dolls on social media. Sellers are either elderly people or dealers. Labelled as vintage, these dolls are around 40 to 80 years old, and sold as sets of four or more. They cost anywhere between ₹5,000 and ₹20,000.”
As this is the 100th death anniversary of the freedom fighter and poet Subramania Bharati, retailers say that the ‘Bharathiyar doll’ is trending. Tea and idli kadai sets are also garnering attention, particularly at Khadi Gramodhyog Bhavan, Anna Salai.
Secretary of the Bhavan, G Elangovan, says that sales were rather dull in 2019, and absolutely nil last year. “This year, we are trying to clear the previous stock and give minimal new orders, only enough to help sustain the livelihood of the doll makers in the State.”
Divya, who works with doll makers in and around Tamil Nadu as part of the Central Government’s craft cluster development programmes, says that artisan C Bharanidharan of Chinna Kanchipuram has created an IPL theme set (₹3,000) featuring coloured jerseys with names and numbers. The set of 15 pieces comprises fielders, batsmen and umpires.
Says Bharanidharan: “We can customise it to any IPL team.” Adding that the cost of production has increased by 20% this year, he says they are stocking less. ‘Seemandham’ sets and ‘Thiruvallur Perumal’ dolls made last year, are being sold this year as new releases. This year, it is Kancheepuram Divya Desams ( ancient Vishu temples ) and Nava Sayana Perumal (Lord Mahavishnu in nine different reclined positions ) were designed and launched .
At All India Handicrafts, North Mada Street, Mylapore, salespersons are busy unpacking and arranging the new arrivals. “Apart from new ones, we have a huge backlog from the last two years. Apart from the remaining stock from 2019, the unsold 2020 stocks have also piled up. Therefore we are offering huge discounts,” says Pushpa L, a salesperson. She adds that their Kokilambal of Thirumannancheri and Vekkali Amman of Tiruchi are popular, as these are highly popular temples dedicated to Shakthi or Amman in Tamil Nadu. Pushpa adds that their source their mud dolls from Kumbakonam, Kanchipuram, Cuddalore and Puducherry.
According to K Parameshwaran, proprietor of Sri Jyothi Handicrafts, Mylapore, customers are looking for lightweight dolls either because they are on a tight budget or due to a lack of space. “But dolls made in Tamil Nadu — mostly of gods, saints and leaders — come in big sizes. Therefore we source small dolls from West Bengal and Andhra,” he says.
G Elangovan, is still optimistic. He says this year shows promise, considering there were absolutely no sales last year. “Artisans who were worst affected due to the pandemic could not afford large scale production this year. So we had paid an advance to artisans across Tamil Nadu and placed orders for mud dolls.” While gods and goddesses are always popular, he says there is an increase in demand for dolls of national leaders and warriors like APJ Abdul Kalam, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Veera Shivaji, for example.
Poompuhar Handicrafts, at Anna Salai, offers a wide range of dolls made of mud, papier mache, fibre, terracotta and marble. Meenakshi S salesperson at the counter says Krishnaleela (daring deeds of Lord Krisha) and Andal’s Varanam Aayiram ( Poet Saint Andal’s dream about her wedding ) sets have sold out already this year.
This year the mood seems to be to keep the golu tradition alive, but on a smaller format.