Dolled up for the festival

All lined up An elaborate arrangement of ‘bomma kolus’

All lined up An elaborate arrangement of ‘bomma kolus’   | Photo Credit: Photo: C. Ratheesh Kumar

Navarathri is the time when many households in the city deck their homes with ‘bomma kolus.’ Rema Sundar visits some of the elaborate ‘kolus’

There is festivity in the air. Navarathri, all nine days of it, is the time to doll up yourself and your house too. As the city comes alive with festivals celebrating music, dance, theatre, cinema, traditional art forms and so on, many households in the city get set to celebrate the festival with elaborate arrangements of dolls called ‘bomma kolus.’

‘Bomma kolus’ are mainly an aesthetic arrangement of ‘bommais’ (clay dolls) that depict various characters from Hindu mythology. Cut to modern times and you have sets of dolls that recreate the cricket ground in your house. Shimmering lamps and fragrant flowers add to the festivities. Although the entire family gets involved in the festivities, ‘kolu’ is mainly a women’s festival that is celebrated during Navaratri.

Symbol of prosperity

For the Tamil community in the Fort area of the city, arranging the dolls in odd-numbered ‘padis’ (shelves that resembles steps) brings the family together. As one wonders about the step-like arrangement, artist S. Yejneswaran comes up with a plausible and interesting explanation. “The steps symbolise upliftment and prosperity in life,” he says. Yejneswaran and his family have allocated the entire living room of their house at Sreekanteswaram for the elaborate nine-step ‘kolu’ that have dolls that are at least hundred years old.

The arrangement comprises a five-step miniature ‘kolu’ by the side of the main ‘kolu.’ Members of the joint family of Travancore Agencies & Suppliers begin arranging the ‘kolu’ at least a week before the prescribed day of the ‘Amavasya’ (new moon day) when the Navaratri festival begins. A spacious room in the first floor of their residence at Kuttikkad Lane has been earmarked for the nine-step ‘kolu’ that features nearly 500 dolls.

While the men put up the step-like shelves and decorate the venue, the women in the family prepare the various offerings and chant sacred hymns.

Hectic days

Says Sangeetha M. Devan: “It is nine days of hectic activity for us. The day starts at 5 a.m. We have to prepare ‘naivadyams’ (payasam, chundal and so on) twice a day, recite the slokas and entertain visitors too.” Women, especially married women, who come visiting are gifted betel leaves, pieces of turmeric, arecanut, bananas, coconut and the ‘naivadyam’ for the day. Some families give expensive gifts along with this.

“Gifting a coconut is considered equal to ‘Godanam’ (giving away of cows),” explains 76-year-old M.S. Anandam, a resident of Thekke Theruvu. She and her daughter-in-law, Jayanthi M. have put together a colourful seven-step ‘kolu’ that showcases dolls that are half-a-century old.

The steps have been draped in silk, with green being the dominant colour. According to Jayanthi, green is a favourite of the Goddess who is worshipped during Navarathri. The dolls are a treasured lot and are often passed on from one generation to the other. Yejneswaran proudly points out a doll of Krishna, which he says was his paternal grandmother’s. As such, great deal of attention is given to preserve the dolls. They are carefully wrapped in layers of cloth and paper and stacked away in boxes with plenty of naphthalene balls to prevent cockroaches.

Many families keep adding to this collection every year. “We regularly buy unique pieces from various parts of South India,” says Sangeetha, showing a fine statue of Venkatachalapathy that was bought from Tirupathi.

While each family has its time-honoured way of arranging the dolls, one common element in all ‘kolus’ is the ‘kumbham.’ Says Jayanthi: “The ‘kumbham’ is a silver pot/container with rice, split pigeon peas, turmeric, coins, coconut and mango leaves.”

The process of dismantling the ‘kolu’ is generally on the day of Vijayadasami, with one doll being laid down as a “symbolic gesture to rest the tired feet of the standing dolls.” Till the next Navarathri when it is time for the next round of festivities.

Recommended for you