Golu Dolls - The splendours of Navratri

Golu Dolls - The splendours of Navratri

Take my lead as I take you through one of the prime events of the longest and glorious festival of India – Navratri. Navratri is termed from Sanskrit where “Nava” means nine and “Ratri” means night. It is known by different names across the cultural sphere as dussehra, dashain etc. The celebration is spanned over nine nights. There are four different navratri spread across the seasons of the year –Sharad navratri (September- October), Chaitra navratri (March-April), Magha navratri (January-February) and Ashada navratri (June- July). But the one celebrated by most people is sharad navrathri, which falls during the post-monsoon season. The legend and fables spun around the celebration varies across the different parts of the country, but ultimately commemorating the triumph of good over evil. Goddess Durga is worshipped on the first three days, the next three days are for Goddess Lakshmi and final three days Goddess Saraswathi is worshipped. The festival brings in families from near and far together to rope in for the blissful nine days, not only of a spiritual motive but also to truly enjoy and exhibit the creative part of them through various events. 

Stepping into a typical household of South India during navratri, there would be Carnatic music or chanting of shlokas/keerthanas (sacred verses) turned up to decibels echoing through the home and ringing in your heads. As you walk in further, you would find women and more women. Because, this is the time of the year the ladies steal the spotlight. With the shiny kanjeevaram’s making appearance, homes being adorned with dolls, the stories told along with the texts from the Holy Scriptures and the gifts being shared, and the women folk rejoice celebrating Bommai golu (or kolu). Yes, Golu is one of the most important parts of Navratri down south. An ideal time of the year to let that creativity of yours flow into streams.  An occasion for the family to come together to jolt down their ideas to make the best court of toys in the neighbourhood. Golu is also known by the names of bomma koluvu, gombe habba or gombe totti.

Let’s get to know more about GOLU!

So, interested to know what golu is?

Remember those childhood days when you used to narrate stories to your fellow friends with your dolls. This is an occasion to let that little child within you to explore but this time you are availed with a lot of dolls. 

Golu is an eco-friendly, decorative ritual of navratri where the dolls and figurines are displayed in padis (steps) depicting thematic stories to invoke the divine presence into our home. The themes are usually from famous mythological contexts, everyday events, processions, weddings, temples, practically any story that you can spun. This is the time to revisit those timeless, old stories that our grandparents narrated to us. In olden days, golu was celebrated to prevent the de-silting of irrigation canals. Golu has significant connection with agricultural and handicrafts profession. This festival is a means of teaching traditions to the young people and involves them in the spiritual endeavour. 

Amidst all the 9 to 5 noise, a moment to realize the meaning of a thoughtful verse from an epic or spend time with the family setting up the dolls is undoubtedly the melody we all need to listen to. It is mostly confined to households, societies and temple. Golu dolls are a part of every south Indian family’s heirloom. These gorgeous dolls are kept for the display right from the first day. They wake up after sleeping for a whole year to give a new life to their story once again. They appear every year for these special nine days and retire to their storage boxes, remembering not to forget their own stories. 

Japan also holds a similar tradition of displaying dolls to celebrate girl’s day known as Hinamatsuri.

Every celebration around the world has its origin myth.  Why do we celebrate Golu?

Across certain parts of the India the celebration of navratri is synonymous with the Ram leela, marking the defeat of demon king Ravana by Lord Rama. While the other parts of the country celebrate Goddess Durga for Mahisashura mardhanam (the death of demon Mahishashura).

And the story goes like this,

 Many aeons ago, there lived a demon named Mahishashura who was a buffalo demon (“Mahisha” means “buffalo” in Sanskrit). He was shape shifter who can turn into anything that he wants to. He did a severe penance worshiping Lord Brahma requesting a boon. One day Lord Brahma appeared before him and granted him the boon. The boon is that no man can cause his death. This boon turned him into an audacious man and he started to create havoc to the three worlds. All the celestial beings and gods decided to put an end to his notorious deeds and came together to create a unifying power shakthi. She took the warrior form as Goddess Durga.  The war went on for nine days and the entire army of Mahishashura was defeated leaving only him behind. After nine days of crucial fights was finally defeated by Goddess Durga on the tenth day and peace was restored. And navratri is celebrated to acknowledge the fact that good always triumphs over evil.  There is a fable spun that during the war all the celestial beings stood frozen like statues watching the rage of Devi Durga. Golu is celebrated to recount that event.

The traditions and customs involved in showcasing golu dolls,

Day 0- The exciting golu preparations commences on amavasya (no moon day). To invoke the divine presence the house is cleaned and decorated. The place to keep the golu is decided, cleaned and decorated with kolam (rangoli or dotted one). ). The padis (steps) are usually placed in odd numbers – 3, 5, 7 or 9. The padis should not exceed 9. The length of the steps is supposed to decrease from the bottom to top (considering bottom as the first step, the second step should be shorter than first and goes on).  The stars of the event, golu dolls are woken up from a year-long slumber and but they are not placed on the padis. The steps covered by plain or decorative piece of cloth. 

To make the lush green decor in your theme, mullaipari (sprout from seeds of grains and legumes) are made by soaking the seeds of grains three to four days prior to day of ritual.

Day 1- Before placing the dolls, the kalash pooja is done. The kalash is a ceremonial jar wrapped by white thread, filled with water, turmeric powder, campor, cardamom are added. The coronet of mango leaves is dressed around its neck. A coconut is placed on top and turmeric and vermillion are kept on it. This kalash represents Durga

Image sourced from www.punjabkesari.in

The dolls and figurines are then placed on the padis. The custom is at least one new doll should be placed every year. The odd number of padis will rank the Gods to be the winners, always. There is no change in it. The first padi will always hold the God. Then comes all the others. The stories are spun around mythological characters, saints, poets and the day-to-day story of the house is also depicted sometimes. Order of placing dolls,

Steps 1-3 are for the immortals - Gods and celestial beings

Steps 3-6 are for mortals – the humans. They include great saints, nobles and common man.

Steps 6-9 are for the animals, reptiles, birds and insects.

All thrill lies in setting up the golu. Then the pooja is performed and prasadam (usually protein-rich foods like sundal) is distributed. 

Day 2-9- lamp is lit both in morning and evening. Pooja is performed. An interesting aspect called golu hopping occurs, where women and children go visit golu display in the neighbourhood. Sing, dance and perform recital as part of the visit. Fun chit-chat and giggles of family are filled in the atmosphere. Women gift the other women visiting their places with a bag of bangles, fruits, beetal leaves, turmeric, vermillion, sweets, flowers etc. Such a sweet gesture, Isn’t it?

Day 10- It’s the final day of golu where all our gorgeous dolls are put back to sleep holding all the memories of this season.

That was a sneak peek into the rituals and myth. We got to know quite a lot of things about golu. But these dolls have travelled a long journey before reaching your homes.  It’s time we get to know about how these beautiful dolls are brought into existence.

The golu marvels and their journey to life

Any art in the world sprouts in the realm of artists and are raised and nourished by their inspiration and imagination. Blessed are those with a wild imagination and a great story telling technique. The scenes can be spelled out with the dolls. The artists mould each doll especially for Golu. There are statues of gods, scenes from epics which will be made as an assorted set, dolls of great leaders and even other common depictions. There are eco-friendly and sustainable clay dolls, dolls made up of plaster of paris and paper mache. There are a few classic additions to the list like the Chettiar bommai, Thanjavur bommai and Marappachi bommai.

The making of the dolls and techniques involved 

All the materials used to make these dolls pose no threat to the environment. Thus, making golu a tradition which does not harm our pale blue dot.

Clay dolls

  • The rich mud for the clay dolls is collected from the river beds. 
  • The mud along with silt is soaked in water for about 5-6 hours.
  • It is then kneaded into dough for quite some time and is soaked in the water again for a couple of hours. This process is done in order to make the dough smooth and easily moldable.
  • The wet dough is then placed on the mould (usually made from plaster of paris). Different moulds are available for different dolls. The moulds are handmade to perfection and are extremely detailed.
  • A very small amount of force is applied to the dough to set the impression right on the figurine.
  • The sharp edges are smoothed out.  
  • The process of drying takes about 5-6 days to completely harden without any moisture. Two days in shade, sun dried for a day and fired in a kiln (thermally insulated chamber). 
  • Have you wondered why there is a hole probably below or on the side of clay or a ceramic doll? If you have, here is the answer to feed your curiosity. They are made for air to penetrate and remove all moisture from within.
  • They are then dolled up with beautiful acrylic paints of bright hues and dried. Now, they are good to go for the sale!

Paper Mache dolls

               Paper mache dolls are eco-friendly and sustainable dolls. 

  • Waste papers obtained from various sources are shredded to pieces and soaked in boiling water.
  • A mix of lime stone powder, starch (usually tapioca powder) are added to the paper pulp are grinded to a consistency of a dough. Natural adhesives are added to it.
  • This dough is then kneaded using rolling pins and is placed into the readymade moulds.

  • They are then secured with metal strings on the outside and are allowed to air dry. It takes a long duration to completely dry.
  • Once dried, the edges of the dolls are smoothened and a final sanding is done before painting these dolls.
  • They are adorned with vivid colours and are set to move on duty to captivate the crowd.

Wooden dolls or Marapachi bommai  

They hail from the south western state, Andhra Pradesh. These dolls are made from wood. Woods have a lot of untold tales to tell. Mostly they are made from red sandalwood, teakwood, silk cotton or red wood. They are generally made in pairs as king and queen. Previously, there was a tradition of gifting these dolls as wedding trousseau. There is a popular belief that these dolls bring prosperity and wealth to home. Back in days, these dolls were given as teether to kids as these woods are hard and are of medicinal values. These as toys are potentially harmless for kids. This art is slowly fading out due to reduced number of artisans who are skilled at this art.

  • Wooden barks are cut and cleaned.
  • The dolls are chiselled and sculpted to detail
  • They are painted in natural brown colour and are done.

In modern days, the golu dolls are also a part of decor.  They are used to narrate stories on the walls of your space. 

Modern Moms have utilized this opportunity to teach their kids their culture and morals, in a fun way while engaging the kids to be a part of the process.  Each family picks a theme each year. The figurines are made to suit the theme. This season involves search for dolls. The market is filled with wide range of options. The artists mould each doll specially for Gollu. There are statues of gods, scenes from epics which will be made as an assorted set, dolls of great leaders and even other common depictions. To not forget the roots is the way to bloom. Hold on to traditions, they keep our families together and revive them at times. Get ready to go in search of Golu dolls that will become a treasured possession. Grab these beautiful dolls made by the skilled rural artists, adorn your pooja using these artistic dolls to tell your story!

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Crafted by Artisans of Thammampatti