Golu – Where the Dolls come alive


Navaratri is one of the joyous festivals of the Hindu community which is celebrated almost throughout the country for its religious and social importance. This festival is celebrated from the new moon day to the ninth day of the Tamil month Purattaasi and is considered as the most auspicious time of the Hindu Calendar. Navaratri is a festival for Goddess Durga who is believed to be the merged form of Trinity Goddesses – Lakshmi, Parvati and Saraswati. Nava means “nine” and “ratri” means night. During the nine-night long festival of Navratri the supreme female cosmic power or Goddess Shakti is worshipped in her variously manifested forms as Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. The festival signifies power, wealth, prosperity and knowledge.

Navaratri is celebrated in different parts of the country in different names and ways but the basic essence of the celebration remains the same – victory of evil over good. During these nine nights, nine forms of Goddess Shakti are worshipped and the tenth day is celebrated as “Dussehra or Vijayadasami”. Three days are assigned to each Goddess in the nine divine days of Navratri.Usually the first set of three days is for Parvati, the second set of three days is for Lakshmi and the last set of three days is for Saraswati. This probably is the longest festival celebration in our country. In the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, this festival is celebrated by keeping Golu at home. It is called “Bommai Kolu” in Tamil, meaning Divine Presence, “Bommala Koluvu” in Telugu meaning Court of Toys and “Bombe Habba” in Kannada meaning Doll Festival where young girls and women exhibit different dolls, figurines, court life, everyday scenes along with deities in the south Indian households for the auspicious nine nights.

Origin of Golu
The goddess Durga needed extra ordinary power to fight with the demon Mahishasura for nine days from Pratipada to Navami and finally killed him on the Navami night. To help her in the battle, all the other gods and goddesses gave all of their power to Goddess Durga. Without power they all stood still as toys. Out of respect for this act of self-sacrifice, people exhibit dolls in the form of gods and goddesses on a staircase like structure called Golu Padi. The houses will be filled with the fragrance of lots of flowers, incense and dhoop. The entrance of the house will be decorated with auspicious Mango leaves toran and fresh flower garlands. It is a belief that Goddess Shakti is present in our house in all these nine days.

What is Golu?
Golu is an artistic display of colourful dolls and clay statues of God, depicting the historical, mythological and folklores in Hinduism which are neatly arranged on wooden or steel mounted steps “padis”. The purpose is to promote the knowledge of Hindu culture, customs and traditions to the children of next generation. However, there are social, philosophical, and economic implications associated with this ritual. Traditionally, these dolls are made of clay, wood and other indigenous materials. In an agricultural economy like India, it is believed that during the lean cultivating season, the clay from the de-silting activities was used for making dolls. Purchasing these dolls and creating a demand for them was a way to encourage local artisans and promote commerce.

Modern day golus however include plastic and papier-mâché dolls too. These days, people also decide on a theme every year along with the traditional display of dolls. Depending upon the theme, they work with innovative backgrounds and other props like forest, trees, ashrams, animals etc. If the golu is a themed golu, then the garden or park or zoo should be arranged in the sand ahead of the festival. Before a week spread the sand and put the beans on it for sprouting. The small plants gives the park or garden a very natural look.

When and How to start?
The Navaratri commences on the first day (pratipada) of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Ashwin month. The festival is celebrated for nine nights once every year during the month of October, although the dates of the festival are determined according to the lunar calendar. Navaratri will be celebrated from October 1 to October 10 in 2016 and will culminate with Vijayadashami on October 11, 2016.

Navaratri commences the day after the Mahalaya Amavasya day. On the Amavasya day, Golu steps are to be set preferably facing the east direction. We can also keep the steps facing west or north, but never facing south.

Significance of Golu Padi
The Golu dolls are kept on steps called the Golu Padi which are set up using wooden planks or steel steps. Ideally, the golu dolls are made up of some eco-friendly materials like clay or wood. The Golu padis are usually covered with a white cloth, decorated with garlands of fresh flowers, art papers, festoons, balloons, serial lights etc. Traditionally 9 steps are kept, however one could also choose to keep less than 9 steps. The steps should always be an odd number 3, 5 or 7 steps and should not exceed 9 steps. This is also an opportunity for women to exhibit the arts and crafts made by them on the steps.

Significance of Kalasam
A kalasam is a way of invoking The Goddess Devi. First rice is mixed with manjal (turmeric powder) and kumkum (vermillion powder) and placed on a base plate. A pot (made of mud, brass, copper or silver) forms the base of the kalasam. The pot is filled with water, Mango leaves adorning the sides and a coconut placed at the mouth of the pot. The coconut is also smeared with turmeric. Once the kalasam is placed, it should not be moved for 9 nights, hence care should be taken to ensure that the water doesn’t go stale or the mango leaves don’t dry up. A new red blouse piece is placed on the head of the coconut and the entire kalasam is decorated with flowers and jewellery.

Order in which the dolls should be kept
Even though there is no hard and fast rule on the order in which the Golu dolls should be kept. The following general guideline should be used for reference.

The Kalasam should be kept on top of the first step in the centre.
Other than the Kalasam, the first step is for dolls of Supreme Gods: Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesha, Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga should also be placed.
Second step is for Astalakshmi and also for figurines of wooden Bride and Groom together called ‘Marapaachi Bommai’.
The third step is for Dashavatar, the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu.
The fourth step is for saints, siddhars and enlightened people.
The fifth step is for noble persons like freedom fighters, philanthropists’ and social workers dolls.
The sixth step is for ordinary human beings like vendors, farmers, dancers and so on. In honor of the traders community, every Golu has a Chettiar and his wife along with bowls of salt, sugar, lentils and rice.
On the seventh step, different dolls of animals should be placed.
On the eight step, we should display the dolls of birds.
In the ninth and last step, plants, insects, sea shells and crawling creatures should be placed.

It is believed that for every soul to attain Mukthi, it has to pass through these nine steps from the bottom as a low life creature and merge with the God who is above all, thus explaining the cycle of rebirth.

People mandatorily use a male and a female form chiseled out of special medicinal wood called “Marapaachi Bommai” decorated like a bride and a groom which was presented to every girl at the time of her marriage. In the ancient times, these dolls were representative of local King and Queen. The people prayed for their long life and prosperity of the Kingdom. Over the years, these dolls become family heirlooms. Every Bommai Golu reserves a special place for the marapaachi dolls handed down over generations.

Besides these dolls, a number of other dolls sets are displayed on the sides, either depicting a Mahabharata or a Ramayana scene. Nowadays, people use modern themes too like building a park with pond, zoo, a temple on the hill, cricket set etc. It is also customary to add atleast one new doll to the Golu collection every year.

Navarathri Evenings at home
Celebrating festivals reaps good things by spreading positive energy in a cheerful atmosphere. During Navaratri evenings, the ladies visit each other’s house for Vettala Paaku or Thaamboolam. The ladies usually get dressed for the occasion, girls in pattu-paavadais, teenage girls in Daavanis and married ladies in their Kanjeevaram sarees or their best traditional clothes. Every day, a different kolam is drawn in front of the golu. After lighting the Kuthuvilakku and offering flowers, fruits etc to the golu, they invite the neighbors, friends and relatives to receive thamboolam. The function starts each day with the recitals of stothrams (prayer songs) on Goddesses such as Lalitha Sahasranamam, Devi Bhagawatham, Devi Mahatmiyam, Mahishaasura mardhini etc invoking the Goddess Shakti who vanquished demons.

Vettala Paaku (Betel Leaves, betelnuts, turmeric, kumkum, yellow thread, flowers, comb, mirror, bangles, coin, blouse material, fruit, coconut and gift) should be ideally given every day during the evenings after lighting the evening lamp. But nowadays since women are working and busy, they stipulate one evening during the Navaratri festival to prepare everything, call all the people they known to them and offer vettala paaku. There is no harm in doing that as long as people don’t stop this practice altogether. The token gifts that used to be given in the yesteryears have been replaced with special thoughtful and useful gifts. The ladies have mini bhajan /sthotra chanting sessions on marked days like Tuesdays or Fridays which are considered auspicious days for the Devi. In the end, “mangala aarathi” (some turmeric powder and kumkum mixed with water) is shown to the Gods and poured outside the house every day.

On each day of Navaratri, a sundal variety has to be done for prasadam. The scientific reason behind offering sundal is that during the months of September-October, people get easily tired and fall sick due to the bad weather. So it is prescribed to have protein rich foods to rejuvenate ourselves. Another theory is that sundal made from nava dhaanyas is offered to appease Nava grahas.

The types of sundal to be prepared on each of the navaratri days is given below:

•Day1: Moong dal (Green gram )
•Day2: Sweet Puttu /Red beans (can be made sweet or spicy)
•Day3: Peanut
•Day4: Kabuli Chana
•Day5: Bengal Gram dal (Chana dal / kadalai paruppu) Yellow split
•Day6: Black eyed beans (Lobia) (can make it sweet or spicy)
•Day7: White peas /Green peas (pattaani)
•Day8: Field beans(mochai) /Karamani Chundal
•Day9: Konda kadalai (channa dal)
•Day10: Payasam / Chakara Pongal

The Navaratri Fridays are celebrated in a very grand manner with special Prasadam like Puttu or some sweet dishes.

Saraswathi Pooja or Ayudha Pooja
The Ninth day of Navaratri is celebrated as Ayudha pooja which has a special significance as special pujas are offered to Goddess Saraswati, the divine source of wisdom. Books and musical instruments are placed in the puja and worshipped as a source of knowledge. On this day, all articles that are used for progress and prosperity of mankind are worshipped. People worship their work-tools, household appliances and their vehicles on this day.

The festival concludes in Dussehra or Vijayadasami which celebrates the victory of Goddess Durga over the wicked demon Mahishaasura. According to popular belief, it is a special day for attaining victory in anything which is why this day is celebrated as an auspicious day for starting any new work. New ventures started on this day are believed to flourish and bring prosperity. Kids often start tutoring on this day to have a head start in their education. Also people start new activities like learning music, dance and any form of art on this day. Those who play musical instruments or learn music, usually visit their Gurus with Thamboolam seeking his/her blessings and take atleast one lesson with their Guru on that day marking Guru on that day marking sweet beginnings to their journey of learning.

Golu hopping

Golu Hopping is a new evolving trend as the urban Indians realise the importance of touching base with their cultural roots. Even Indians living abroad have modified the Golu format to include the whole family at these social get togethers. It has now become a popular fall-time activity globally. The Golu display in itself is getting elaborate with families vying to compete with each other on the most creative display of dolls and add-on themed displays of parks, sports, and even Christmas tableaus.

Closing ceremony of the Golu
In the evening of “Vijayadasami”, any one doll from the “Golu” is symbolically put to sleep and the Kalasa is moved a bit towards North to mark the end of that year’s Navaratri Golu. Prayers are offered to thank God for the successful completion of that year’s Golu and with a hope of a successful one the next year. Then the next day, Golu is dismantled and packed up for the next year.

Regional variations
Different states in India celebrate this Navaratri festival in their own unique way, representing their unique local tradition, custom and flavour.

One of the most awaited festivals in the colourful state of Gujarat is Navaratri. Celebrated on the first nine days of Ashwin month, devotees keep fast for 9 days and worship Goddess Shakti. In the evening, an earthen pot with holes and diyas inside, also known as “Garbi”, is lighted and women perform arthi with it. During Navratri, Garba dance and Dandiya Raas are popular forms of dances performed by both men and women, wearing their traditional dresses.

West Bengal, Assam, Bihar
In the eastern part of India, in the states of West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Navaratri is celebrated as Durga Puja and it is observed in the last four days of Navaratri. These days are referred to as Saptami, Ashthami, Navami and Dashami. Durga Puja is the main festival of the people of West Bengal. Durga Puja is celebrated with great pomp and glitter in various parts of the states in big pandals, where large sized idols of Goddess Durga on her lion, demon Mahishaasur, Lord Ganesha, Kartikeya and Goddess Lakshmi and Saraswati are erected. Men and women come wearing their best colourful dresses. It is a very common sight to see Bengali women wearing their traditional red saree, decked up completely. The sounds of Dhol, Dhak, Dhunuchi nachh, the fragrance of agarbattis fill the air with freshness and purity. The celebrations of Durga Puja in West Bengal should be “must-watch” for everyone once in his lifetime.

In Punjab, the people keep fast on the first 7 days of Navratri and end their fast on Ashthami or Navami by worshipping 9 little girls and a boy, which is known as “Kanjika”. The Punjabis organize jagratas where they keep awake the whole night and worship Goddess Shakti.

Thus, going by the religious celebrations among the people of the country, we can proudly say that in spite of the fact India being a land of diversities, there is unity in diversity and that is what makes India different from other countries.

(Photo Courtesy – Internet)


One response to “Golu – Where the Dolls come alive

  1. Pingback: Navratri Celebrations – 2017 | Surreyfarms. A serene haven in the foothills of Northern California·

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