Welcome to my Golu (Doll display)


The last week has been so crazy, in a wonderfully beautiful way, as we celebrate one of the nicest festivals in India – Navratri.

Navratri means ‘nine nights’. While there is a lot of spiritual meaning to this festival, these nine days in most Indian  homes spell joy, fun, food, music and dance, and of course a lot of camaraderie and bonding, not to forget all the vibrant and colourful sarees.

So,  that was why I was MIA from blogosphere this week. The festival is nearly done, and I am back.

People from our community celebrate Navratri in a unique way! We put up a display of dolls (yes, dolls). Dolls that have been passed down from our ancestors, dolls that we have collected over the years, dolls of every possible type.

These dolls are arranged on steps (these stands can be assembled). The stand is then covered with a cloth and serial lights put on them.  On the eve of Navratri, the dolls are brought down from storage and put on display.

I have a few hundred dolls, mostly terracota dolls. Once we set up the dolls, we invite friends home to see the display and have food.  I had a lot of friends visiting this week, and had lots of fun.

One of the most important dolls in the Golu (doll display) is the ‘Marapaachi’ doll. These dolls are made of wood, and passed down from generation to generation. These dolls usually come in couples, man and woman, boy and girl.

We dress them up in different costumes, every year. Each year we add new doll sets to our collection. Over my next few posts, I will share pictures of a few special doll sets that I have at home and the story behind them.

This is a picture of my Golu. With new dolls, my Golu is expanding horizontally as well.  Below the picture of my Golu is the picture of the ‘Marapaachi’ dolls, that have been handed down in the family.

Each doll is special, each doll has a story and so many associated memories. I love my dolls, each and every one of them.

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        Main Golu, Sections 1, 2, 3 & 4

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                      The Main Golu

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                 Section 2 of my Golu

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             Section 5 of my Golu

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The Marapaachis – handed down from generation to generation.

Hope you enjoyed these pictures. Over the next few posts, I will talk about my favourite dolls and their stories.

I look forward to catching up on all your blogs too!

The Boat Festival – A short story


The village of Mayilakam and the areas around it, baked in the hot summer sun. The Earth was dry and the small river that flowed through the village had very little water left.

The people of Mayilakam were farmers and depended on the timely arrival of the Monsoon rain for their livelihood.

The rains brought joy, prosperity and  much-needed respite from the sweltering heat. The villagers marked the onset of the Monsoon season with a unique festival called the Boat Festival.

The local meterology department had predicted that the Monsoon would set in a week’s time.

The boat festival was celebrated on the third day after the rains started. The  river actually flowed through the village, through the backyards of all the homes, which stood on either side of the river.
During the rainy season, the water nearly came up to their back doors.

That year when the rains started, the villagers got busy with preparations for the boat festival.

The villagers made paper boats of different colours and shapes. They had become masters of this craft. Even children were quite adept at making these boats.

While the boats were being made, the village band was readying itself to play on the day of the festival.

The other and most important specialty of this festival was that inside each boat was a small pocket, where messages could be placed. The message was written on a piece of paper, folded, with the addressee’s name on top, put into a small plastic pouch and tucked into the boat.

The philosophy behind this practice was that all of them, who lived as a community, and who depended on rain water, welcomed the water and sent their boats down the river, where another group usually waited to pick up the boats and remove the message packets. The messages were sent to apologize to others, to profess love, to share love, to brighten up someone’s day.

Again, there were boats made up of black paper with messages that contained the bad qualities people wanted to change in themselves. These boats were allowed to float away, symbolically purging away the villagers’ negative qualities.

The whole village was happy, as the rain lashed and the boats floated down merrily.

As the band played, the messages were given out – two young women smiled shyly as they had received proposals from eligible young men; two brothers, who hadn’t spoken to each other in a year, hugged each other in remorse, a child who had lost her parents was adopted, the richest man in the village had gifted the village school its own computer center.

They danced, drenched in the rain, united in that moment of collective happiness, where they let go, and felt lighter in spirit, ready to take on another year of hard work on their land.

A Century-old tradition


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Today is Vishu, our New Year. The specialty of this celebration is the way we ring-in the New Year.

On new year’s eve, after the kids are asleep, elders in the family set-up an altar, whose centre-piece is a mirror. The mirror is decorated with a garland of flowers and a gold chain. Around the mirror are kept small bowls with raw rice, lentils and yellow-coloured fruits like lemons, mangoes, papaya and a yellowed cucumber. A seasonal yellow flower is also considered auspicious.

In addition to all these, old coins that have been in the family, crisp new currency notes and new coins are also kept at the altar.

In the morning, the oldest family member, walks with closed eyes and positions himself before the mirror and looks at himself in the mirror, with all the essentials in life like food and money, hoping that the new year will bring the family happiness and prosperity.

Each member of the family is brought to the altar, with their eyes closed and then asked to view themselves in the mirror.

Family elders give cash gifts to all others in the family. Then the whole family sits down to a sumptuous meal comprising more than 15 dishes spread out on a banana leaf.

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Last night, as we decorated the altar, I observed the old coins given to us by my parents-in-law. I was surprised to see that the coins were dated 1904, 1912, 1916, 1917 and 1918. 

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Wow, a century has passed. I wonder how many women have used these very same coins, to ring in the new year, over the last ten decades. Who were these women, what were they like? I will never know these things.

But I draw comfort from the fact that these traditions have outlived people and continue to bind us across time.

For my children, the excitement is more from the gifts they receive rather than from the traditions we follow.

But they watch us every year and when the time comes,  I am sure they will treasure these coins. Both for the allied memories of their childhood and to revel in the ancestral love that has been passed down through these coins.