Keeping alive ‘Bommai Golu’, the unique tradition of displaying dolls

Neha Basudkar
Wednesday, 17 October 2018

A Tamil family based in Rasta Peth has preserved a unique and creative tradition as part of the Navratri celebration. Rama Rangarajan, her husband and two children have been installing ‘Bommai Golu’, a unique display of traditional dolls, during the nine days and nine nights of Navratari for the past 24 years.

Pune: A Tamil family based in Rasta Peth has preserved a unique and creative tradition as part of the Navratri celebration. Rama Rangarajan, her husband and two children have been installing ‘Bommai Golu’, a unique display of traditional dolls, during the nine days and nine nights of Navratari for the past 24 years. 

This tradition is observed in Tamil, Telugu and Kannadiga homes.
 Bommai Kolu or Golu in Tamil means ‘Divine Presence’. Bommala Koluvu in Telugu is ‘Court of Toys’ while Bombe Habba in Kannada means Doll Festival.

Young women of the household arrange dolls, figurines, court life, everyday scenes, along with idols of Goddesses Saraswati, Parvati and Laxmi. The arrangement of colourful dolls and figurines on a step-like frame is an occasion to socialise and gives creative expression to ideas of young members, particularly girls and women of the family. 

The Golu or display of dolls has an odd number of steps as per tradition, which is considered auspicious. Every tier has a different legend or religious, mythological theme. Modern themes on current affairs are displayed in the open area in front of Bommai Golu. 

This year, the Rangarajans have ideated on the theme ‘India Marches Ahead’, where the India-United States (US) friendship is displayed, and how Kollywood stars are  joining mainstream politics and are becoming politicians. 

Rama Rangarajan said, “Two generations ago, this tradition was celebrated in Tamil Nadu by every household. Howeverm, modernisation and migration have reduced the number of people who set up Bommai Golu at home. We celebrate the occasion on a big note every year. Our displays give social messages to bind people together.” 

“The first three days are dedicated to Goddess Durga, the next three to Goddess Laxmi and the last three to Goddess Saraswati. Special Navratri rituals are performed for each one of them. Idols of a man and woman are kept in the centre. Other idols represent their universe.

Among other themes is a children’s playground, which is among the most important themes of every Golu,” she said. Her husband Rangarajan said in the theme ‘India-US friendship’, India is shown as a spiritual and cultural power while the United States of America is shown an economic power of the world. 

He said, “There is another theme on ‘India’s Political Battle in 2019’, where Rahul Gandhi of the Indian National Congress and Prime Minister 
Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party are shown playing boxing. The idea of the demonstration is that India is finally marching ahead after 72 years of Independence. It depicts the two main political parties. A message is conveyed that irrespective of political outcomes of the general elections, India will march ahead and democracy will win.” 

Rama Rangarajan added, “We have a seven-tier display this year, an odd number. These dolls and idols of gods and goddesses are bought from various states  within the country while  some are from outside the country. Many women and their groups visit our place to witness this unique celebration and decoration.” 

“People are attracted to this unique celebration, which binds people from different communities. We welcome them to our home. On the last day of the festival, the dolls are symbolically put to sleep and packed till next year,” said the Rangarajans. 

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