Growing up in Chennai has only made me realize how much the city has shaped my childhood and how special popular festivals like Navarathri and Vijayadashami are to me.
Navarathri or nine nights is celebrated to worship the nine forms of Devi or the Hindu Goddesses. In specific terms, the first three days are earmarked for avatars of Goddess Durga, the next three days for avatars of Goddess Lakshmi and the last three days for avatars of Goddess Saraswathi. The 10th Day is known as Dusshera or Vijayadashami.
The South Indian tradition has another lovely addition to the Navarathri celebrations- the ‘Golu’. Golu is an artistic arrangement of dolls. Steel or wooden stands are arranged as steps in a slotted angle manner. The steps are usually covered with a clean white Dhoti or a nice colourful saree to give it a rich background. The dolls are then neatly stacked on each of the steps. Traditionally, odd number steps are chosen to form a Golu.
Usually the first three steps are decorated with dolls of Gods and Goddesses and mythological figures. The fourth and fifth step are where a person can let their creativity run wild! Often people add scenes and depict gods alongside commoners to signify the divine in daily life. There is usually a wedding set or a trader couple (popularly known as Chettiar-Aachi bommai) along with toy fruits, vegetables, grains to indicate prosperity. In addition to the steps, there are various ways in which one can add variety and creativity to the Golu. There is also a park set that is placed on the sides, with animals and vehicles or a games for kids.
I remember spending my childhood Navarathri days- wearing those bright-coloured pattu pavadais and jasmine flowers in my hair and we were off to people’s houses to see the Golu and also invite them to see the Golu at our place. The event in general meant a cultural hangout! Dad used to help set the steps in the house and Mom used to decorate each step with a lot of care and interest. As kids, my brother and I were handled the important task of unpacking the Golu dolls from the attic and dusting them before they took centre stage! I remember rushing to the fancy stores to get some colourful festoons and electric lights to decorate each step. And weeks before Navarathri begins, there is the mandatory shopping for gifts and adding more toys to our existing collection. Also, some of the really old toys which have lost their sheen would need a touch-up or just another coating with the gold paint.
The most yummy part of Golu? The ‘Sundal’ of course! A delicacy made with legumes like Kabuli channa (white and black), moong dal, channa dal, peanuts, and cooked with a tempering of heavenly coconut oil and mustard with a smattering of grated coconut to finish the dish. The guests to every Golu are usually gifted with a ‘thamboolam‘ that indicates prosperity for both the giver and the recipient. Inviting little girls and gifting them the ‘thamboolam‘ is considered very auspicious. The typical ‘thamboolam‘ usually contains haldi-kumkum, betel nuts, betel leaves, fruits/coconut, flowers and gifts suitable to each age group. Little girls are gifted bindis, a mirror, a comb, and bangles while the seniors are usually gifted a blouse piece or some other useful household product as gift. It feels both exciting and responsible to chose the return gift right, ‘coz you know that this would be the topic of discussion, among the neighbourhood!
Young girls and ladies usually form groups and sing bhajans/devotional songs when attending each other’s Golu and the music-decoration-and the smell of great food usually adds magic to the already festive air. The best part about Golu is that it gives wings to your creativity! In addition to the traditional dolls and lamps that are lit as part of the Golu, there are various ideas you can incorporate in your Golu. An Ashtalakshmi set, a dashavathar set, an arupadai veedu set, a cute line up of various Ganeshas, the sky is the limit! There are even thematic Golus planned by people who are veterans in the field (like temple-based or events-based).
The Golu, every year, transforms me into an excited little girl and when I see my daughters echoing my interests in festivities, it brings a smile to my face! So go ahead, share your Golu pics with us and let us know your fond memories of Golu and Navarathri!