A Brief History
Navaratri (nine nights) is one of the greatest Hindu festivals. It symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. Navaratri takes place during the September/October timeframe. Navaratri is also known as Durga Puja.
During this period Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are worshipped as three different manifestations of Shakti, or cosmic energy.
Navaratri in Tamil Nadu (where I hail from) is celebrated for nine days during the Tamil month Purattasi (September-October). It is a celebration of the victory of Goddess Durga or Parashakthi over the demon king Mahishasura.
Ninth day of Navaratri is celebrated as Saraswati puja, dedicated to Goddess Saraswati, the Goddess of learning. Musical instruments, books and other instruments are also placed and decorated before the Kolu and worshiped with flowers. Vijaya Dasami, celebrated on the tenth day of the Ashvin month, punctuates the victory of Good over Evil. It is considered to be auspicious to start any learning venture in dance, music and fine arts. There are various reasons for the celebration of this day – It marks the day when Rama won the battle with Ravana (end of Ramleela); It also marks the day when Durga emerged victorious over Mahishasura and a day when Arjuna decimated more than a million soldiers in the battle of Kuru. Various anecdotes of Rama’s life are enacted throughout the nine days in different places in North India. Effigies of Ravana are burnt on public grounds on this final day. Vijayadasami is celebrated all over the country. In Bengal, the idols of Goddess Durga are immersed in the waters after 9 days of festivities and prayer. Mysore has a rich tradition of celebrating Dasara with royal pomp and splendor – actually presided over by the MahaRaja of Mysore.
Golu / Kolu / Display of Dolls
On the Amavasya day, after the usual rituals, it is customary to keep a couple of dolls on the first tier. The subsequent day (first day of Navaratri) is when the entire Kolu is setup.
Depending on the space and number of dolls, one can even erect eleven steps. A variety of dolls depicting mythological themes from epics and scriptures are displayed. The tiers are decorated beautifully with festoons.
There are many popular themes inculding Dhasavathar – the ten incarnations of Mahavishnu, Ashta Lakshmi – eight avatars of Mahalakshmi, Rajarajeswari Dharbar and Krshna Leela, Musical Trinity and the likes. On all nine days, the evenings conclude with arti, prayers and prasadham like sundal and sweet.
Families that are more austere, celebrate Navrathri with Pujas and homams to propitiate Goddess Durga. In temples, Goddess Durga is decorated as different incarnations of Paraskthi on each day.
As per tradition, a marapachi or any human figure among the dolls is put to sleep on the tenth night symbolically denoting the defeat and death of the demon in the battle with Parasakthi. The dolls are packed carefully, the next day with paper or cloths and kept in a box. Navaratri is a festival celebrated with enthusiasm and it also provides an opportunity to meet friends and promote goodwill. Navaratri also includes performing / attending music concerts, watching dance performances, temple visits, extended rituals at home.
Celebrations amidst Pandemic
This year, amidst a pandemic outbreak, the celebrations are quite different than the usual shopping for dolls, kolu hopping – dressing up in bright colored sarees, meeting friends, checking out everyone’s display of dolls, lots of singing and having variety of sundal and finally, all the interesting return gifts.
This year, we sourced some custom-made kolu dolls depicting – Tamil Nadu and it’s culture. We did an extensive search online instead of our usual visits to Kanchipuram / Pondicherry / locally source dolls from Myalpore / West Mambalam. And, we found this fantastic artist – Prathyusha. She takes custom orders and makes dolls using 3D quilling technique.
After a few back and forth interaction with her, we sent the following reference images that we wanted her to make the dolls for.
And, the final results were stunning – all done by Prathyusha.
Those who saw the kolu couldn’t find any difference from the usual clay dolls – which goes to show the level of detail that Prathyusha had taken into account and translated them on to these paper dolls with her craftsmanship.
Finally, can’t wait for all of us to experience the festive spirit like before. This festivity is all about killing the evil spirit, may this Navaratri bring an end to all our inner demons as well as the pandemic.