BANGALORE: The nine-day Navratri festival in Bangalore is a celebration of traditions that embrace both the community and the individual.
In Karnataka, this is when families display dolls, worship the goddesses and also offer gratitude to musical, agricultural and industrial implements. Of course, meals turn festive both at the restaurants and at Kannadiga homes.
Despite changing times, the Bombe Habba (or the Dasara doll festival) is still alive and kicking in a large number of city homes. The first day of the festival witnesses the installation of the Kalasha along with the arrangement of dolls on a stepped platform.
Noted Indologist and faculty at Christ University, Githa U B says, “Dolls are common to all civilisations. India has a rich tradition of dolls that has a cultural diversity which is region specific. In the South, the display has a sequential arrangement for nine days. The platforms are in odd numbers with the pride of place given to the Pattada Gombe (the main dolls). This couple, mostly a family heirloom, is made of wood. Just as in temple sculpture, the top rows are occupied by celestial and semi celestial forms and their pantheon, here too, as the tiers descend, we see the display of humans, flora and fauna and inanimate things."
T L Padma, a housewife says that she has been following this ancient tradition for more than three decades.
As she arranges the dolls on a raised platform ( 7, 9 or 11 steps) with her little grand daughter helping her out, Padma explains the significance of the Pattada Gombe. “I have three sets of Pattada Gombe, one of them gifted by my parents during my marriage while another set, the white chandanada gombe attracts attention because of its colour as most of the wooden dolls are black. Apart from this, I display a rare glass statute of Eshwar which is more than 100 years old and not a single Dasara festival have I given it a miss as people come just to view it. I have a collection of wooden dolls, a few from Channapatna, a procession set, elephants, horses and other birds and animals. But I too contribute by making a set of rangoli patterns, flowers, garlands, and leaf festoons that are displayed on all days. Everybody in the family pitches in to help.”
She says, “Through these dolls, one can educate children by adhering to some themes too. But apart from that, I would like the future generation to know about our unique traditions which are fast disappearing.”
Githa adds, “One legend associates the doll display with the commemoration of the Devi’s victory over Mahishasura. Another popular legend is associated with the coronation of Rama who returns victorious to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana with the Devi’s grace.”
Where to buy dolls
There are many individuals and craft outlets in the city who exclusively make dolls for Bombe Habba. A few housewives adept in doll making and dressing up the dolls give it to their friends and relatives while there are some shops in southern parts of the city who sell dolls and theme based wooden toys. However, a collective rural effort in Jayanagar IV Block is a popular outlet for buying dolls.
Grameena Angadi which promote rural products created by artisans manufactured in rural areas of the state are displaying a variety of dolls, mostly traditional ones. The sheer numbers in various materials, shapes and sizes are procured from Mysore, Sagar, and Channapatna.
"We started procuring in dolls from various selected places right from first of September and these are being exhibited in our outlet from September 10. We have kept around 200 variety of dolls. This time, the new attraction are the toys from Kondapalli, a place in Andhra Pradesh. The artisans here make dolls round the year The evergreen attraction are the toys from Channapatna," said B Gangadhar Murthy, the store in charge and member Grameena Karakushala Udyama.
Most of the toys in this shop are made out of drumstick wood.
“The Dasara dolls are kept for the longest years. So each time, people buy new dolls, they don’t discard the old ones and keep a mix of both,"said Gangadhar
The festival dates
The festival is celebrated in different ways in each state, however, some things are common to all with the worship of Goddess Durga to seek her protection from all calamities and threats. Literally meaning nine auspicious nights, each day of the Navrathri Festival has special significance. On the first three days, the Goddess is invoked in the form of Durga.
On the next three days, she is worshiped as the mother of spiritual wealth in the form of Lakshmi while in the final set of three days, the Goddess is worshiped in the form of Saraswathi. Celebrations on the initial six days happen in homes and from the seventh day onward, it takes a public festival spirit. Important days to remember during Dasara are Saraswathi Pooja, Ayudh Pooja and Vijayadashmi.
On the 10th day, it is Vijayadashmi, marking the victory of Durga over demon Mahishasura as also the return of victorious Rama to Ayodhya.