When bommais narrate tales

Don’t know anything about Navaratri and Golu? Srividhya Veeraraghavan is more than happy to talk to you

Published: 06th September 2017 09:15 PM  |   Last Updated: 07th September 2017 10:27 AM   |  A+A-

Golu dolls arranged as a part of Navaratri

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Srividya Veeraraghavan cannot recollect a time when she was not telling a story. Writing her first book at the age of three in Hindi, she would always be narrating a story to her family, friends or anyone who would be around! “In fact, I wouldn’t eat food unless my mom was telling me a story,” she laughs.

Born in Chennai, she travelled across India due to her father’s work, and her wide travels made her proficient in Hindi, Tamil and English. She attributes her interest and skill perhaps to renowned Tamil writer Ashokamithran, her uncle. After pursuing master’s in social work and HR, she eventually got into the corporate world, but soon she realised her passion lay elsewhere, and quit. “I got into a storytelling workshop and realised this is what I wanted to. I felt that the characteristics of storyteller fitted in my personality very well,” she claims.

Srividya is all set to enthrall young kids and adults with her tales on the history of Golu and why Navaratri is the festival of dolls this Saturday. “In India, Navaratri is celebrated in different forms, albeit in the same month,” she explains. “In North, it is about Rama killing Ravana. In the Eastern parts, it’s about Durga killing the demon. In the western sides, it is more to do with worship. In the southern parts, we cherish the dolls as gods and goddesses. We invoke them into our houses; it is believed that we are inviting gods and goddesses during those 10 days when Durgama was preparing herself to destroy the Demon,” she explains.

There are other reasons too, as to why Navaratri is called the festival of dolls. In the olden days, when women were mostly confined to the household and not go out much, this festival period was one time when they could go out freely, dress up...even as mythological characters like Andal or Durga. “She could go visit every other house and sing the praise of God, and in return get sundal. It was more about the free social interaction. That is one of the reasons we have dolls in display,” she narrates.

All Golu setups have dolls arranged in steps, and it is usually only an odd number of steps — 3, 5,7 or 9. “The arrangement is a symbolism about the evolution of our humankind, of how we start our life,” she says. The first doll to be placed on the first step is the ‘Marapachi bommai’, which is made of wood and comes in a pair - as a man and woman. “It can be called as boy-girl, or bride-groom, or just as a man-woman. It represents the evolution of mankind, when they had to live with nature — animals, insects etc.” The subsequent steps represent man progressed with time — showing agriculture and farming, crafts and artisan works. The third step then progresses to show festivals and celebrations like weddings, Diwali etc. showing a sense of community.

The next three steps are dedicated to the Saints and Gurus. “In Hinduism, it is believed that one needs a Guru to get realisation of God. So saints like Saibaba, Sri Raghavendhra, are kept in the three tiers. The last three steps are kept for all the gods and goddesses,” she adds. The whole arrangement is followed to remind human beings that this is the route in which we should live our life.
Over the years, she feels Golu has evolved in meaning and form. “In the earlier days, it was a celebration of victory over evil. The dolls would be made of clay by the craftsmen, who would visit houses; the arrangements would be on wooden planks. It was all so simple,” she recalls, stating that she still holds on to her Paati’s dabba of bommais, which they use for their home’s Golu. “That clay with which golu bommais were made of...that clay is no longer available,” she rues.  

She sees this festival as a way to interact with our neighbours, who we’d otherwise have no time to spare. “It’s an excuse to invite people in, and go out into other homes. Earlier there used to be competitions for the best sundal, but now it has become like who has the best Golu,” she laughs.
Her talk this Saturday will focus on children, because she feels children can spread joy more than adults. “I have found many children disinterested in our cultural forms. They have to see and understand our culture,” she says, though of course adults are also invited.  
Her talk will trace how Golu came into existence, what young girls would do in olden days, how the dolls were created and much more, which she will narrate with the help of a few dolls and her stories.

The talk by Srividhya Veeraraghavan will be on September 9 at Bookworms Library,
KK Nagar at 11 am. Entry fee `150.
For registration, call 9791119634

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