CHENNAI: Entering the house of the late Rajasekhar and Sumukhi in the heart of Mylapore during Navaratri is like taking a plunge into a colourful explosion of gods, goddesses, musical instruments and dolls. The marbled floors are scattered with pedestals bearing golden idols, the window grills support softer and smaller dolls of women dancing or playing instruments, and streamers and flower-garlands dangle from the ceilings.
A golu tradition set by the aforementioned couple 67 years ago is being carried forward by their foster children Surendranath, Amarnath and Aparnna, and the latter’s foster son, Suganathan, since 1992. This year, they boast a three-room golu dedicated to Goddess Saraswati, titled Saraswati Namosthubyam. The first room, which contains a collection of antiques passed through generations, and the second room, which houses musical instruments like the harmonium, veena and gatam, are merely a taste of the splendour in the third — a nine-step golu that covers a wall from floor to ceiling with vibrant lights, saris, flowers, and of course, dolls.
A traditional tradition
For Surendranath, an independent art director, Amarnath, a historian, and Aparna, a chartered accountant, art and culture is a passion and obsession. They organise and sponsor several cultural programmes throughout the year, whose themes dictate the theme of their golu, which is open to the public. Setting up the thousands of dolls they own is a way of preserving their culture and traditions, they explain.
Called the Mylapore Trio, they believe that the only extent to which a Navratri golu can be made contemporary is by relating it to modern-day subjects. In Suganathan’s words, the next generation needs a dose of history through golu. “Indian mythology references the fact that the Earth is round, much before the West. We see Varaha carrying the Earth, which is depicted as a circle. Why not tell our children this story to help them understand the fact?” he says.
The traditional nature of the golu is reflected in their guests, who come wearing traditional saris or dhotis. The trio doesn’t believe in thinking out of the box when recreating mythological narratives in their golu.
“Once a child had come with his mother. We had placed the Dasavataram that year. The boy’s mother pointed to the ten incarnations. The boy immediately told his mother that it cannot be Dasavataram, because it is not Kamal Haasan. This shows how aloof the younger generation is from traditions. We need to continue traditional golus,” explains Aparnna.
A twist to the tale
The only break from tradition in this golu is that men and boys are equally involved in the process. The usual practice is to give tamboolam (return gift) only to the women who visit. Here, all who visit receive a bag. A golu is not only for women, of women and by women, they say. “Sumukhi amma told us how important it was for the men to be part of setting up a golu. We are taking that tradition forward,” says Surendranath.
Trail across TN
They have taken their golu presentations to other cities like Madurai and Srirangam. The story behind their expansion is one of a guest’s wonder after visiting their golu in 2010.“We used to put up a golu at Kapaleeshwarar Temple. There was a joint commissioner from Chennai who was transferred to Madurai, and then to Srirangam, who had seen our golu at the temple in Mylapore. He decided to call us to all districts he went to. We would juggle between Madras and the city we were in,” recalls Amarnath.
The Kapaleeshwarar Temple is also where they introduced the concept of a golu which people could circumvent. The temple golus are always a family favourite, such as an ashtadhik-facing golu in Kapaleeshwarar Temple and a golu designed as a temple tank in Triplicane. These golus would bring in lakhs of devotees, they say. They would make the golu at their home, and then move it to whichever city they have been invited to, and return in time for Vijayadashami.