MYSURU: Her doors are wide open during Navaratri every year. Visitors are greeted by dolls, a staggering 15,000 (though the family has over 25,000), arranged in neat rows. Every inch of this over six-decade-old house has dolls on display during the festival. It is aptly known as ‘Bombe Mane’ (Dolls’ House) among the residents of Saraswathipuram.
The Navaratri preparations start at the residence of 66-year-old Malini Sathyanarayan from January itself. The tradition of making dolls and arranging them during Dasara has been passed on to her from her parents and grandparents. Years and years of tradition are locked away safely in trunks, chests and cardboard boxes and handed down from generation to generation. Malini has more than 25,000 dolls and a majority of them are handmade. Of these, about 8,000 dolls passed on to her from her elders narrate the stories of the past dating back to 60 - 70 years - for instance, about the old Mysuru, Dasara Durbar, wrestling, shops on a stretch of Sayyaji Rao Road, villagers’ attire and people visiting temples.
Since she has a huge collection of dolls, Malini makes use of all the available space to arrange around 12,000 to 15,000 dolls every year at her residence. She arranges them in the verandah, hall, a room, portico and shed. This year’s themes include festivals of India, indoor and outdoor games, desi sports; Venkateshwara Vaibhava; children’s play themes, Dasara procession, etc.
What gives her great pleasure is the fact that she makes most of these dolls herself.
Malini learnt the art of making dolls from her mother. To further improve her skills, she did a doll-making course in 1973, which helped her adopt new techniques, and come out with more colourful and glittering dolls. On an average, she takes a week to prepare and decorate the dolls and there will be around 200 to 300 new collections every year.
Malini who has read epics like the Bhagavad Gita, Mahabharata and Ramayana, has created several dolls based on the characters in these epics. She stops making dolls one month before Navaratri, and starts unwrapping her huge doll collection and arranging them two weeks before the festival with the help of family members.
Malini says they think of themes based on the current happenings or from epics, or those related to recent social developments for which they have to update themselves by reading newspapers and following social media.
“We have to suitably stuff the materials to make a doll so they remain stiff, for which I need strength. Due to the age factor, I am unable to make dolls in large numbers. But I have taught my daughter-in-law and she helps in making the dolls,” says Malini, who has won several Dasara doll show competitions.
“We see a good footfall during Navaratri. We feel happy when the children ask us why we have arranged the dolls and there are instances when they have insisted their parents do so at their homes. When we explain to the children the stories behind the dolls, they get an opportunity to learn about our tradition and culture,” she says.
“Usually, we prefer visitors during the evenings, so we can explain to them in detail about each theme, and make them aware of the social, traditional and cultural aspects,” she says.“Once we had placed rubber eatables and the visitors thought they were real ones and broke the dosa, idli, and the children tried to eat the artificial fruits,” adds Malini sharing an anecdote. “Earlier, we used to arrange the dolls on stepped wooden platforms. Now we get readymade steps which can be easily fixed and dismantled after the festival season. Usually, we prefer to place dolls in nine steps, as it’s Navaratri,” Malini says. (firstname.lastname@example.org)