BENGALURU: When you enter M Bhagyalaxmi’s home at Tyagrajnagar, you won’t find any furniture. Instead, all three rooms in the house are filled with dolls – 50,000 to be exact. Like her, other Bengalureans too are celebrating the lead up to Dasara by bringing out their collection of dolls in order to keep in line with the popular tradition of Gombe Habba. These dolls often represent different themes or stories. For example, Bhagylaxmi’s collection includes antiques like a 100-year-old raktachandana doll, which she inherited from her grandmother, and a 24-carat gold plated doll.
Though dolls, setting them up is no child’s play and most people start preparation months in advance. Bhagylaxmi took three months to prepare for the theme she had in mind this year: Celebrating the life of Mysore’s former King Jayachamrendra Waidyer. For this, she also created a miniature Trikutachala temple,
Himalayas and an American village through her dolls. “All the dolls are special to me but the one closest to my heart are the 150-year-old Raja Rani dolls made of ivory. It was passed on to me through my mother-in-law’s mother,” she said, adding that she also has dolls from Mexico, Hawaii and China.
The 67-year-old has been collecting dolls since she was eight years old but her moment of pride comes
from seeing her granddaughter also follow through with the same passion.
Not very far away from Bhagyalaxmi’s home lives Vijaylaxmi Regret Iyer, who also maintains the tradition and has around 3,000 dolls in her collection. “My oldest doll is a 350-year-old wooden doll of Goddess Laxmi and Lord Venkateswra, which is from Tirupati,” said Iyer. Like Bhagyalaxmi, Iyer’s love for dolls also stems from her childhood, when she saw her mother decorate them. “I started collecting dolls when I was five years old. In those days we used to make our own dolls with clothes and scraps,” recalled the 62-year-old.
Gombe Habba initially began because the general public was not allowed to get a glimpse of the king and queen. The tradition then allowed people to get a glimpse of them. Understandably then, Iyer’s collection of Pattada Gombe (a set of king and queen dolls) are dear to her. “I have around 62 pattada gombes, which ranged from 5 inches to 2 feet,” she said with a proud smile.
While these are some of the traditional ones, Uma Shankar, who lives in Basavanagudi, loves recreating different zoos and parks for the display. She has been celebrating the habba for 35-40 years and
said, “More than the display of dolls, I like to have a theme surrounding nature. This time I have re-created Jog falls, a sand volcano and Andaman and Nicobar Islands.”
Though more expensive and time consuming, 69-year-old Shankar doesn’t mind the effort that goes into it and is motivated by the excitement people express when they see her display. Support from family also plays a big role.
“My husband and I were suppose to travel but we had to cancel the plan just because I wanted to celebrate Gombe Habba,” she said.
For 61-year-old Girija AS, the main highlight of Dasara is Gombe Habba. Every year for the past 15 years, her house in Malleswaram has been decorated with dolls without fail. This year she has displayed more than 250 dolls. Her favourite is the Goddess Chamundi doll, which is around 15 years old. “Gombe Habba is a tradition that has been passed on from our ancestors. We could have had more dolls but according to our family tradition, we can’t place a doll that is damaged,” she said.