CHENNAI: On the first row from the bottom, you’ll find Dasavatharam. The Ashta Lakshmis are on the second row. Then there are rishis, idols of gods and goddesses, and a park with animals. Every doll here is special, but the most precious is the kuthu vilakku that’s dolled up like Goddess Lakshmi,” enthuses 72-year-old Pudukottai resident Vimala Ganesan. Her face lights up every time she picks a doll and narrates the story behind it, on a virtual call with this reporter.
A memorable affair
The festival of Navaratri is the most awaited time of the year for Vimala, who has been keeping golu for the last five decades. The retired superintendent of public health and preventive medicine department believes that the true beauty of golu lies not in its grandeur but the intention of the person setting it up.
“To me, golu is an occasion to kindle the curiosity in children about our culture and mythology, and use the dolls as tools for storytelling. Anybody can keep a golu as it’s a harmonious festival. It’s also a time to give back to the needy. I ensure I call the corporation workers and a few children home, offer them their favourite snack and give something useful as gifts. It’s all about sharing a slice of your life with others,” she notes.
For Vimala, a large part of preserving the existing traditions for posterity includes maintaining the heirloom dolls in mint condition. “Broken dolls are meant to be fixed and not replaced. We have someone who’s been repairing our dolls for years. You need to give the bommais only in trustworthy hands. You may have papier-mâché, cloth dolls, metal dolls etc., but clay dolls have the best features. I still have the dolls left behind by my sister and the ones gifted by amma. They need to be treasured,” she insists.
On the spiritual path
Recollecting some of her fond childhood memories of goluhopping, Vimala shares, “We would pick our baskets and run to every house to see golu and collect goodies. We would wear pavadai-sattai and sometimes, dress up as deities. There used to be long queues outside some houses known for their extravagant golus. These days people are picky about everything from choice of clothing to return gifts. And with the pandemic, everything has gone virtual. Nothing replaces a live experience.”
Living alone in her sunset years now, Vimala finds solace in following this annual routine. “Don’t let age or circumstances bog you down. All you need is a pinch of grit and determination. I’m enjoying my retired life and after my husband’s passing, I’ve embraced spirituality. I’ve always wanted to build a small portion for Lord Ganesha at a nearby temple, for which I recently completed work. I’m sure my mother would be proud that I’ve been able to live my life to the fullest by upholding the moral and cultural values she’s passed on to me. I don’t know if I will be alive for the next golu, but my prayers for everyone will always be there,” she says. Here’s hoping that her story inspires us to embrace and celebrate our culture.