CHENNAI: Miniatures, Jurassic Parkinspired, corn husk dolls, sports figures — Chennaiites have never failed to surprise us with elaborate and unique themes for golu. Even so, as I walked into Nandhini Venkatesh’s house in Nolambur, I was stunned by the magnitude of her efforts.
Clad in a striking blue sari, she welcomed me to her nine themes on display for this year. “Each year’s events — eithe news or trends — inspire me to select what I would like to focus on. I am inspired by Tamizh culture, trends and traditional books; these slowly become a theme,” says Nandini, whose impressive golu collection has been available for public viewing since 2011.
Dedicated to diversity
This year, we start with a seven-padi showcase of traditional golu dolls in the front yard. The large exhibit demands your attention with several bright dolls taking up the entire space, but what catches your eye is the bottom padi that is lined with books. “I have switched all the dolls in the last padi with books as an ode to our gurus, who are like gods,” explains Nandhini, as she directs me to the next theme — Silappatikaram. The climax of the epic is depicted through handpainted thermocol figures; making you feel like you are watching a play. Next to this, I spot a few small Buddha dolls that — Nandhini later explains — are to invite thoughts of peace and relaxation for the guests.
We stop by the third display presenting the phases of womanhood — childhood, adolescence, spinsterhood, family life and the final stages of old age — before moving on to an unexpected feature of plastics by Walk For Plastic, an NGO. In an attempt to bring to light the climate crisis in the world, the organisation has created a golu exhibit illustrating the alternatives to be considered for plastic and, surprisingly, some paper products, including bags, toothbrushes, cups, straws, wrapping paper and plates. “There have been studies, which suggest that a human ingests a credit cardsized portion of plastic (every week). How is that? Because even when we invest in products such as paper cups and plates, they are coated with a layer of plastic. Instead of these, it is better to invest in sustainable alternatives, such as palm plates, steel or bamboo straws, or paper wrapping,” says Shivani Hansdara, a volunteer at the organisation.
Another theme shows a giant leaf, stitched together with smaller ones, emblazoned with a detailed image of Thiruvalluvar. Nandhini has dedicated this room to her Clubhouse friends. “Clubhouse is a fascinating app. They have one room for Thirukkural, where I would go every day to discuss kurals. That became an inspiration and I wanted to dedicate this room to my Clubhouse family,” she says. The entire set-up mimics a Bharat Ratna award. A giant thermocol installation of Hanuman takes up most of the next room. From the Chiranjeevi or immortal, she prays for “a longer life for the world in this Corona crisis”.
Stories of salute
As an ode to writer Bharathiyar for his 100th death anniversary, a large painting of him on thermocol is featured with idols of Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga. “He lived in poverty for nearly his entire life, so I have placed Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) next to him, to be close at least now. Bharathi means Saraswati and he was a huge fan of Goddess Durga, so I have placed them here too,” she adds.
Finally, we move on to an impressive collection of Ganeshas — 3,500 idols were displayed across an entire floor. The eighth theme was inspired by the pandemic — a Ganesha painting revealing masks, sanitisers and healthy food on one hand, and frontline workers on the other. The ninth theme included the rest of the Ganeshas that lined the walls with unique concepts — boxing, Holi, awareness of deforestation and more.
Nandhini says, around 7,000 to 8,000 people visit her exhibits during golu every year, but the pandemic has dwindled these numbers. We are glad to not have missed out on such a delightful opportunity.