It is that time of the year when the air is filled with festivities. While some of us are busy making plans to play dandiya with friends, locals are decking up their homes with doll arrangements.
Popularly known as Bommala koluvu in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, a few households set up the arrangement during Sankranthi. The tradition is a symbol of feminine power that is represented in a kalasam (a brass, silver pot decorated with sandal and kumkum).
Down south, all the four states have a unique way of celebrating this tradition – bomme habbe in Kannada, bommai kolu or golu in Tamil and bomma gullu in Malayalam.
It begins with the kalasa pooja on purattasi navaratri (the first day of Dasara) and continues for the next nine days until Vijaya Dasami, which is the last day.
In the decorated kalasam, fresh green mango leaves are placed beautifully on the top of the pot and a coconut is placed on the leaves. A sacred thread is tied around the metal pot. It is also filled with water, gems, gold and coins. This form of worshipping is also practised during a few other festivals including Varalaksmi Vratham and Gowri pooja.
The Kalasa pooja is done to invite Goddess Durga to reside in the pot. After this pooja, the kalasam is placed on the first step of the doll arrangement.
“On the first day of Dasara, we decorate the pot and start the auspicious celebration with the kalasa pooja. There are young girls in my family who plan everything from decorating the pot to inviting friends. Kalasa pooja forms the most important part of the festival especially because we believe that Goddess Lakshmi resides in it. It is considered to be a symbol of prosperity and source of life”, explains Sudha Muralidhar, a lawyer.
The number of steps in doll arragement are generally in odd – three, five, seven or nine. The nine steps represent the nine days of Navaratri. Harshini Prasad, a 12-year-old has been watching her mother plan for the festival with enthusiasm every year despite her busy work schedule.
Talking about why she waits for the vacation, she says, “Anybody who knows the essence of this tradition would love to be a part of it. The pride and joy that is felt by displaying your colourful dolls is simply incomparable. I get to invite my friends home in the evenings for activities and prasadam. Also, it is fun to go shopping with amma, looking for new play dolls every year.”
Traditionally, the upper steps include idols of gods and the kalasa. The next few steps from the top are filled with popular mythological heroes from Indian history or saints like Raghuvendra Swami and Madhavacharya.
Human activities like marriages and farming, animals and birds become the last steps. It is believed that a few new dolls are added every year. A few people also thematically represent of ancient stories, depicting scenes from Ramayana and Bhagavad Gita, among others.
Padma Arunkumar, a housewife has been following the ritual for the past 20 years.
She observes, “It has become competitive where the best arrangements are also awarded with prizes. Online stores also have made our work easier. When I do not have time, I order dolls online.”
Every house is lit up in the evenings, not with diyas but with huge gatherings of women of all ages – from children dressed in beautiful pattu langas to working women who themselves in different kinds of silk sarees with matching jewellery.
Children recite slokas, sing songs and eat special dishes offered to the gods, especially the protein-rich dish called sundal (which is made of different grains and pulses) with some sweets and fruits. Women folk exchange betel leaves, betel nuts, coconuts, fruits, flowers, bangles, turmeric, and kumkum which is called thamboolam.
“My daughter loves being the host. She plans all the social activities and also decorates the clay dolls with different colour papers. A lot of planning and effort goes into it. But the fun we have is worth it”, adds Padma.
The tenth and the last day is the day when good defeats the bad. On that day, the dolls are symbolically put to sleep and packed the next day to be brought out of the boxes the following year. The last evening dishes prepared including poli and payasam thus ending the festival with all the joy and better plans for the next year.