This year I had the privilege to visit my friend Sowmiya’s(Sowmiya Natarajan) Golu display at her new jersey home.When I shared those pictures of nicely decorated dolls and figurine with my friends and family many of them were curious to know about the significance of golu.
So here I am trying to pen down the meaning and purpose behind this ritual in a simplistic way for you all.
Navratri is celebrated in different parts of India in different ways and names. But the underlying meaning and the message is same for all-it’s the triumph of good over devil.In west Bengal and other states from East,durga puja is the essence of this festival, in Delhi and other northern state ramleela is associated with navrati and for Gujratis it is celebrated by performing garba , while in south Indian states it is display of Golu.
Golu also known as Bommai Kolu, Bommala Koluvu or Bombe Habba is the artistic display of dolls and figurines on multiple steps,usually 3, 5, 7, 9, or 11 tiers.Many homes in the southern states of India—Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, display these colorfully decorated dolls during the nine days of Navaratri.Bommai Kolu in Tamil means Devine presence. Bommala Koluvu in Telugu means Court of Toys and Bombe Habba means doll festival in Kannada.
These displays are typically based on some theme,representing ancient stories,depicting scenes from Ramayan,Bhagavad Gita and other hindu mythological texts. As the story goes ,when Goddess Durga set out to fight Mahishasura, all the Gods and Goddesses helped her by lending their powers to her. Without their powers, they became statues or ‘dolls’. With all the collective power on the 10th day of battle, Goddess Durga finally triumphed over the evil Mahishasura.
This is celebrated as Dussehra and to pay homage to the Gods and Goddesses who became ‘dolls’ by giving their powers away, the doll festival started.
As per traditional practices the top steps include idols of gods and goddesses.Along with mythological characters and figurine of hindu god,people display dolls based on everyday scenes,hindu wedding,ratha yatra,villages etc.Small girls and boys from the family keeps doll of miniature kitchen utensils or any other toys from their collection.
On the auspicious day of amavasya, the preparations start by setting up the steps, arranging the dolls,decorating the homes with flowers and rangolis.The nine days of Navaratri start the next day and end on the tenth, on Vijayadasami the day of victory.All these nine days prasad and prayer offered to the god.Family and friends are invited. Women exchange betel leaves, betel nuts, fruits, flowers, bangles, turmeric, and kumkum among themselves.Shlokas are chanted by kids and other elder family members. The ninth day is celebrated with Saraswathi pooja, the goddess of knowledge and learning.On that day, books are offered to the goddess to get blessings.The tenth day which is vijayadashami, is considered an auspicious day to start something new be it new ventures, journeys or learning new skills.On the tenth and last day, the Golu dolls are put to sleep and packed for the rest of the year until next Navratri.
Significance of different dolls my friend kept
These are the dolls displayed at my friend’s home.She patiently narrated us the significance of them.
Dasavathram: the 10 Incarnations of Lord Vishnu
In a golu of stories, this set has plenty to fill days and nights. Children are drawn towards the story usually told by grandparents and it becomes a good chance to familiarize them with these most loved and often-repeated stories from Hindu mythology.
Lord Vitthal (Pandurang)
Lord Vithal, or Panduranga Vittala, is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and is worshipped in the world famous Pandarpur Rukmini Vithal Temple at Pandarpur in Maharashtra.
8 Forms of Lakshmi
Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of beauty, wealth and fertility has eight different forms. This concept of Goddess Lakshmi in her eight form is referred to as the Ashta-Lakshmi.
Aadi-Lakshmi (The Primeval Goddess) or Maha Lakshmi (The Great Goddess)
Dhana-Lakshmi or Aishwarya Lakshmi (The Goddess of Prosperity and Wealth)
Dhaanya-Lakshmi (Goddess of Food Grains)
Gaja-Lakshmi (The Elephant Goddess)
Santana-Lakshmi (The Goddess of Progeny)
Veera-Lakshmi or Dhairya Lakshmi (The Goddess of Valor and Courage)
Vidya-Lakshmi (The Goddess of Knowledge)
Vijaya-Lakshmi or Jaya Lakshmi (The Goddess of Victory)
Kamadhenu is a divine bovine-goddess described in vedic scriptures as the mother of all cows. She is a miraculous “cow of plenty” who provides her owner whatever he desires and is often portrayed as the mother of other cattle as well as the eleven Rudras. In iconography, she is generally depicted as a white cow with a female head and breasts or as a white cow containing various deities within her body. All cows are venerated in Hinduism as the earthly embodiment of the Kamadhenu. As such, Kamadhenu is not worshipped independently as a goddess, and temples are not dedicated to her honor alone; rather, she is honored by the veneration of cows in general throughout the observant Indian population.
Marapachi Bommai – For togetherness
These dolls are made of wood – ‘Mara’ means wood and ‘pachi’ means carved. Its origin can be traced back to Andhra Pradesh. It comes as a pair of husband and wife. Usually the dolls are not clothed, leaving some fun activity time for children to dress them up before it is being displayed. They represent the togetherness and bonding between a couple.
Chettiar Bommai: The signs of prosperity
Amidst the Gods and the Marapachi, this old, bulbous and wealthy looking couple take up an important position. Any Golu is incomplete without this couple. The Chettiar community is traditionally associated with being a business commmunity. In addition to the dolls, a handful of grains, rice and jaggery is placed in front of them to make the typical Chettiar kadai- the grocery shop. The couple stands for growth, prosperity and happiness.
As my friend does not have the real dolls she just dressed up the toys to create these dolls.
Laughing Buddha: for contentment in simplicity
In my friend’s home, her old, heavy laughing Buddha (Buddai) paperweight from the study migrates to the steps of the Golu unfailingly, every year. Contray to the chettiar bommai is the Buddai who is poor and is still content. A character who teaches us to be good and loving towards others despite difficulties in life.
Beautiful sea and a grape farm
kids creative corner that completes the Golu.Every family gives personal touch to their golu collection by adding few pieces with their creativity.
African wild animals theme
One more addition by the kids.
Golu is not only about displaying colorful dolls,it is the time when stories come alive,elders become child with their kids, families bond together.This also a way to introduce age old stories, mythology and to retain and pass our traditions and culture to the next generation.
Disclaimer:The article is written based on the information provided by my friend and by referring other resources present in Google.