Navarathri 1978, at our place in New Delhi, West Kidwai Nagar.No colour pictures then, and even black and white pictures were rare, not everyone owned a camera.
Anyone who has celebrated Navarathri with a Kolu knows the amount of work entailed. The preparation for the Kolu starts days ahead. My mother made it a point to make new paper garlands every year for decoration, adding to the ones collected and saved from previous years. Creating them was an art in itself, and we would all be roped in to roll the coloured paper flowers. (Guess who was the lone recalcitrant roller.)
The dolls would be arranged only on white sheets laid on the steps to set off their bright colours. The steps were usually makeshift, set up with trunks and boxes, but nonetheless perfectly aligned.And on either side of the steps would be what could be termed as ‘parks’. Mud was fetched in and spread, fast sprouting seeds like methi were scattered to create fields and grass.
Nothing new, but my mother started this when I was about 7 or 8. Almost 70 years ago. And she made these Kolu happen for almost 40 years.
One year she made small dolls out of white clay and painted them with costumes, including swimsuits, and placed them on a pool made out of a dish of water. I was 8 then, and I remember it so clearly.
Maiji says she made her first kolu when I was two. A few dolls placed on a small table, over a lace tablecloth. And a small kolam. As I grew, so did the Kolu, and the Kolam.
My contribution in later years was to carry out her instructions, so I used to help with the making of cardboard cutouts like temple towers etc. and painting them.Just seeing her go at it would exhaust me.
Even when the family grew and her responsibilities increased, and later with my father’s parents joining us, she did not lose her drive.She would make laddoos at home to distribute with the manjal / Haldi kukmkum.
And these dolls travelled, wrapped carefully in old clothes and newspapers in their own trunk box, with us to wherever my father was transferred….from Delhi, to Trichy, to Chingleput, to Madras, to six years in Pondy where Maiji had the grandest kolus, …and back to Delhi.
This picture , so representative of Maiji’s spirit, was used with an article on Navarathri as celebrated by South Indians, in the Indian Express published from Delhi, in 1978.