Wednesday, 8 October 2008


Tushti with her 'kolu'

Once upon a time, my Navarathri evenings were filled with visiting the kolus of other people – neighbours , friends and relatives. Now the invitations have dwindled, as also the visits – a kind of poetic justice! When I was very young I would sulk my way through the Navarathri days, and upon my mother’s insistence, (in those days one did not dare to disobey mothers,) get dressed in colourful pattu pavadai and visit other people’s kolus, and invite them to ours.

I have never arranged a kolu, despite my mother’s wonderful ones. Her recent post on her blog, revived nostalgic memories in all of us, her children, and other readers too. I remember how much effort she put into each one of them, and her enthusiasm was infectious. There we were, all five of us, and the domestic help too, chipping in with our own contributions.

One of the pre-kolu activities was the making of paper garlands to decorate the canopy over the kolu. We would start days before the actual kolu. All of us remember this activity clearly. Coloured crinkly paper (called crepe paper) would be cut into three inch squares, and piled in small batches. The two opposing sides of these squares would be snipped up to an inch, forming a fringe on either side. These would then be rolled at the unsnipped centre, so that the fringed sides would open out like petals of flowers. These were strung together with twine, or slender threads of rope, Every year fresh garlands were added to the existing pones, and there would be enough to drape over the sides of the steps. A riot of colours. We would all do our bit, with even the youngest ones would diligently form the flowers by crumpling the centres. The festooning of the garlands was left to the boys.

Pieces of cardboard, matchboxes and cigarette cartons were used to make doll sized furniture, and temple towers, or walls, which would then be painted over or pasted with colour paper.

I was willing to help all I could with all that, but deck myself up and visit or invite people to our kolu was something I did not do happily, and often left it to my sisters.

I have noticed that not many kolus have these garlands – the plastic ones, coloured, or gold and silver are readily available in the shops, along with so many embellishments. Even toy sized furniture has been available over the years, eliminating a lot of hard work. This year I even saw ready-made patches of grass (fake) on sale. My mother’s fields were made of sprouted fenugreek, sown in time to come up during the kolu.

With all the ready made stuff saving time and labour, people now concentrate on arranging the kolus – they have various themes, and imagination has free play. I was one of the judges one year of a kolu contest, run by our newspaper, and had to visit more than 100 kolus in three days. Phew! But so rewarding. The imagination, the creativity, the artistic adapting of our legends and myths, even literature, the sheer ingenious use of the resources was extremely impressive, and made me feel humble.

This year I visited only a few kolus, but all were impressive.

Vidya’s had a good collection of antique toys and playthings, arranged on a silk background.These dolls are playing pallankuzhi!

Padmini’s had dolls which were more than 60 years old – she had a whole room devoted to the kolu.

At the C. P. Art Centre a kolu was arranged using the dolls that were used in the family of C. P. Ramamswamy Aiyar’s kolu. The two big dolls on the top shelf have actual hair and wear real clothes. The huge Hanuman is a puppet.

Meenakshi’s collection of dolls were old and new, and arranged neatly.

Bhama’s collection was mainly antique,

and Girija’s had a set of Ashtalakshmi (eight Lakshmis).

Great niece Tushti(topmost picture) showed off all her bommais, giving each one a persona – one was her mother, another her grandmother and so on….. The traditional wooden dolls – Marapachi - were displayed in four sizes.

At Padmini Vaidyanathan’s there was no kolu, but these two puppets, about 18 inches high, seated on a teeny bench to fit their size, caught one’s eye.

The welcome one receives at kolus, and the hospitality, followed by the auspicious send off with turmeric, kumkum and sundal (cooked beans) does warm the cockles of one’s heart.

P. S. All these pictures can be enlarged - just click on them


Blogeswari said...

After reading your post, called Amma and told her to pack all the old dolls that aren't part of our golu any longer and send them here.

Love the pallanguzhi doll... a rare one.. kutty n cute!

Webradio said...

Bonjour Raji !
Jolies photos... Et beaucoup de belles poupées !
Je vais dire à ma fille Aspiquette de regarder les poupées...
Je vais relire Ton texte, et le traduire...
A bientôt.

namaki said...

your county has so many different rituals ! I am simply amazed !

Anil P said...

This must be such a rich experience, visiting Kolus, more an occasion than a mere tradition.

I cannot recollect visiting one. This was a nice journey you took us on.

flowergirl said...

Now you must do a photo essay on the decorations on our vahanams - cars, autos and buses - for ayudha pooja!

Saw some real spectacular ones today!

Chipie said...

Bonsoir de France ! C'est très joli toutes ces photos, et c'est intéressant. La petite fille sur la première photo est bien souriante...

Anya Padyam said...

That is such a great collection of Kolu photos; I love this festival!

Thanks for sharing the pictures,

Happy Vijayadasami!

Jen Kumar said...

Nice snaps and accompanying story!! Happy Navarathri

Gowri Mohanakrishnan said...

Thanks for making it possible for me to visit all these lovely kolus. Beautiful.

Kat said...

Understand the 'feelings' - being helpful but not paticipative. After all someone is required to araichify the sundal..!!! :)))

Thank you for all the tips on kolu. Will jollichify next year..!!!

Sunita Mohan said...

Great post, Raji! I loved visiting everyone's 'kolus'. Brings back memories of living in Madras (my tongue trips over 'Chennai') in my college days.

Swarna said...

Raji, I almost decided I'll not read this's so close to home and heart! We 3 sisters also used to hate dressing up to visit.
Lovely kolus, I wish the homes never tire of setting them up each coming year! Any pics of the special wooden dolls, which are symbolically put to sleep on the last day?

Maddy said...

it has been ages since we participated in a navarathri celebration - it used to be like you described...but well..


Blogeswari, the old dolls are sweet, no?

Webradio, Aspiquette a regarde les poupees?

Namaki, wait till diwali comes!

Anil, happy I could show you these.

Flower girl, next year, definitely.

Chipie, aimez vous les poupees?

Just someone, glad you liked the pictures.

Jennifer, thanks, and thanks for visiting, too.

Gardenia and Kat - thanks.

Sunita, Swarna and Maddy - nostalgic memories, I suppose, just like me.

Indrani said...

I don't get to see golus here in my complex much. But when I was small I remember visiting every aunty's house in the neighborhood, not to see the golus but to collect the sundals. I love to eat them.:D


Indrani, you shall have sundal, kolu or not, when you visit us!