Navratri Golu: Festival of Traditional Toys & Dolls made from Clay

  • Oct 22, 2015
  • It is that one time of year when grown-ups can have as much fun with toys as children do.

    Dussehra is a festival that celebrates children, toys, Shakti or the feminine and the vanquishing of evil. 

    Golu or kolu is a tradition during Navratri and Dussehra, that is followed in parts of south India which tells stories through dolls.

    The dolls or Bommai are often passed down through generations and many people add a doll each year. The traditions too might differ from home to home but it is often about telling a story through dolls.

    From Gods and Goddesses to human figurines, animals, birds and toy vessels and equipment, everything is displayed on steps called padi numbering from 3 to 9.

    People create miniature worlds that could be from mythology or about current affairs. You could depict a scene from the Ramayana or a scene from the shopping malls of today or even a pastoral scene.

    Just like the choice of toys reveal where and in what a child’s interests lie, the golu too can tell of a person’s creativity, interests and ideas.

    Traditionally, Kolu also has a significant connection to India’s agrarian economy. The traditional Kolu dolls are made of clay and as people collected clay from riverbeds, it encouraged dredging and de-silting of irrigation canals and riverbeds that was very important in an agrarian economy.

    These days the Golu toys appear in the markets some time before Dussehra. 

    Navarathri Golu dolls - Shumee

    Pic  credits : Vinoth Chandar,  Navaratri Golu dolls. 

    Golus give homes a bright and festive look and also become an occasion for people to visit each other and celebrate the festival together.

    It is a time when the ancient and the modern come together and you are as likely to see the Marapachi couple, two wooden dolls—one a man, the other a woman, who are decorated with fancy clothing and beads and accessories and traditionally signify togetherness and a Chettiar couple that embody growth and prosperity, sitting next to a train set that has more contemporary human figures.

    You could spot a sleeping Kumbhakarna of the Ramayana or see a handmade doll in Manipuri clothes with a doll house.

    Arrange a Golu at home this Dussehra - Shumee

    A Golu at home. Pic credits : Padmaja Shastri.

    What you depict then, is limited only by your imagination and creativity. The toys are even symbolically put to sleep on their sides on the 10th day and lovingly packed away till the next Navratri festival.

    Modern life often hems adults into roles that allow little scope for free and untrammelled expression. The hurried lifestyle can be stressful and simple toys can bring out the child and the playful side in everyone.

    Toys are associated with simplicity, innocence and uncomplicated childhood memories which help clear all the cobwebs in our minds. The simple joys of handling a toy can be extremely refreshing and empower us to face the adult world anew.

    This Dussehra, no matter what your Dussehra tradition and whether or not you have a golu in your home, let your imagination and creativity soar.

    Celebrate with family and friends and banish all darkness. Happy Dussehra!

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