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Sep 30

Written by: Jennifer Kumar, Cultural Adjustment Coach
Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Nothing like Navarathri: An American’s Passion and Continuation of Navarathri in US Part 1 (of 3) 
By Jennifer Kumar, Cross-Cultural Coach

2010 Navarathri Celebrations (Bommai Kolu/Golu displays)
October 8-17, 2010.
See detailed 2010 Calendar.

My first, cherished Navarathri Memories

Kolu by mohanayyar at flickrThe door was ajar. The glare of color and bright lights from the room enticed me and enchanted me. I wanted to see what was inside. Nothing could prepare me for entering that room- the room that introduced me to Navarathri in Chennai, the room that introduced me to ‘golu’ and the room that inspired me to continue and create this amazing and breathtaking festival in my home in America.

Photo by mohanaayar at flickr. This is not the golu I experienced! :)

That room was decorated unlike no room ever. It was said that Amma (mom) and Paati (grandmother) and virtually any other female member of the family had been working many a months to create this alluring and memorable display. No camera could have done justice to capture this golu padi. No video, also. Even my memory appears to overload and crash if I really try hard to remember all the stimulation I felt in that room while experiencing this magnificent golu. The golu filled the 10 ft by 15 ft room. The room was ‘full golu,’ nothing but golu. The steps, covered in fine, thick colorful Kanchipuram silk saris with their thick gold zari borders running down the middle of the each almost ten foot long step (padi) was dazzling. The fabric, silk, and zari did not end where the golu met the floor. Beautiful fabrics, finely stitched, handmade creations by paati adorned the ceilings and walls. These tapestries were like patch work quilts, each segment with some unique symbol or design hand stitched into it. A sight, nay, a feast for the eyes and actually all other senses as these fabrics smelt like Thiurpathi to me- that smell of burning ghee while performing puja, the agarbathi (incense), the smell of prasad (holy offerings of food), like heavy ghee and sugar laden ladoos… the scents of all this trapped in the fabrics that hung from the wall. The lingering aroma satiated my hunger, no doubt. From the ceiling, where the tapestries met in the center hung a ‘disco ball’ that reflected the light from the ‘diya’ (oil lamps). This completed the ambiance as the tapestries had covered every square inch of the wall, including the window. Yes, even so that light, that color, and that alluring and tempting aroma tempted us from outside the door.

Of course with all that, there were also the dolls! The dolls are the main attraction of golu padi. Dolls of all shapes, sizes, colors, and again, aromas, were in this room. Most on the steps, some on the floor in different scenes; like village scene, marriage scene, and foreign scenes. This made walking inside a challenge. Once inside, one had to stand against the back wall and try to soak everything in. Maybe if there were only one or two inside the room, sitting on the floor would have been possible for pujas or ladies singing.

The dolls also were unlike anything I would have called ‘dolls’ in America. To me a doll was a plastic or cloth replica of a person that a girl would play with and dress. Some of these dolls were dressed up, but they would not be played without outside of golu. Most of what I saw on golu was what I would have called ‘statues’. There were statues of all kinds- of gods or symbols from all major spiritual paths. The biggest statues, set on top, which amaze me since they were made from plaster of paris or stone and quite heavy, indeed. There were also statues of ‘regular people’ and statues of sannyasi and saints, statues of famous people, statues of foreign dolls, such as Japanese Geishas or other similar Asian dolls. There were statues of animals, cars, houses, and other everyday sceneries, like our Christmas nativities. For the grass, they grew their own ‘grass,’ or what looked like grass from barley or some other sprouted grain.

Marapachi Dolls, right courtesy of mohanayyar at flickr. 

Let it be known I did not want to leave that room, but when I did, I was again left in awe. One may think from this description these people lived in a big house or at least had extra bedrooms in their house. No such luck. They lived in a one bedroom flat in center of Chennai city. All ‘furniture’ in the bedroom was either removed or shifted around to make golu padi. In meantime, for the Navarathri days, they slept on the floor in the living room (drawing room). This would not be a big adjustment as this family would have slept on the floor in the bedroom on mats, under the ceiling fan. (Oh, that must have been covered with the tapestry, too! I don’t remember having seen the fan!) Also, the other curiosity is where they would be storing all these dolls when not displayed on kolu padi? I have no idea. There were probably at least 100 different statues of all sizes from few inches to 3-4 feet in height. It is a modern marvel if you ask me! The whole spectacle and experience will never be forgotten.

Of course, following this, all us girls were fed a hearty Tamil three course meal with plenty of sweets and savories, while sitting on the floor, off a banana leaf in the traditional way. And, on the way out we were all presented a small gift bag with comb, mirror with Lakshmi photo on the back, and small portions of haldi (turmeric) and kumkum wrapped carefully in recycled Tamil newspapers.

This was one experience of many I had in going for golu viewings while living in India. I experienced a variety of golu experiences. I saw golus in much more simple and plain settings and also saw golus in the most lavish and expansive settings, in homes of marble floors and expensive porcelain dolls from foreign countries such as Japan and Spain. What it was that impressed me most about this golu, hosted by an average lower middle class family, was their all-inclusive enthusiasm, their down to earth, humble hospitality and their genuine spirit of the season.


Keep in tune for:

Part 2: How I Prepare for Navarathri

Part 3: What is Celebrated during Navarathri?

 **This entry is a narrative of Navarathri experiences in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India 1999-2001.

Want to know when is Navarathri in 2010, 2011, 2012 and beyond? Follow my India America Interfaith and Social Calendar!


Related Posts/Sites: (Navarathri Links)

Navarathri festival gets off to a start at Padmanabhapuram, Author unknown, The Hindu Newspaper, September 28, 2008.
Synopsis: Unique rituals of initiating Navarathri in Nagercoil  (Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu) and Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala), South India.

Family Traditions: Navarathri, Author: Sheela, The Joy of My Life, and other things (blog), October 22, 2007.Synopsis: Sheela talks about the process of the Navarathri Bommai Golu tradition in her family. I came to this page by searching for ‘golu padi stand’ and learned that Godrej brand makes stainless steel golu padi. Too bad this is too big, clunky and heavy to carry on the plane!

Welcome to Navaratri!, Author Unknown, Thinkquest.org, Date unknown.
Synopsis: Simple outline of the nine days, how they are celebrated and how golu is celebrated.

Navratri Kolu, Navratri Kolu, Author unknown, Panchagam.com, Date Unknown.
Synopsis: Don’t want to store the golu padi and dolls at home? Can’t get your hands on those ethnically made golu dolls from India? How about trying a virtual golu? It’s pretty cool!

Navratri Kolu | Navarathri Golu | Navratri Dolls | Navrathri Kolu, Author unknown, Dandiyazone.com, Date Unknown.
Synopsis: Found this site in the google search, ‘meaning of kolu’. From site, “The origin of the word Kolu can be traced to Tamil Kolu or Telugu Koluvai, which means a sovereign sitting in his royal durbar. As per belief the concept of arranging these Navrathri dolls on the plank is to depict that Goddess Mahishasuramardini is sitting in her Kolu, prior to the slaying of the demon Mahishasura.” This page also discusses the importance of dolls and arrangements in relation to the steps on the golu.


Part 1 of 3 in Navarathri Trilogy (Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3


When is Navarathri 2011? September 28- October 7, 2011.

Find out when is Navarathri, other Hindu, Indian, American, and Interfaith holidays by following the Interfaith Calendar, click here.


==article concluded==


Author of this post and owner of this blog; Jennifer Kumar, CC, MSW, is a cross-cultural coach helping people find comfort in foreign lands through multicultural advising, interfaith coaching, expat mentoring, English as Second Language conversational and life skills coaching and more! Contact her for more information at authenticjourneys at gmail dot com or follow her on Facebook. Read more about her bio and credentials here.



Updated February 2011



Copyright ©2008 Jennifer Jayanthi Kumar


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