14 October 2013

Navaratri Kolu Celebration

Navaratri is a joyous, major Festival celebrated throughout India each year around late September or early October. This year the nine day Festival concluded on Vijaya Dasami (Day of Victory) which falls on October 14, 2013. 

It seems that around Tiruvannamalai Navaratri is not celebrated as lavishly as in other parts of India. Perhaps one reason is that many residents of the area are already anticipating the upcoming Deepam Festival. 

This year some friends and I were invited to the homes of two Brahmin Priest families connected to service at Arunachaleswarar Temple. The below photographs of the Kolu displays were taken in their homes. The last photograph in this posting was taken of the Kolu display at Yogi Ramsuratkumar Ashram. 

Kolu Display

One very fascinating aspect of the Navaratri Festival, of which I have never written about is Kolu (Tamil = Golu) which means “Divine Presence”. This celebration incorporates the exhibition or display of dolls and figurines on numbered tiers or steps in the home and in some cases at Ashrams and public halls. 

Top 3 Tiers of Display more detail

Preparations for Kolu begin well in advance. Many families have dolls dating back from several generations and between each year’s Celebration, the dolls are carefully wrapped and packed in large trunks. The figurines can be simple or very complicated and based upon marriage occasions, musical instruments, shops, current affairs, Gods and Saints, or depictions of the Epics and Puranas (i.e. Mahabharata, Ramayana, Krishna Leelas etc.). 

Another section of Display

Kolu had a significant connection with the agricultural economy of Ancient India. In order to encourage de-silting of irrigation canals the Kolu celebration was aimed at providing demand for clay that was needed for the celebratory dolls. It is believed that the tradition of Kolu has been in existence from the reign of the Vijayanagara kings. 

Display in another Priest's Home

Start of the celebration 

An auspicious time is chosen before placing the Kalash and dolls for worship with which the Kolu festival begins. A Kalash is a small pot made up of silver or brass containing rice, sticks of Turmeric, Toor dal and a rupee coin. A coconut and mango leaves are placed at the mouth of the pot. 

After placing the Kalash, the Kolu dolls are arranged in tiers of more than nine levels. There is a specific order in arranging the dolls. 

Generally they follow a set sequence as below:- 

Steps 1 to 3—Dedicated to Gods. The kalash is always kept on the first step and arranging the kalash on first step marks the initiation of the ceremony. The different idols of various Gods and Goddesses are arranged in these three steps. 

Steps 4 to 6—The next three steps are devoted to saints like Sai Baba, Swami Vivekananda, Demigods and national leaders. 

Figurine of Lord Iyyapan

Step 7—On this step dolls depicting festivals, celebrations and occasions are displayed. 

Step 8—Scenes of everyday life, such as shops, bus stop, cars, street scenes etc. 

Step 9—On this step, traditional Marapachi Bommai are placed along with other dolls symbolising living things in the world. (Marapachi Bommais are a pair of male and female dolls carved out of a special medicinal redwood called ‘Marapachi’ is a These dolls are a traditional part of South Indian Brahmin marriages in which male and female dolls are gifted to the bride). 

Figurine of Wooden Ther (chariot)

After arranging the dolls, friends, neighbours, visitors and relatives are invited to view the Kolu. In the evening of the conclusion of Navaratri i.e. Vijayadasami (the day of Victory) the dolls from the ‘Kolu’ are symbolically put to sleep by laying them horizontally and Kalash is moved a bit towards North to mark the end of that year’s Kolu. 

Figure depicting Ravana in the Ramayana

My Favourite: Cricketing Ganesha facing multiple Ganesha outfielders

Prayers are offered to thank the God for the successful completion of the year’s Kolu and for the hope of a successful exhibition in the following year. Then the Kolu is dismantled, packed and stored for the next year. 

2013 Kolu Display at Yogi Ramsuratkumar Ashram

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