Festive display of dolls beautifies Navaratri in New Zealand

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Guests at Ramprakash Govindarajulu and Yogalakshmi Buvanasekaran at a Navaratri party (Photo provided)

And homes are once again the meeting place for prayers, music and food

Venkat Raman

Auckland, October 16, 2022

One of the most significant aspects of the recently concluded “Navaratri” (Dusshera) was the large-scale revival of “Golu” in South Indian homes.

After two years of confinement and despair, Navaratri 2022 was celebrated with dignity, honor, pleasure, adoration and fellowship by Hindus, led by the Gujarati community with gatherings in many centers. Almost every family was filled with relatives and friends enjoying the evenings, which always ended with a sumptuous meal,

A growing number of Tamil households had ‘Golu’, a festive display of dolls, with visits from friends every evening after a while.

Ramprakash and Yogalakshmi

Among the houses occupied by men, women and children were that of Ramprakash Govindarajulu (an SAP consultant), his wife Yogalakshmi Buvanasekaran (a change manager in a trading company) and their sons Kalyanvishnu and Deepvishnu.

The family has been celebrating the annual ‘Bommai Golu’ in Auckland since 2014, which Mr Ramprakash says is a tradition that has transcended many generations.

Golu exhibition at the home of Ramprakash Govindarajulu and Yogalakshmi Buvanasekaran (Photo provided)

“Every year, we prepare this season in advance, conceptualize and add new characters and idols. Besides inviting friends from different walks of life, we also take pleasure in extending our culture, values ​​and heritage to non-Indians, including Kiwis. When they visit our house during Navaratri, we explain to them the concept of ‘Golu’, its religious, social and cultural significance with anecdotes,” he said.

He said the dolls are displayed in a thematic pattern with a specific number of odd-numbered steps. The top steps are reserved for gods and goddesses including Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi, while the bottom step represents traders, devotees and commoners.

Mr Ramprakash said the dolls were imported from India.

Kalyanvishnu and Deepvishnu Ramprakash entertained guests at their home during Navratri 2022 (Photo provided)

“We keep adding new dolls to our collection. We have a few evening visits from friends, colleagues and parents from our children’s school. Kalyan and Deep play musical instruments and the tabla as an offering to the deities and to entertain the guests. Talented guests sing and enhance the value of the celebrations,” he said.

Usha and Ramesh Venkataraman

Usha Subramaniam (who works in the hotel business) and her husband Ramesh Venkataraman live as a joint family with their young daughter and Usha’s parents. They organize the Golu festival with passion and invite friends and families.

“Navarathri empowers women, who in the past were confined to home cooking and family support and then found employment, now have the opportunity to be culturally creative and unleash their creative talents. Young girls are encouraged to participate in Navarathri celebrations,” Usha said.

Bommai Golu at Usha Subramaniam and Ramesh Venkataraman (Photo provided)

She said her husband, daughter and parents help decorate their house, assemble the Golu and receive guests.

“Navarathri is also a good opportunity to visit homes and invite family and friends, thus promoting good neighborliness and members of other ethnic groups. Visiting homes enhances the spirit of friendship and goodwill and enables other ethnicities to closely follow the meaning and purpose of the Festival,” she said.

Ragavan and Alamelu Rengachariar

Although they skipped the Golu show this year, Auckland couple Ragavan and Alamelu Rengachariar recited the Navaratri prayer each evening and invited friends over to share their Prasadam.

According to Ragavan, founder-director of the RAMS Foundation, a charitable trust, the importance of Navarathri is that it is difficult to control the mind from bad or negative thoughts.

“The Festival reminds us to fight them and reject them, to imbibe positive thoughts and to pray for the well-being of all communities. When there is harmony and prosperity, the environment is one of unity and the spirit of cooperation,” he said.

Navarathri is a busy season for makers of deities and other dolls, clothing makers, distributors and retailers, and manufacturers of sweets, vegetarian foods and other items. These are usually sold at stalls set up in community halls, temples and other places where large numbers of women and children congregate.

Usha Subramaniam with her daughter Ahalya (Photo provided)

About Navaratri Golu

Golu is the festive display of dolls and figurines in South India during the autumn festive season, especially around the multi-day Navaratri (Dussehra or Dasara) festival of Hinduism. These exhibits are usually themed, telling a legend from a Hindu text to court life, weddings, everyday scenes and miniature cooking utensils.

They are also known as Kolu, Gombe Habba, Bommai Kolu or Bommala Koluvu.

Each item in a Golu display is called a Golu doll or equivalent.

These are usually made by rural craftsmen from clay and wooden materials and are brightly painted. They are usually arranged in an odd number of padis (tiers or steps) to tell a story. Goddess-related themes are common, along with developments such as early marriages among family and friends. During the Golu display season, families and neighbors visit each other with gifts to view and chat on the Golu display, share festive dishes, and sometimes play music or sing devotional songs together.

Major Hindu places of worship such as the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai hold elaborate Golu exhibitions for Navaratri every year.

Bommai Kolu in Tamil means doll decoration. Bommala Koluvu in Telugu means Toy Yard and Gombe Habba means Doll Festival in Kannada.

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