Festivals are the part of a culture. Every religious festival has its divinity and rejoice. Now it is the time of Navaratri, which is celebrated all over India. A significant attraction of Navratri celebrations in south India is the display of Bommai Kolu in homes.
Bommai Kolu is traditionally a women’s festival that Tamilians celebrate during Dusshera. A series of steps are set up and kolu bommai or dolls are arranged on them. The dolls typically depict gods or village scenes and weddings. A kolu can be as simple or as elaborate as one’s choice. The women of the house invites other women to come and inspect their make of the kolu, eat a few snacks and present a couple of small goodies.
The girls and women make rounds from house to house during these nine days of Navrathri. Sundal, a delicious confection made from bean sprouts and coconut is traditionally served at kolu. Women set up decorated planks in a corner and place on it all the dolls in the house. This beautiful clay figurine of gods and goddesses are worshipped during Navaratri, viewing art as Divinity. Women traditionally exchange gifts of coconuts, clothes and sweets.
Tamil Brahmin ladies in Gramajana Samooham Hall, adjacent to Ernakulam Shiva Temple have beautifully arranged a Bommai kolu this year also, just similar to what they or their grandmothers had done in ‘Agraharam’ in bygone days. It was not merely an exhibition of a festival item, but the fulfillment of a nostalgia. Apart from Ernakulam centre, in Chottanikkara and Kavalakkal too the bommai kolu display have taken place in the district.
Like any festival, Navarathri is celebrated religiously and socially across India. The whole concept came into existence after Goddess Durga’s winning battle against evil. The story goes like this. Goddess Durga was in need of great power to fight against Mahishasur. And so, all the other gods and goddesses transmitted their power to Durga and later turned into statues. In order to respect their sacrifice, worshippers set up kolus at home. The custom of keeping kolu is mainly followed in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
The celebration of nine nights has been divided into three groups – Days 1 to 3 for goddess Durga, 4 to 6 for goddess Lakshmi and days 7 to 9 for goddess Saraswathi. On this occasion, people perform Pujas to invoke the potential energies (three kinds) – The Ichchaa Shakti, Jnana Shakti and Kriyaa Shakti from all the three goddesses. After the nine day celebration, the 10th day is celebrated as Vijaya Dashami, the most auspicious day of all.
Kolu is the way in which dolls representing deities, mythological events and even our day-to-day lives are put on display. Kolu steps begin with the kalasa puja. Instead of a photo or an idol, goddess Durga is represented in the form of kalasam (a brass or silver pot filled with water covered with a coconut and mango leaves). It is believed that goddess Durga resides inside the kalasam during the nine days of the puja and brings peace and prosperity into homes.
Kolu padi is mostly made of metal or wood. It is mandatory that the arrangement of the kolu dolls should be on odd numbering steps like 3, 5, 7 and 9. Nine is the maximum limit for kolu arrangement. The kolu is set up with different themes. The arrangement can be kept simple or elaborate depending upon the convenience and space. The placement of dolls should be in a particular order.
Pujas are performed in the evenings and friends and relatives are invited to view the kolu. Books are placed and worshipped and devotional hymns and slokas are chanted. Sweets and sundals have to be made every day for the Naivedya and distributed to friends and relatives. Married women are invited and gifted with a small bag (tamboolam) containing coconut, sweets, fruits, turmeric, a small mirror, beetle leaves and comb.
After the nine days of celebrations, the dolls can be packed and kept safely for use next year.
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