Her dolls are not your run-of-the-mill kind. They cannot be, because the collection spans three generations and a hundred years! Life-size and so very real, thanks to brilliant costuming and detailing, they bring out the wide-eyed and wonderstruck kid in you.
Where else will you find miniature models of Bentley cars and Amish kitchen sets along with an IPL team of cricket-loving Ganeshas, army formations in the Kurukshetra war, 53 scenes each of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the entire Mysore Dasara procession, the Krishna Leela, the depiction of Srinivasa Kalyana and Ma Durga in all her benign forms!
Temple Street of Srirangapatna
The town of Srirangapatna comes alive with an exquisite Devasthana Beedhi (Temple Street) that has tiny, tiny shops selling bangles, flowers, pictures of deities and sweets! There’s a ear-piercing ceremony happening in the temple square; a Saraswati pooja in a traditional home, and a family clustered around a TV set watching the popular Kannada serial ‘Muktha’!
The dolls themselves are made out of a range of material from mango wood to terracotta to brass to bronze to glass! It’s this amazing attention to detail that make Dhaatu’s dolls and puppets unique.
When you finish marvelling at the Classics, you will find yourself staggering into the Contemporary section of the display hall. The totem pole of stuffed toys, the circus complete with trapeze artistes and jugglers, the Disney parade and the big, fat Indian wedding scene with mile-long queues of dolls waiting to greet the dolled-up couple and the orchestra that nobody is listening to, transport you to a magical world.
Dhaatu, Anupama’s creative space, treats Bangaloreans, particularly school children, to a wonderful slice of history, mythology, culture and craft every Dasara through a mind-blowing mix of puppetry, storytelling and display of dolls. This year, the festivities began on October 9 and will continue till November 1, so that schools can send groups of kids to relive the magic of Navaratri
Churning of the Great Ocean
The big draw is the main stage, which depicts the Samudra Manthana or the churning of the Great Ocean. Every character – from Kamadhenu to Mohini – is depicted in magnificent splendour. Anupama has even set up a revolving stage to make the churning look real. The apsaras wear exquisite dance costumes and jewellery, which her own daughter has now outgrown! Even Indra’s elephant Airavatha sports mirror-work crafted by Anupama herself.
Celebration of art
Clearly, Dasara here is a festival of art, not rituals.
“The theme planning begins sixmonths before Dasara. A month before the actual festival, I travel to Chennai and Pondicherry to see how I can add to the collection. My kids and I make sorties, with military precision, on markets in Gandhi Bazaar and Jayanagar and Malleswaram in Bangalore, looking for that elusive nose pin, that miniature toy sword or bobs and bits which only collectors can get excited about! I work with craftsmen in Kinhal who make the dolls, I source their costumes and jewellery and weaponry, referencing the epics, and after visualising the entire tableaux, we are ready to open our doors to the young and the young-at-heart,” she says.
Anupama, a member of the Karnataka Sangeeta Nritya Akademi, confesses that she has a passion for dolls and a fascination with the epics, and started Dhaatu with the sole aim of helping Indian kids connect with their roots. “They know Ben 10 and Barbie, but blink when they hear of names like Jarasandha or Jatayu,” she chuckles.
A firm believer of the fact that culture and craft keep people rooted, she thinks every Indian child should be exposed to the aesthetics in Indian art.
Storytelling sessions (Katha Sagara) held every second and fourth Saturday and shloka classes in the summer holidays, soon led to the birth of the Dhaatu puppet theatre, where every string puppet is created, costumed and crafted in-house. “After all the dolls simply had to come to life!” she exclaims.
Now, kids who are part of the Dhaatu puppet theatre and Katha Sagara wear the mantle of gifted storytellers themselves. Each one of them has their specials, and Anupama herself loves to lead round-eyed visitors to the scene of the very first drunken party in Indian history: the big bash of the vanaras (monkeys) at Madhu Vana in Sugreeva’s kingdom, where the delighted monkeys celebrated Hanuman’s return from Lanka with Sita’s Choodamani. They reportedly got drunk on wine and honey, and had a rollicking time!
Sober up, there’s plenty to learn from the display. For a lesson in courage and compassion, delivered with dollops of drama, courtesy the storytellers, Dhaatu is THE place to be this Dasara!