Looking for those cute gombes

CULTURE

Looking for those cute gombes

Dasara festival is celebrated in many parts of India. But in Karnataka, Dasara, or Navaratri, festivities have a royal touch. The cultural capital of Karnataka, Mysore celebrates ten days of Dasara in a grand manner.

Dasara was first started by Vijayanagara Emperors and later on the Kings of Mysore started celebrating the festival as Naada Habba.

There were several rituals, proceedings and cultural activities associated with Dasara festival. With the days of the kings long gone, the culture associated with those days has also faded.

Bombe Habba (festival of dolls) was among the various cultural activities that had been celebrated by both kings and the general public of the erstwhile Mysore state.

Gombe thotti (Pavilion of Dolls) in the Ambavilas Palace was an exclusive place to display dolls of different kinds to the general public during Navaratri. The Gombe thotti had a collection of different dolls, sculptures of gods and goddesses made by local artisans, wooden model of the old palace and other unique collections. Gradually, people also began displaying dolls in their houses.

Embracing this tradition, householders of Mysore state displayed dolls of the Pattada Rani (Queen) and Pattada Raja (King) made from sandalwood in honour of the reigning king and queen of the time besides other dolls made of clay and wood on a nine-tiered platform or table. The celebrations of Gombe Habba reached the zenith during the rule of the last four kings of the Wodeyar dynasty.

The tradition continued in the old Mysore region even after the kings’ rule was over. Bombe Habba even became synonymous with Navaratri, especially in Mysore. Many households of old Mysore region displayed magnificent dolls in their houses with different themes every year. Girls and women were keenly involved in arranging and displaying dolls at their houses. Children would visit neighbouring houses during Navaratri for all the nine days to see the fascinating and eye-catching arrangements of different dolls. Bombe tindi or baagina (different snacks like shankara poli, yeriyappa, bonda, kodubale-chakkuli, kajjaya, kobbari mithayi etc) were distributed to the visiting children after devotional songs were sung and bombe aarathi was performed.

As time passed, people began arranging varieties of dolls based on certain scenes of the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata and other mythological stories. Ravana samhara, Rama pattabhisheka, Lanka dahana, Samudra langhana, Abhimanyu’s slaying inside the Chakravyuha, Gajendra moksha and pagade aata (of the Mahabharata) were all popular themes.

Doll arrangements based on current issues were introduced in the changed scenario.

On the wane

Today, there are still some who have retained the tradition of doll show in the old Mysore region. This culture has almost become extinct or restricted to a family affair. But all is not lost for, many organisations, artists, historians and some citizens of Mysore are engaged in recreating the glory of this tradition distinct to the region. 

Ramsons Kala Pratishtana is one of the non-profit organisations that is attempting a revival of the doll display tradition under the name of Bombe Mane during Navaratri. The Bombe Mane showcases more than 20,000 dolls that are arranged attractively in Pratima Gallery situated at Nazarbad Main Road, Mysore.

This gallery is open for public well in advance to Dasara celebrations. In its ninth year,  Bombe Mane has been depicting the local culture and tradition. It is involved in promoting Bombe Habba culture among Mysoreans.

An exhibition cum sale of dolls created by artisans of different parts of the country like Kinhala, Mysore, Krishnanagar, Kondapalli, Tanjavoor, Madhurai, Jaipur, Jodhpur and Shantiniketan are specially designed for the show.

The displays help one get an idea on how the dolls were arranged during the Navaratri season in this region. It also helps those who want to revive the tradition which was celebrated by their elders in a festive mood.

Parampare, a desi shop situated in Saraswathipuram, Mysore, also displays a variety of dolls made by desi artisans. It is a platform for those who want to arrange dolls at their home with specific themes of Indian mythology.

The Mysore Dasara Committee has also introduced the concept of Mane Mane Dasara meaning Dasara in each household. It is encouraging women to display the dolls at their homes to revive the past glory of Navarathri. Judges visit houses and the best doll arrangement would be given an attractive prize. After the introduction of Mane Mane Dasara there is good response from Mysoreans and many people, especially women, are seen actively taking part in Dasara activities.

Several other women organisations and institutions are conducting Dasara doll arrangement competitions which are receiving good response.

The Mysore Dasara comes alive in the form of dolls. These doll displays are an effective medium of instruction to our children to know about our culture and history, apart from deriving enjoyment from the mythological stories.

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