For whom the dolls toll

For whom the dolls toll
Dasara, the much awaited, nine-day festival has arrived; and in the form of neatly packaged, inanimate dolls. A celebration that has transformed over time brings with it a mix of religious aspects, social bonds and aesthetic values which are inextricably woven together. Dasara stories differ from state to state but the underlying message is – the triumph of good over evil.

An array of dolls that will shine during these nine, glorious days in most South Indian homes is a key, celebratory aspect. Dolls come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours and stand tall in steps five, seven or nine. They are a delightful sight as idols like ‘Pattada Gombe’ (dolls that symbolise kings and queens), ‘Dasavatara’ (a set which comprises the ten ‘avatars’ of Vishnu), Gods, Goddesses, demi-Gods and saints co-exist with figurines from Egyptian deserts, sphinxes, pyramids, crystals, wrestling matches, cricket grounds and market spaces.

The festival is a call to celebrate the power of goddesses, says home-maker Anu Mahesh explains. Dolling up her house for the past 17 years, she religiously adds a new set during the course of these nine days, every year. “I started celebrating in a small way, way back in 1998. ‘Marapachi’, a wooden set which comprises a male and female doll and the most important part of the collection was passed on to me by my grandmother. The set reflects a happy family. I also have idols of Ganesha, Durga and Saraswathi and a procession of ‘Garuda Sevai’, a story from Vishnu’s epic.”

Anu wraps her dolls in cloth, newspaper and twine so that maintenance is not a hassle. She also explains the cultural messages that the festival speaks of – such as honouring women.“Social celebrations heighten during this time as many people come home to see the collection. I have friends coming for ‘Dasara’ lunch this week and the festival is a good way to socialise.”

Anupama Hoskere, the founder of ‘Dhaatu’, explains that in Karnataka, collections revolve around creative and aesthetic aspects. “People are very interested in deciding steps for dolls. Odd numbers always have an aesthetic value which is why the collection is displayed over five, seven or nine steps. Many people are interested in ‘Do-It-Yourself’ dolls too. People carve out the ‘Marapachi’, create and design movable joints. Some also dress up dolls with ‘zari’ and jewellery. I love making dolls myself.”

One who has dolls in 1,000s, some of which she has made and sourced from all over the world, Anupama’s highlight in her personal collection is the wedding of Shiva and Parvathi’. 

Buvana, a resident of HSR Layout, has stuck to the traditional way of displaying dolls. Her collection follows a hierarchy, where the topmost row depicts myths and epics through Gods while the bottom row the life of common people and folk stories.

 Lakshmipathy Nagarathnamma, the owner of ‘NL Dasara Dolls’ in Gandhi Bazaar, is hoping for a good sale this year, after a robust one last year. She says that her dolls range from Rs 1,000 to 5,000 and she had gained a good profit last year. She adds.

“The supply this year is less as we bought the dolls from places like Kanchipuram and Cuddalore. But I hope to make a wholesome sale this year as this is a festival loved by all.” Sure it is, as the festival reflects creation, sustenance and destruction. Anupama explains, “It’s a time when the life of Gods and men merge. It’s a celebration of daily life. If cricket is a religion for the family, they will display a cricket ground. For me, it’s a very democratic, spirited festival.”


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