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Navarathiri has come and gone. Our golu dolls have been packed and tucked away in plastic boxes. For those who are wondering what I am talking about, navarathiri “means nine nights”. Golu is arranging dolls on steps in one’s house.

So why do South Indians display dolls for nine days during navarathiri? The belief is Goddess Durga, in order to slay the buffalo headed demon Mahisha – who was the embodiment of evil, meditated for nine days in order to gain strength and focus that was required to perform this deed. So dolls of gods and goddess are displayed on the steps. These dolls are considered the durbar of Durga and must not be moved/disturbed for the whole nine days. Special offerings are done very day in order to appease these various assortment of gods and goddesses in one’s home.

Not all South Indians celebrate navarathiri with golu. What used to be a matter of choice in the olden days became a family way of doing things. Growing up, golu was not the norm in my house. So as a child I have made sundal vists and dodged requests to sing. It is believed that people who come to golu have to sing in order to please the gods. But me singing would probably be in direct violation of the first premise that the dolls must not be disturbed. So I have always evaded the requests to sing with my trademark ‘asattu sirippu’. Who ever came up with the theory that all women have singing capabilities and those adhigaprasingi people who think that they can just say, “You have to sing. Otherwise you cannot leave my house.” *Rolling my eyes.* I always felt like answering, “Fine, I will move in….and will sing 24×7. Now THAT will teach you a lesson.”

In R’s house golu was celebrated in flourish. They used to be a joint family with all brothers, their wives and children living in a huge house. So golu was an occasion for the women in the family to express their artistic abilities. They made their own dolls, they created miniature parks and towns using what few things were available around the house. I am talking about 1960, when art and craft stores were non-existent. What with dressing up the kids, welcoming the visitors, golu was a major social thing for them. After R’s grandfather – the patriarch of the family died, the joint family arrangement slowly disintegrated and some how my MIL stopped the golu affair altogether.

I wanted to start golu at home, in order to show Chula and Mieja that we have a cultural equivalent of the Christmas tree. The understanding in the house since Chula has been 2.5 is, ‘You have a Christmas tree in your school. Your friends have a tree at their homes, because they are a tree family. But we are a step family. Every year around Oct we make steps and keep dolls for nine days. This is how our family does things.’ We waited for Mieja to turn three, so that she will not bring the steps down.

Year 2009 marks the first year that we formally start celebrating golu in our house. We did a five step golu and invited very close friends home for vethalai pakku. The idea is to keep the jing-bang relatively small and simple, so that I can sustain the tradition of golu for many years to come.

What one of my friend’s mom told me made a huge impact on me, in fact this was a driving force behind this post. She said,

“Devis, in olden days wore sarees had weapons and went on animals like lions or tigers in order to remove obstacle and to make the world a better place for every one present and for the future generation. You Devis, now a days wear pants, drive cars, but you are still doing the same. You are making the world a better place for your family through your love and you do everything in your capacity to remove all obstacles for your children.”

At that point I started thinking about all the Devis in my life. The more I think of all the support I got, the more I am moved by the love that surrounds me.

My chithi(my mom’s baby sister), who made a trip from Boston, to stay with me for two weeks, because this is my first golu. Though she is my chithi, she is only 12 years older to me. We grew up together and for all practical purposes, as sisters. We skip an entire generation, I call her by her name and Chula and Mieja call her chithi. For every major mile stone in my life, she has been there physically contributing her best. How can she miss my first golu? She did not make this trip to help me, she knows I can very well handle the golu and much more. But she said that she made this trip so that she can keep an eye one me, make sure that I don’t chew more than I can swallow and end up tired and all golued-out( pardon me for the expression ). Every step of the way, she was with me, bringing me back to focus when I spent half a day decorating and redecorating the golu backdrop, urging me to keep things simple, helping me make the prasadams, making kolams with the girls and clearing away the sink at the speed of lightning.

My mother, MIL and my SILs, though they were in India, I know for a fact that their hearts were in my house. Every moment of the nine days, they spent fanaticizing what the children would be doing, how I had arranged the dolls, how many people I would be inviting, how will I balance, work-home-kids-school-golu-visiting friends. Earlier this year my MIL and SILs visited us for about 6 weeks. Before their trip, my mother, my MIL and my SILs combed Chennai with a fine toothcomb in order to get dolls for my golu. How difficult is it to get a specific doll at off golu season, only they would know!

As I looked at my steps, I look at the different dolls I have acquired over the past years. Every single doll that has been displayed has a history behind it. Some highlights are

The electric silver lamps that my mother walked the whole of T.Nagar to buy, the pseudo banana tree that she looked for and drove my father crazy, the marapachi she sent over so that Chula and Mieja would know what kind of dolls she played with when she was a kid, the sandal wood Mahalakshmi my parents bought for our fifth wedding anniversary.

The foam Ganesha that YaadaYaada gave that reminds me of Meija. Something in the innocent hepless eyes or the way the Ganesha manages to loose his bindhi inspite of me super glue-ing the bindhis….

The chettiyar bommais that my first SIL bought. Mieja ALWAYS mixed the head and the body of the male and female and I would walk in to my living room and go, ‘Hmmmm something looks odd, but I cannot quite put my finger to it’.

The last step was for the kids. I gave them full autonomy as to what goes on it. They put all their Perler bead work on the last step. I have to point out to picture 15 in the slide show, the way the cups are hidden behind the house. When I suggested moving the cups in front of the house, I was rightly reprimanded by Chula, “Amma, the cups are not behind the house. They are IN the house. The people are having tea IN the house.” She walked away shaking her head disappointed that her mother couldn’t get this simple perspective.

Picture 16, the gold plated car R got from New Orleans when he went for a conference by himself. The first souvenir he bought back home without me asking ?

And for the laughs, when I asked the girls to get books from the bookshelf for Saraswathi Poojai, they got Twilight as MY book. I pointed that we must keep educational books and Twilight was fiction. They both echoed, “But, but you read this ALL the time?!”. Now you know of my reading tastes and why R calls me ‘thirty year old teenager’ ?

And then there was one act of supreme kindness a good week after navarathiri, that basically taught me that love is omnipresent and omnipotent. I will adjourn it for my next post, because I want you all fresh and alert when you read about it.

Now to my smilebox. Thanks for reading. LOVE, LAUGH, LIVE.

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[tags]navarathiri, golu, nine days[/tags]

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