Festivals & Significance

Navarathri – Significance & Manifestation- Festival of Dolls.

Golu Dolls - Navarathri
Golu Dolls – Navarathri

Navarathri – The name itself conjures to me years and years of tradition locked safely in trunks and cardboard boxes and handed down  from generations. My earliest memory of Navarathri was in Madurai in my grandmother`s home near the Perumal Temple. They had this lovely red oxide floor that I oh so love. Madurai amma used to store her lovely dolls in a heavy trunk in the loft.

Every year Madurai amma and appa would lovingly bring down all the dolls, wrapped  up completely in clean cotton clothes, wipe them down and then set them up on the floor ready to adorn the steps of the “Golu”.  We would then “construct” the shelves of the Golu with various things in the home – Singer Merit Sewing machine table would be the central table. Ovaltine Tins preserved from the earlier years on which a plank would support on, would form the highest shelf. The third one would be constructed from two aluminum biscuit tins one on each side, on which would run a heavy wodden plank.The fourth would be from smaller Tang Tins and of course the lowest would be constructed with a brick and some books. Madurai amma would have a clean bleached and starched white bedspread from Co-optex ready and we would drape it around the 5 shelves and I would , help her secure the sides with little pins. Madurai amma would place the Lakshmi and Saraswathy dolls on the top shelf and then slowly arrange the other dolls in a specific order.The red oxide floors would be resplendant with “maakolams” all the way from the foyer to the altar.

13.Hayagrivar & Ramar Lakshman Sita

When we moved to Madras, to an apartment, the tradition continued unflinchingly. Only this time. Madurai amma and me alone would do everything that needed to be done. My sisters S and D would stand a few feet away, helping us with cleaning the dolls and the like. as I grew older I would go out and buy some craft paper to make little paper decorations on the sides. When I started earning, I bought little lights for Madurai amma`s Golu. Of course, dolls were slowly added over the years, bought from Mylapore , Khadi Gramodyog Bhavan etc. Although the new dolls were bright and lovely, we still  loved the old clay dolls treasured over the years and stood them side by side. We also re-painted some of the old dolls in the local market.

There were the traditional Lakshmi, Saraswathy and Durga. Then there was the Dashavatharam set consisting of the ten dolls of the avatarams of Lord Vishnu.  Lord Rama, Sita , Lakshmana and Lord Hanuman were of course a favourite. The other dolls were Lord Shiva and Godess Parvathi, Sage Agasthya, Lord Buddha, Lord Krishna, Lord Muruga, and of course the traditional “Marapachi Dolls”. They were always in a pair. These dolls are decked up in silk and adorn the golu shelves.

Flowers in the Terracota Uruli.
Flowers in the Terracota Uruli.

What is the significance of this wonderful festival???

Navarathri means nine nights. Darkness is associated with night. What is this darkness? It is the darkness of ignorance. The purpose of the Navarathri celebration is to enable man to get rid of the nine types of darkness which have taken hold of him. When a reference is made to Devi, it signifies the unified form of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi. The three together represent Shakthi. Shakthi is the energy that accounts for all the phenomena of Prakruthi (Nature). Nature
is energy and the controller of that energy is the Lord.

The Navarathri has been divided into three parts the first three days being dedicated to the worship of Durga, the next three days to the worship of Lakshmi and the last three days to the worship of Saraswathi.

Outwardly Navarathri signifies truimph of good over evil.Dussera can also be interpreted as “Dasa-Hara”, which means the cutting of the ten heads of Ravana. So,it`s a resolve to cut the ten heads–passion, pride, anger, greed, infatuation, lust, hatred, jealousy, selfishness and crookedness–of the demon, Ego, and thus justify the celebration of Dussera.

Lovely colourful rangolis
Lovely colourful rangolis

Various Neivedyams are prepared every day of the nine days and offered to Devi. Devotees chant the following:

Lalitha Sahasranamam,

Mahishasura Mardhini,

Ashtalakshmi Stothram,

Devi Mahatmiyam,

Soundarya Lahiri,

Meenakshi Pancharatnam etc.

Colourful Rangolis / Maakolams are drawn in the homes and in front of the Golu Dolls. Little girls dress up in all their festive clothes, and sing songs in praise of Devi. It is very auspicious to offer Tamboolam in the form of Betel Leaves, supari, Kumkum, turmeric, flowers, coconuts, bangles, mirrors etc to little kanya girls and to women. Many homes perform Kanya Poojas.Temples have special poojas for Devi and chant shlokas for general welfare. The final day is the Saraswathi Pooja, devoted to the worship of Godess Saraswathy – to enrich us with knowledge as the greatest wealth.


When I got married, I started my own little tradition.  My mother added to my collection of dolls and my daughter enjoyed the festivities of the season. Now, here in the U.S, I miss many of the dolls, but it`s a tradition I do not want to miss at all. I do have a little of my own dolls, but the rest are from the stores here and its hardly as grand as the one that we have had in India. Nevertheless, the spirit is there, to spread goodness, cheer and righteousness in all our actions.


33 thoughts on “Navarathri – Significance & Manifestation- Festival of Dolls.

  1. hey this is a wonderfully written post .. i am a big fan of navarathri and teh golu bit … it transports me back to the days when mom uses to keep golu at home and make yummy goodies! … the kolams look ravishing 🙂 .. hehe now that am done reading abt navarathri where are the goodies?? hehehehehe

  2. lovely post.So many traditional things i could see in ur pages. It kindled my memory over a decade back when we place a big golu in my mom’s place in my sweet home town madurai . Wow wonderful post.Will visit here regularly

  3. We too made the golu padis the same way. Now I have got a dismantling one set for my pooja room. Reading ur post did take me back to my childhood days.

    Happy Navarathri to you, Shoba.

  4. Wow , this is a superb post.nice write up..Kolam looks awesome and golu too. I’ve seen so many golus but never did my own..U r gr8 🙂

  5. Hi Shobha,
    Lovely write up abt the Dussehra festival 🙂 as a kid I loved visiting neighbours houses to see the doll arrangements, There is so much excitement during this time around 🙂 The rangolis are so beautiful, I can never put such complicated designs 😉

  6. The Golu and the kolams inspire a spiritual awakening. Thankyou for presenting such an informative piece on navarathri. Great work and the idols are beautiful 🙂

  7. Shoba,
    Simply fabulous post. Enjoyed reading them all the way. You have clearly and wonderfully described everything and took me on a beautiful nostalgic trip.
    The trunk boxes, the aluminum cans everything…..
    Love the Rangoli and the kolam.
    Happy Navarathri.

  8. Shoba, When I read this, I feel I should have taken some efforts too to introduce Mira to this glorious tradition. She would love it.maybe next year…..

    Where do u have energy for all this?


  9. what beautiful traditions we have and very sad that we are spread away far and away forming nuclear families losing touch due to again saying no time etc. etc. i go back to my madurai days when i used to go from house to house asking mami to allow us to see golu (in tvs nagar) and collect the special items of sundal of the day! our children miss these small enjoyable things and how many of that? may the days come back and let us enjoy those simple things. thanks for the nice article. raju

  10. very nice shoba…..lovely post!!!!!this time i m planning to make these navratris special…..let me see how it goes…

  11. What can I take with me to a friends house who is celebrating this as I am not of that religion and would like to take an appropriate gift

  12. While looking through the Internet, I came across your Navaratri blog, and found it so nicely written, that I had t stop and comment here. Beautiful, you have written about things that, I can easily relate to.
    My mom’s mother used to have 2 big glass cupboards full of very good quality porcelain dolls, so well kept and shining, but alas my mom never got any of them, they were all just left with my two uncles who never bothered to distribute among their sisters, or even display them, they remain unseen, and thus their beauty remains unknown.
    Anyway, I too have collected lots of dolls etc., but the none are as beautiful as I had been fortunate to see in my grandma’s place.
    I wish you a very happy Nayaratri celebrations!

  13. What is the significance of wooden dolls (marapaachi) being preserved and displayed every year? T.S.Ramachandran

  14. Dear Mr Ramachandran,

    The significance of this beautiful festival itself lies in the fact of depicting our life as it is, in the form of the Golu. The main deities come in the top three steps, then you have the marapachi dolls whih depicts man and his everyday life andd in the last few steps we have animals, fruits, vegetables etc. Golu itself leads us to show that God is above all man, and he is the Almighty. Every year we preserve and display this to remind outselves, that we are humble and at His service.

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