Festivals & Significance

Navarathri Golu – 2010 & Significance of Marapachi Dolls.

Navarathri Golu 2010

This year, I have my second daughter is who just turning one this month on the 24`th, so planning for Golu was something  I had postponed to the very end of the day!  I had all the paraphernalia out and I was wondering If I was really out to put myself through monitoring the little one all through the day…and finally It dawned on me, that I really had to do it this year. I wanted the fun of watching her out of the corner of my eyes, to see if she is getting anywhere close, while she watches me closely so she can pounce on the little wax squash that I had added to the vegetable collection and disappear with it!!!. I wanted to experience the joy of seeing her eyes light up when she finds a little gap between the chairs that I have used as reinforcement, just before the golu shelves, and tries to reach out and climb the stairs!!! I wanted this as I know she will be growing up to be a sensible toddler very soon….and I am enjoying every moment of it. I hardly get to chant my shlokams in one contiguous  slot, nor complete my chores at any point of time…but I am enjoying this minute, with my little baby…and loving every moment of it!!!

Marapachi Dolls - Traditionally attired in wedding finery!
Marapachi Dolls.

Every time there is a festival or a special day marked by a religious custom, my daughter would want to know the  reason and the significance of that festival, which led to Significance of Navarathri . Many times this leads me to soul searching for the same . I firmly believe in the Hindu culture and that every ritual has been evolved with a very scientific reason, within the premises of the traditions at that time. The Marapachi Dolls are one such tradition which form one of my prized possessions, of my wedding gifts from my mother`s home.   The Marapachi Dolls , are a pair of male and female dolls, carved out of this reddish wood called “Marapachi” have been a traditional part of every wedding , which is gifted by the parents of the bride.   Tradition dictates that the bommais are brought out in display, every year, at the time of Navarathiri. The bride’s parents present these dolls to the bride and initiate the yearly tradition of Navarathiri Gollu in her new home with her husband. These bommais come as couples dressed in their wedding attire, signifying the start of the bride’s Gollu collection, which then grows over the years with the addition of various clay dolls signifying various Gods and Godesses.

Marapachi bommais are special dolls from Tirupathi, the land of Lord  Venkateshwara. Some explain the word Marapachi as a special kind of
wood that has medicinal values and hence the name Marapachi Bommai .  And like any age-old tradition, you can’t help but wonder, what is the significance of  Marapachi Bommais? Some believe that these dolls were presented to the bride and the groom at the time of marriage as toys for the couple. After all when two people, rather two children, get married at the age of ten what better gift than toys to keep them happy. So, it is reckoned that they were truly for enjoyment purposes to please the little couple. Yet another lore had it that these dolls dressed in their wedding attire helped in capturing the moment in the days where technology was clearly non-existent. In the absence of pictures, what better way to remember the way you looked when you were married !! That seemed to me , to be a lovely explanation for  this beautiful custom.

(Source : Shalu Ramachandran)

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.