The first memory I have about the story of Goddess Durga was from reading the Amar Chithra Katha comics.They really were a great substitute for when grandmothers were too busy to tell us stories.The vibrant images further enhanced the text.
Even as a child ,the idea of all the goddesses coming together in the creation of an omnipotent Shakti was incredibly appealing.It cemented the thought process that good will always triumph over evil.The picture of Goddess Durga in her full glory with her foot on Mahishasuran thereby putting an end to his tyranny is quite unforgettable.
While the nine days of Navarathri are celebrated with much gaiety in different styles across the country, the festivities commonly signify the power of divine light banishing away darkness and negativity.
The day preceding Navarathri ,a ritual is offered to welcome the Goddess by the arranging of the kalasham. At our uncle’s home, this is usually done by my eldest aunt. The Goddess is welcomed into the home for nine days of puja and prayer.The blessings derived from these nine days of chanting are shared with visiting friends and family who partake of not just the prasadham (blessed food offering) but all the positive vibes that the home and the hosts have invoked through the rituals.
As we know ,in ancient times, festivals were also a way for families to socialise with one another.So, during the nine days of prayer and song,the women folk ,dressed in finery would display a set of steps ,of any odd number,using wooden planks, line it with cloth and set up their collection of dolls.Now these dolls were traditionally made of wood by talented artisans and were known as marapatchi bommai.These were specially made for the ‘golu’ also referred to as ‘bommai kolu’.
Most families today own dolls that go back several generations.Each year they add a few to their exquisite doll collection.I’ve lost track of the number of stories that I’ve heard over the years while my gaze was either transfixed on a beautiful set of dolls or on a fascinating story that was laid out ,complete with street lights and all.
The top most layer of the step was always for the figurines of gods and goddesses depicting stories from mythology.Time would pass by effortlessly as we sat cross legged and looked at the mighty River Ganga cascading from Lord Shiva’s locks or the story of Gajendra Moksha depicted beautifully…along with countless other stories.
The bottom few steps are just as arresting because they depict scenes from the lives of the common man.From the expressions on the faces of errant children to that of soldiers keeping vigil at our nation’s borders,each detail is the work of master craftsmen.A lot of families also like to stage a different theme each year.All of these makes for delightful kolu visits.
One rarely sits idle in front of a kolu display, children are encouraged to sing familiar devotional songs along with the ladies and it adds a lovely charm to the festivities.The neivediyam (offering of food) is also given a lot of importance.Rice and lentils figure prominently on the menu as do the many traditional desserts like payasam , pongal,laddu etc. Each day rice is flavoured differently using either lemon, coriander,tamarind,curd,coconut etc.No onion or garlic is used during this period as it is believed that the properties brought on by those foods are not beneficial to the body and mind during this period .That’s also a reason why the high protein pulses are cooked daily in the form of delicious sundal.
When children are taught the importance of such festivals and their significance, that’s what paves the way for them to follow suit and also teaches them to embrace their culture rather than to shy away from it as something that is unfamiliar to their thought process.
Even the thamboolam that is gifted to each departing guest contains items that signify harmony , prosperity and positivity.Betel leaves and areca nut are offered because when the guest leaves with a red stained mouth,it is testimony to being well looked after.Also the betel leaf is synonymous with the Goddess of wealth.Bangles, coconuts ,vermilion ,a new coin all denote that which is revered in our culture. How blessed are we to be a part of such a glorious celebration cloaked in radiance and happiness.