The Past and the Present of Golu

Golu, for me meant a lot of things as a child. Holidays were on top of the list. Then it was pattu pavadai, flowers, sundal and tightly packed social evenings.
What I cherish most, looking some fifteen years back in time, is the family bonding on the night of amavasya as cartons full of antique clay dolls would be brought down from the attic.
Carefully unravelling the dolls from tightly wrapped newspapers and guessing what might appear from below the wraps was like an exciting game, full of anticipation. We would silently pray that everything had remained intact from last year’s packing.
The dolls were all some 50 years old. Clay idols with veggie dyes. All natural and eco-friendly. Retaining their ever-fresh beauty to this day. Something money can’t buy anymore!
The other excitement was to creatively imagine how to adjust the home furniture to build the seven steps. How to level them well with books and old newspapers; how to pin up old silk sarees and dhotis to mask and cover the steps and the furniture, preventing it from exposing and revealing itself to the guests over the next ten days. You see, it was all hand-crafted; nothing was custom made; which is why it was all so much more fun. Children today will probably roll their eyes at such trivialities.
Then followed the arrangement of dolls as per their height. The building of the park! Ah! Sowing seeds of fenugreek or mustard and watching those little plush green sprouts erupt out of the dark brown soil; watering it just enough everyday – though small pleasures, all this contributed to the growing excitement.
Every afternoon amma would make sundal and offer it to the devis. I have wondered how she got the balance in that right every single time without ever tasting it while cooking. ‘It’s the grace of God’, she would say.
As twilight fell, women from the neighbourhood would start trickling in, resplendent in sarees, spreading wafts of fresh jasmine aroma all around. Sounds of animated chit-chat about simple, day-to-day affairs and then a nice devarnama to wrap it all up. They would return with their manjal kungumam and thamboolam with sundal.
It was all about simplicity, tradition and amicable interaction between neighbours in the locality. If at all it makes a difference, let me add – I grew up in Mysore, not in Chennai.
Today, I am confused. The basic question of why we still cling on to this traditions hangs in the air.
We invite and get invited for golu by emails, mostly. We visit. Do any of us observe the stories that the dolls tell us even for five minutes? Does anyone do the namaskarams? Is there any devotion in the songs we sing to Saraswati, the mighty goddess of learning?
Contributing to my confusion regarding present day navarathri are the following factors.
Almost all homes now keep dismantlable steps, made of wood or slotted angles. And every host invariably has a long story describing how difficult it was to bring down, lift and move these shelves around. Life, made so much easier by the market, suddenly sounds so much more painful.
One house I visited, flaunted their latest set of dolls about festivals of India. They are dolls alright but where was the expression on their faces? Is it all about buying new sets of dolls each year? In that case, in twenty years, the whole house would be covered with golu dolls.
The kind of new dolls that are bought nowadays, is a whole new argument. Dolls are available from all over the world. Eco-friendly clay dolls are a miniscule percentage. I remember asking in every visit I made this time – show me your antique dolls. Almost every time, I was disappointed.
And then there are the runner lights flickering around the golu even in broad daylight. Kuthu vilakkus have electric lights on them too. Gone are those days when we enjoyed lighting an oil lamp and being numbed for a few seconds by the smell of the burning oil wicks.
Inviting people home seems a necessary evil now. On the one hand, we want to prove to the world that we are still holding on to the tradition of displaying dolls. So we think about how it should be better than ‘the folks next door’. On the other hand, we want to be done with all the inviting on one of the weekends so that other days are peaceful. Some of us like to flaunt our wealth also by inviting people over for lunch in the name of a satsang. This is the reality. And I am so stumped by it.
One of those who invited me this time didn’t even make eye contact while I was at their place. Was all this necessary at all then; was I just a name on the attendance register, I wondered?
I shouldn’t forget the goodie-bag. Starting from buying return gifts creatively and packing them in creatively crafted bags, it’s all a big business proposition. If I think back on how many such small gifts I received that actually came of use, I can barely think of any over the last eight years. The kind of plastic and thermocol junk we generate and accumulate during this period is appalling.
It pains me that the whole spirit of the festival has been stolen and commercialised. I want to go back to being an eight year old for those ten days. It’s sad that my kids experience this convoluted way of celebrating a simple festival today.

2 thoughts on “The Past and the Present of Golu

  1. So heart breaking to read this. My memories of visiting my friend’s home for Golu was usually getting Sundal and a sweet. Most of the dolls back then had significant memories for the owners, i.e. Marriages, birthdays, etc. I suppose the moaning about the set up is the only constant 😄

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