Everything does pass, and we can endure and we can survive!! – Rahul Dravid
What an enigma it was! I had gone to North Mada Street, Mylapore to buy dolls for Navarathri. No, that isn’t the enigma!! 🙂 🙂 On one end of the road, there was the striking structure of the Kapaleeshwarar temple. Outside the temple were rows and rows of shops selling dolls stacked in lines, mounds and sometimes even heaps. On the other end of the road was a Communist Party meeting!! A guy was screaming through a microphone about the ill effects of FDI in retail and how it would affect the local retailers. The doll sellers didn’t care two hoots. Like someone with sense would go to Walmart to buy dolls!! Couple of the shops I visited had Christian and Muslim owners!! I suppose these things happen only in India.
In between heavy traffic of not just cars or vehicles but also of people as well as cattle, platforms become temporary doll shops. This sets the festive mood. The shop owners even prepare for rain with plastic sheets and covers et al. Crowds throng the platform shops – looking at various dolls made in clay, wood (marapaachi), paper Mache, porcelain or fibre. The shopkeepers will give you lectures on material science, advantages, disadvantages of each type, etc. although discounts are limited to good bargainers. They would give you real time sales information on what is the in-thing this season and who is buying what. They would also advice on myriad topics ranging what to buy first to how to take care of dolls. Those selling leaves, flowers, fruits and festoons have field days!!
It is quite a sight to watch people wrangling with shop owners, strike deals, people peering over others, watching what they are buying and wanting the same, kids pestering their parents to buy the dolls that they want and people clutching the dolls that they buy close to the chest, guarding them as they sit on two wheelers for the ride back home. Shoppers come in great varieties. Some like to buy all things in one shop. They think that will fetch them a bigger discount. Some buy one doll per shop. Some go to all shops, see what is good where and buy things where they like. The brand conscious buy dolls only in Khadi or Kuralagam. The greatest thing about shopping on platforms is that in the end, both sides are happy. Win – win!! 🙂 🙂
Navarathri is a festival spanning 9 days and 9 nights. It is celebrated differently in different parts of India. I am not getting into details. In Tamilnadu, the Iyer community mainly believes that the 3 goddesses – Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi are to be worshipped for 3 days each in that order. This would bring prosperity to the worshipper and his/ her clan. Some families have the tradition of keeping golu (arranging dolls on steps). Some don’t keep golu, however, they would make sundal and invite people home and give thamboolams. A thamboolam is a ‘thank you for coming’ package comprising vethalai (betel leaf), paaku, a fruit, flowers, turmeric and kumkum sachets, a comb, a mirror, a blouse piece and a coconut. The comb, mirror and blouse piece are usually useless souvenirs which people circulate to those who come home. 🙂 🙂
The week before Navarathri started, we went to the shops and bought dolls of our choice, pulses as well as things that needed to be given to others. Two days before Amaavaasai (no moon day) starts, we built the padi (steps) to keep the dolls using suitcases, books and tables. We covered it using veshtis, topped it up with a saree and put bell pins to hold it in place. We lined the steps with serial lights.
On the Amavasya day, we decorated the gate with maavilai koppus (mango leaf cluster). Then, we kept the kalasam. In a brass (silver or gold if you can afford) sombu (a kind of vessel like a small pot with a wide mouth), we put some 7 pidis (7 fistfuls) of rice and some paruppu, keep a maavilai koppu on the vessel’s mouth and the keep a coconut on top of that. We decorated the kalasam with sandhanam and kungumam. After this, we arranged the dolls on each step. Some of the dolls come with themes like Poi kaal kudhirai set, kalyana set, etc. They are meant to be kept together. We also made some themes that can be kept on the sides next to the steps. People usually keep cricket sets, build parks and beaches with everyday stuff that you get at home.
I would offer neivedhyam (simple vethala paaku, pazham) in the morning before I left to office. After coming in the evening, I would read one of the goddess slokas and then wait for invitees to come home. We needed to ensure atleast one invitee per day. After that, I would head out to the houses of those who had invited me. We would give the normal thamboolam along with some bangles, some gift article and sundal. We would also request kids or others to sing. If they knew how to, they would oblige.
One of my colleagues jokingly remarked that the festivals she loved were Independence Day, Republic Day and Gandhi Jayanthi because she would get a holiday and doesn’t have to cook anything special. 🙂 🙂 I realized the value of this statement only after marriage. We had to make sundal every day in the evening for which the pulses had to be soaked in water either in the morning or the previous day at night. For the 9 days, we made 9 varieties of sundal.
The 8th day – Durgashtami is celebrated with gusto in North India, especially in Calcutta. However, down South, we believe that giving a pattu paavadai or any dress to a small girl is akin to honouring Goddess Durga. We do a small pooja with some sweet made for neivedhyam.
The 9th day used to be a day that we looked forward to with extreme anticipation when we were in school. Sarswathi Pooja is intended to pray to Goddess Saraswathi to grant us continued education. However, we have a tradition of keeping all the books and tools in front of the goddess and wouldn’t remove it until next day. So, we were free from homework and studying for one day in a year. We would go out and watch a movie or eat outside. But preferably, in our family, all cousins would meet in one place and play cards. 🙂 🙂 Saraswathi Devi apdiye kushi aagi engalukku padipparivu kudppaa. 🙂 🙂 Perhaps, it is because of this that we are very good at playing cards – something to think about!!
The 10th day is Vijayadasami – day of learning. It is considered auspicious to begin any new education on that day. We have a tradition of writing something like “Om Nama Shivaya” on raw rice kept in a thaambaalam. After that, we use the tools kept for pooja – like read a book or write with a pen, take a photograph…. like that. No sundal today! But full scale vada payasathoda meals. That night, we lay a couple of dolls down in the sleeping position. The day after Vijayadasami, we wrap the dolls and pack them away safely. They will be out again only next year!!
Navarathri is a ladies function, gent’s role is usually limited to creating the padi, buying things, driving the ladies to and from places they want to go and ofcourse eating what is made. I had invited all the ladies on either side for this Navarathri. Everyone honoured the invite and I honoured theirs as well. It was a very eventful Navarathri. Although, with office, traffic, power cuts and first time blues, it was too hectic but in the end, I was very happy that I had done one huge function at home.
Photos can be seen here.