Once again, the festival of Nine Nights comes by, and once again I find myself in the home of the Ravindranath family, to enjoy their spectacular Golu display.
For those of my readers who are unfamiliar with this festival, herewith some Dushera fundas:
In the Indian scriptures, the nine nights of Navaratri, correctly called Maha Navaratri, are dedicated to Shakti, the fundamental force that drives all of Creation. In the scriptures, Shakti is given the form of a woman, The Cosmic Mother.
At the beginning of Time, She created Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, the three divine entities that are responsible for maintaining Creation. Hence, She is also called Adi Shakti, the Primary Force.
The nine nights of Navaratri are dedicated to Navadurga, the goddess Shakti manifested as Durga, in nine different forms.
According to the Puranas, Durga was created to slay Mahishasura, a powerful demon who had a boon from Brahma that he could not be slain by a man or an asura or a God. He thought that women were too weak to fight him, and omitted to add women to that list.
Mahishasura was the original MCP! And he paid a big price for his arrogance. Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh put their energies together and brought forth Durga, a woman of immense power.
It took Her nine nights and ten days, but at the end of a fearsome battle, Durga slew Mahishasura. Mahanavaratri is celebrated to commemorate this mighty battle between good and evil.
Mahanavaratri is so called because there are four other Navaratris during the year. Mahanavaratri or Sharad Navaratri is considered the most important of them all, and is held during the first nine days of the bright half (Shukla paksha) of the month of Ashwin, which corresponds to early October to mid-November in the Gregorian calendar. The festival marks the end of the monsoon season and the beginning of winter. From Navaratri onwards, we can expect clear blue skies.
On the ninth day of Mahanavaratri, Saraswati, goddess of knowledge, is worshipped. In the Gurukulas of ancient India, students began their studies on this day. Music classes start on this day, and we worship our books and other sources of knowledge – that would include laptops and iPads nowadays!
On the ninth day, some people also hold Ayudha Puja, and worship their weapons, implements and tools of trade. In the Mahabharata, Arjuna reveals his identity to Prince Uttarakumar on this day and collect his weapons that he had hidden in a Shami tree, before doing battle with the Kauravas.
The tenth day, Vijayadashami, is the day on which Durga slew Mahishasura and became known as Mahishasuramardini.
Vijayadashami also commemorates the death of Raavana at the hands of Rama. In the Ramayana, Rama worships Durga on this day, and seeks her blessing to slay the ten-headed Ravana.
This is why the festival is also called Dasha Hara, the cutting of Ravana’s ten heads, or Dusshera.
Mahisha’s capital was Mahishasura Uru, now known as Maisuru or Mysore. Durga is known as Chamundeswari in this part of India and is the reigning diety of Mysore. The Chamundeswari temple at Mysore is almost a thousand years old. Dusshera is a really big festival in Mysore.
For those of us who hail from Bombay, Navaratri is all about Garba and Dandiya Raas. Garba derives its name from ‘garbha’ meaning pregnant. It symbolises the cycle of life. Traditional Garba is performed only by women and does not use any sticks. Dandiyaa, on the other hand, is based on the events of Krishna’s early life in Brindavan. Somewhere in the past, these two dance forms converged.
For me, Dusshera is about traditional golu, a stepped display of dolls and miniatures. My mother’s collection of earthen dolls is fifty years old. My sister and her friends would make cute little landscapes and other decorations for golu.
So once again this year, here I am at the home of the Ravindranath family at Basavanagudi, Bangalore. Since two decades, this unique family has been putting up a remarkable Golu display in their home.
Open to the public at no charge whatsoever, this amazing exhibition comprises well over FOUR THOUSAND dolls and miniatures.
The golu display here is built upon a particular theme each year. This year, the theme is based on the 108 Divya Deshams.
The Divya Deshams (Divine temples) are 108 temples dedicated to Vishnu, that were specifically described by the twelve Azhvars in the Divya Prabandha, a collection of 4000 ancient Tamil verses that worship Vishnu. The Azhvars (pronounced approximately as ‘alwaars’) were twelve poet-saints who devoted their entire lives to the worship of Vishnu and the propagation of Vaishnavism in south India. There is considerable controversy about the exact time period, but it is generally agreed that they lived at least a thousand years ago or so.
The Azhvars came from all castes and all walks of life. Only three of them were Brahmins and one of them was a woman.
I’ve seen some impressive Golu collections in my time, but this one is in a different class. Piece by piece, doll by doll, each of which was made to order by master craftsmen across south India, this amazing collection has taken over two decades to put together. And, it has cost this modest, middle-class family a small fortune. Some of the larger dolls cost Rs. 20,000/- each.
This display is open to the public at no charge whatsoever. And yet, there are some unscrupulous people who charge ignorant tourists a lot of money on the pretext of taking them to see this free golu display.
Parasites like these make my blood boil. I had the same experience at Mahabalipuram, where I was fleeced by a self-styled “expert”.
Caveat emptor, people. Caveat emptor.
Many golu displays are not open to the public. But those that are open to the public, are always free. There is no need to cough up money to a third party who poses as a cultural “expert”. Locate the place on the internet, contact the concerned family, and just go. Some families do not permit photography and some do. It is better to ask beforehand.
You will be expected to remove your footwear and mute your cellphone. The host will be glad to explain the display to you, making it completely unnecessary to hire any “expert” from outside.
Remember to profusely thank the host. Golu displays take a lot of time and effort to assemble. The Ravindranath family takes three months to assemble their mind-boggling Golu collection.
Theist or not, take pride in our country’s rich cultural heritage. My agnosticism doesn’t come in the way of my appreciation of my country’s culture and traditions.
Happy Dasha Hara, everyone.
Cheers … Srini.