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Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Treasured Tradition: Bommai Golu

Growing up in a joint family with my paternal grandparents ensured that I was exposed to a host of South Indian traditions and stories in spite of living in remote towns all over the country. One of my favorite events was always the “Bommai Golu” [Festival of Dolls] for Navaratri [Dussherah].

 Preparations for “Golu” started with the excitement of unpacking the boxes that contained these traditional dolls made out of mud and painted colorfully …there were Gods and Goddesses of all kinds’ animals, birds and miniature toys - kitchen sets in brass, wood and stone. The Golu Padi [steps] on which the dolls are displayed, would be hastily constructed with the metal boxes that we had a huge supply of [since my father was in a transferable government job]. A colorful Rangoli was drawn in front of the display and lamps were lit. A “ Kalasam” …a brass pot filled with rice and mango leaves stuck on the rice was placed in front of the Golu .  

We also  recreated number of scenes like a wedding , temple  , village ,farm , a grocery shop ,a forest , a pond  ,  a zoo and so on . This meant creating landscapes or “scenes”  with a story  . Mustard and ragi seeds would be planted and sprouted to form the grass on soil . Art and craft work would be done to create trees and houses and shops and roads  . The dolls were dressed up according to the scenes .

On all the nine days we had to wear our “Pattu Pavadais” [Silk skirts ]  and visit the other South Indian houses to see their Golu displays .We would be asked to  sing a song which was the prerequisite for  receiving  the tasty “Sundal “  packets  .Sundal is  a boiled lentil or Gram seasoned with oil , coconut and spices  .My mother would cook a different one each day and we would rate the best sundal of the day among the houses we visited .

 Some days we would be the hosts and it would mean serving the tasty treats and giving out the Haldi /Kum Kum and “Vettalai –Pakku” [Betel leaf and Betel nut] usually with a Blouse piece, Coconut and a string of jasmine flowers for the ladies who visit. I remember one year I was at my maternal grandmother’s house for Golu and she actually dressed me up each day as a different God or mythological character...Krishna, Andal, Durga, Shakuntala etc etc.

The Golu experience taught me such a lot …I learnt many mythological stories...the Dashavataram , stories from Ramayana  , Krishna Leela , the story of Durga  ,Shakuntala  and many  more folk lores  . The dolls, the dress up, the stories, the songs … were a multisensory experience which stayed with me for years. Planning for and setting up the Golu and planning the visits helped develop organization skills social skills and an aesthetic sense. This was such a wonderful way of recreating stories old and new...mythological and modern ….rural and urban.

Social stories are techniques that we use to reinforce certain rules for behavior and social situations for children with Autism. Art Music and Drama techniques help them learn communication skills and social behavior. Hence I felt that the story telling with the dolls and the sensory experiences of the “Golu” will help our children in many ways and we decided to create these experiences for our students at AMAZE.  Since it was the first time, we used just a few Gods for the traditional setup and then decided to create a model Zoo as a project.

The Zoo project was a hit with the students  of all ages and they got involved right from the brainstorming session of what we should do , drawing a plan of the layout ,  setting up the landscape for the Zoo …creating pathways , fences , sign posts .The most exciting parts for the children was setting up the  play area and car park .  The adults were excited with the creation of the “Waterfall” ! The whole process seemed to stimulate everyone’s imagination and our children on the spectrum were extremely involved and cooperative through the process. The Zoo is still a work in progress with everyone still popping up with more ideas.
The completed Zoo
One of our little ones...all of 5 years finally christened it “Mowgli’s Jungle“ since he spotted his favorite Baloo the bear and Sher Khan the tiger …so that is what we are calling it ….You are all welcome to visit our Zoo and Golu at our Activity center @ 4/255, Thangavelu Street, NGGO colony .We are planning to perform  “Saraswati Pooja” on 1 Oct 2014, Wednesday at around 3.30 pm .



    The Golu AND your writing reconnected me with our colorful childhood! Wonderful post!