Navratri Bommai Kollu Festival


Every year, I drop by at a friend’s house near Malleswaram, to see her Dassara display of dolls. A couple of days ago, I found Prabha sitting by her collection wondering how she would lower the curtains on “Bommai Kollu”, now that the 9-day festival was over. “The process takes me a good four hours,” she said, explaining that each doll had to be individually wrapped in soft liners and snug paper rolls and then placed inside a specially created trunk. “Every year, this is one job that gives us mixed feelings,” she mused. (I can understand that, because for a little more than a week, the display gets pride of place at home. It’s a feeling of visual euphoria that’s hard to describe.)

Prabha Venugopal’s display had more dolls than I could count at one stretch. There was a Pongal set, Dasha Avatara, Kall Alagar Utsavam, Krishna dancing with the Gopikas (Rasleela); a set of Ram, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman; a wedding collection and several individual displays that included Siva, Parvati, Durga; Lord Srinivas with Sridevi and Bhoodevi.

She actually had tears in her eyes when she exchanged glances with her husband and daughter, who helped her showpiece a collection that has taken them years to put together. The dolls would now have to go back into their wraps.

More on Bommai Kollu, as explained by Prabha Venugopal

“Bommai” is the word for dolls and “Kollu” means displaying. The number of tiers or steps are usually in odd numbers : one, three and five, seven – going up to nine, if space permitted.

The idea here is to capture visual themes along a mythological thread – using Gods and Goddesses from the Epics and Puranas. Navratri represents those nine nights when Goddess Durga fought the evil forces of Asuras, and defeated them on the tenth day – celebrated as Vijaya Dasami. Vijaya Dasami is also the day Lord Rama won his battle against demon king, Ravana.

The festival is celebrated for nine days following the new moon day of the month of Purattasi / Ashwin (September – October). The tenth day is called Vijaya Dasami; also known as Dussera in North India.

The nine-day event sees a lot of neighbourhood togetherness. Women go visiting and are offered haldi-kumkum with betel leaves and fruits. Another interesting way a community shares in the good times.

3 Comments so far

  1. randramble (unregistered) on October 24th, 2007 @ 8:22 pm

    While documenting this tradition is appreciable, it’d have been perfect if you had spelt the word better as ‘Kolu’.

  2. Pisipati Sriram (unregistered) on October 25th, 2007 @ 1:16 pm

    It is a well-written and informative piece, particularly, the arrangement of dolls with a running mythological theme and the dolls artistically arranged in steps in odd numbers and the significance of Navaratri. The photograph is elegant and simple and effective in visual narration of the theme. Thank you Sharat Bhat and Ms Prabha Vengugopal.

  3. Sashi (unregistered) on October 25th, 2007 @ 9:39 pm

    It would also have been nice if you had also called it ‘Bombe habba’ or ‘Gombe habba’ like the kannadigas call it. After all this blog is from Bengalooru.

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