Navaratri - Kolu Festival
Navaratri is a joyous festival which is
celebrated every year by Hindus, during early fall season (occurs
during late September and early October). The Goddess in the form
of the Universal Mother is worshiped for nine nights and hence
the name *nava-ratri.' On the tenth day, the festival comes to an
end with a special puja called Vijaya Dasami. During the ten days
of the Dasara festival (ten days and nine nights), it is common
for Hindus to read and recite slokas on the greatness of Mother
Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. Mother Durga symbolizes the power
of purposeful action (Kriya Sakti). Lakshmi represents the will
power (Itchaa Sakti) and Saraswati stands for the power of
knowledge (Jnana Sakti).
We the human beings are prone to exhibit rajasic
qualities like anger and hatred which are the menacing
manifestations of Durga Devi to destroy the evil. Our interest in
music, arts and knowledge are the pleasing vibrations produced by
the power of Saraswathi Devi. The pure qualities which include
compassion, love, forbearance and sympathy are derived from Laxmi
Devi. When we worship Durga, Laxmi and Saraswathi externally in
pictures or icons, they are giving physical forms to the subtle
potencies that are within them. It is unfortunate that we fail to
recognize the importance of the symbolism behind the festivals
and celebrations. We are too quick to go after the material
aspects of the celebrations instead of focusing on the spiritual
message. We seem to look for remedies from outside instead of
looking for the answers inside.
The kolu is the essence of Navaratri celebrations.
Earlier, preparations for the kolu would begin months in advance.
The dolls, wrapped in cotton rags and neatly stacked in huge
wooden trunks, are carefully taken out, dusted, mended and
sometimes, given a fresh coat of paint. Some artistically
inclined women would craft a couple of new dolls for the occasion
The tradition has been in existence for at least 500 years,
from the reign of the Vijayanagar kings. Some of the inscriptions
mention the Navaratri kolu. An old Marathi record at the
Saraswathi Mahal library (Thanjavur) mentions the supply of dolls
representing people belonging to 18 different castes for the
Navaratri kolu. The kolu tradition, it is believed, was popular
among the royal families of Thanjavur and Pudukkottai.
The kolu is not confined to India alone. It is
followed in many Asian countries, especially Sri Lanka and Japan.
In fact, the Japanese version of our Navaratri kolu is known as
The Navratri Kollu Festival commences on the
Amavasya day of the month of Bhadrapada, the last day of
Pitripaksha.Kollu means displaying.
On the Amavasya day after finishing the rituals,
like offering `tarpana etc. the custom is, to keep the Kalash
filled with rice, toor dal haldi sticks, betel leaves and nuts or
mango leaves with a coconut on it.
The right muhurtam is chosen before placing the
Kalash and the dolls for worship, with which the Kollu festival
begins. The dolls are given to the girl from her parents during
her marriage and are called "Marapachi Bommai". From this day she
starts the ceremony of Kollu going on adding Bommais from
The Navratri Kollu is done by constructing wide
tiers or steps in any number, maximum being seven. The number of
tiers or steps should be in even numbers, like, one, three, five
and so on. One can erect nine steps too if space and time
permits. Variety of dolls are displayed artistically and arranged
beautifully on the steps.
The dolls are given to the girl from her parents during her
marriage and are called "Marapachi Bommai". Marapachi is made
from a special kind of wood which has medicinal value.
From the day the married girl gets the Marapachi
Bommai she starts collecting dolls and observes the ceremony
annually. The clay dolls displayed are mostly from mythological
All Gods and Goddesses of our Epics and Puranas are
displayed on the tiers which are beautifully decorated and look
spectacular and colourful. for example, `Garuda Vahana' i.e. God
Narayan taken in Garuda Vahan or vehicle is kept. One of the
items exhibited is the Marriage Set called `Malam Talam' i.e. the
marriage procession of relations and friends led by musical
players of clarionet (malam) and mridangam (talam).
Those days, houses were spacious, joint families
were common and people had lots of leisure. Hence, the
arrangements were grand and elaborate. Usually, a whole room was
devoted for the kolu. The dolls were displayed on the kolupadis
or steps made of wood and covered with a thick cloth. The number
of steps was always an odd number — three, five, seven or
nine. The more the steps, the merrier!
The dolls were mostly mud icons of various gods and
goddesses painted in bright colours. Some families displayed
dolls made of rosewood, sandalwood and ivory.
A Ramayana set, a Dasavatara set, a set of
musicians and the ubiquitous pot-bellied smiling Chettiar and his
equally plump wife... these were most common in most
arrangements! Many kolus also had a miniature kitchen —
various utensils made of soapstone or brass, which were filled
with grains and pulses. Then, there were fruits and vegetables
made of mud or wood and painted... they would look almost.
The floor space on the sides and the front of the
steps was landscaped to feature a village, gardens, parks and
The most popular was the temple scenes. Sand,
painstakingly gathered from the Marina, would be used to lay the
narrow streets surrounding the temple. The mini-temple was either
built of mud or bought. The temple invariably had an imposing
gopuram. If it was a Murugan temple, it was placed on a small
hillock. The temple had a mud tank in the front. A brass trough
normally served as the tank.
Today, quite a few things have changed. Innovation
and substitution appear to be the watchwords for the present-day
kolus. The traditional wooden steps have vanished from most homes
and some families now use iron kolupadis which can be converted
into bookshelves after the event. Many families build the steps
out of big boxes and outsized dictionaries.
The dolls are not restricted to those of gods and
goddesses. Now there are dolls dressed in traditional costumes of
different Indian States and the countries. The air-hostess dolls
are often seen on display in the homes of foreign-returned
families. Then there are postman dolls in his khaki uniform and
with a mailbag, the doctor with his stethoscope, the shopkeeper
with his wares. Designer kolus exhibit, besides dolls, colourful
books, stamps, coins, medals, paintings, charts, toys and board
games. Fancy lighting and installations and computer graphics too
are used as part of the decorations.
The floor is no longer limited to village scenes
and temples as children are discouraged from bringing sand and
clay in to the flat. Instead, events such as the general
elections, the Kargil war and the Olympic games are featured.
A new development is the thematic kolu where the
entire kolu, both on the steps and on the floor, revolves round a
particular theme. India's freedom struggle was a popular theme
in1997, when the nation celebrated the golden jubilee of its
Another novel trend is the concept of `community
kolus'. Many women, unable to keep kolu in their homes, join
hands and put up a kolu in a common place.
Community kolus besides promoting team spirit and
neighbourhood amity, also reflect the collective talent and
For children, the kolu provides a nine-day crash
course on hard work, discipline and courtesy. The children do
their bit... by keeping the room clean, inviting and serving
Despite the Internet and various other forms of
infotainment, the colourful kolu is adapting itself to the
changing needs of the society.
Kolu festival lasts for nine days with arti,
prayers Prasad daily mornings and evenings. During these nine
days ladies are invited and offered haldi kumku with betel leaves
with huts and fruits. In the morning sweets and evening
`chundals' i.e. different chanas are offered to the ladies. Kollu
festival days are for rejoicing when ladies dress up in their
finery and ornaments and find an opt occasion to dress up
specially their daughters.
On the ninth day, the day before the Vijay Dasami
day, the tenth day of the Dussera, falls the Saraswati Puja.
Goddess Saraswati is the Goddess of Learning and as such books
musical instruments etc., are decorated with flowers and
worshipped. Vijay Dasami or the Dussera Day, the last tenth day
is the auspicious day when all fine arts like, dance, music, or
any new venture in learning is begun. It is the `Learners'
A child beginning his first lessons of alphabets
begins it today ceremoniously. Prayers are offered to Goddess
Saraswati and her blessings sought. Token of Guru Dakshinas are
also given to the respective Gurus.
On the tenth night after the ceremonial arti and prayers the,
`Marapachi' and the exhibits are packed carefully in cloth or
paper and preserved for use the next year.
Vijay Dasami and Navratri are also the auspicious
time for buying new clothes and feasting. Unlike other Vrats,
there is no custom of fasting during Navratri Kollu.
What is that we should do during these days of
the Navarathri festival?
We direct our Itchaa Sakti to direct our mind
toward Divinity within. We apply our Kriya Sakti to conduct
Dharmic Actions - unselfish service to the humanity. Finally, we
turn our Jnaana Sakti to attain the Divine Self. Hindu Festivals
and Celebrations constantly remind us our True Human Nature
through symbolic messages. The purpose of the celebrations is not
for external pleasures but for inward peace and tranquility.