Toward the end of September of each year, the South Indian community enters a frenzy of chaos and excitement in preparation for Golu, the exhibition of dolls in honor of Navratri. Golu has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Despite living in the United States, my family has followed the tradition religiously. To me, Golu means much more than just a religious holiday. It is a time of the year that I truly appreciate and value the time I spend with my family.
It has become a family tradition to set aside one day to arrange the Golu together. Everyone chips in: Dad sets up the nine steps, each representing one of the nine days of Navarathri while my sister and I argue over who should lug the heavier box of bommais, or dolls, from the garage to the living room to help Mom take off the newspaper wrapped around the dolls to preserve them for the rest of the year. Many of these dolls have been passed down for many generations in my mother’s family. It fascinates me to imagine, upon seeing their old and fragile condition, that these dolls could have survived this long. I think of the care that my mother, grandmother, and great grandmother have taken to ensure the safety of these dolls; to have taken the risk of sending them overseas in order to allow this tradition to continue here.
The dolls come in various sizes, shapes, and colors. Each has its own story. Each has its own form of beauty, grace, and elegance. There are numerous traditional dolls from my great grandmother’s collection that represent characters and scenes from the Ramayana, set in royal courts and battlefields. My mother has brought a modern taste to the golu, by adding dolls from different countries–African, Chinese, and Spanish dolls.
As a child, my favorite dolls were two identical folk dancers with bobbing heads and torsos- one dressed in yellow, and the other in green. I would never get tired of poking their heads and seeing them bob up and down, following them closely with my eyes until I began to feel dizzy. Another, more traditional favorite of mine is the Chettiar Bommai- a fat, bald, cheerful old man selling vegetables along with his wife Chettichi to give him company.
Setting up the dolls and the display is only the beginning. It is customary to invite friends and relatives to our house on one of the nine days, so that they will be able to see and appreciate our Golu. We spend the other eight days traveling to homes of friends and family nearby, or to cities as far away as Fremont or Evergreen, in order to celebrate Golu. While driving so far, socializing, and singing do undoubtedly drain my energy, I adore every minute of the chaos and exhaustion. Meeting friends, looking at each family’s beautiful dolls, eating sweets, and feeling proud and lucky to be part of such a strong culture are only a few of the benefits I receive during this celebration.
At our home, we appreciate the looks of awe from guests as they wonder how we could have put together such a beautiful and large display. This gives us extra pride and satisfaction—knowing that our efforts paid off, that we accomplished this task together. I am now a senior in high school, and this will be my last year living at home and truly experiencing a Golu celebration with my family. The idea of this saddens me, as it has become such a permanent part of my life. I hope to make this Golu the most memorable yet, to give me a final memory of my family and culture to cherish for the next few years when I am away at college.
First published in 2007.