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Ten days with the dolls

Growing up in a traditional household, my childhood memories are filled with images from Navaratri, or Dasara, celebrated over ten days. While the elders marked the occasion with ritualistic fervor, as children, we relished the holiday season of Dasara. This was in Hassan, during the late 1960s. The most captivating aspect of the festival was the preparation for the bombe habba(festival of dolls), which involved elaborate preparations, starting with creating the surface area for arranging the dolls.

We fetched black soil from a nearby agricultural field where potatoes were cultivated, using a steel bucket to spread it on the floor. We then sprinkled ragi and water on it. It was a delight to watch the ragi sprout after three or four days. The goal was to recreate a forest, complete with Chamundi hills. Crafting the pathways posed another challenge because the floor space was limited. We used empty matchboxes, and cartons of toothpaste and detergents to make small houses.

As the festival drew closer, we spent more time selecting the bombes:brass dolls of kings, queens, and courtiers, with a jester adding a playful touch. Colourful Channapattana dolls, including elephants, horses, camels, and even cows, were arranged one after another, resembling a procession on Vijayadashami, the final day of Dasara. The collection also featured dolls of dancers, drummers, and those carrying nagari, naubath, and the royal insignia. Most importantly, there was a figure carrying the “Gandabherunda,” the royal emblem of the Wadiyar dynasty.

Illuminating the miniature dwellings and the grand house, which was presumed to be the palace, was another task, albeit a risky one. Without disturbing the structure, we would light up the place using zero-candle bulbs and strings of serial lights. We used colourful papers of various sizes to decorate, especially focusing on the miniature palace and the arches created from bent bamboo sticks.

On the first day, visitors, including my schoolmates from nearby Salagame Road and Rangoli Hall, came to see the bombe. Many households had children like me who took a keen interest in arranging the dolls. Anyone who came to admire the dolls was offered Charpu, usually Kadlekalu or Hesarukalu Guggari, or at the very least, Parle-G biscuits or Parry’s chocolates.

Dasara also coincided with Saraswathi Pooja. We would place our textbooks and notebooks, along with rubber and pencils, in front of the goddess. Our parents insisted that we include a dictionary and a grammar book, hoping that Saraswathi, the goddess of knowledge, would shower her blessings upon us in the years to come. On the last day, we would savour Obbattu and Obbattina Saru, with the latter relished for a few more days after the festival.

I wish the these traditions continue, as arranging dolls taught us about tradition, the environment, and a touch of history.

(Published 20 October 2023, 19:08 IST)

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