How to arrange a Navarathri Golu?


So, what exactly is a Golu and how do you arrange one?

As mentioned in a previous post, in many parts of South India, one of the key elements of Dussehra or Navarathri festival is the traditional arrangement of dolls in the form of a multi-step display. The golu is central to Navarathri, with ladies of the household planning for it months in advance. New dolls are purchased every year and the collection updated with the latest arrivals in the market. Kids are encouraged to participate by making crafts and helping to build miniature gardens, parks or other models. The grandparents and other elders assist by dusting and cleaning the dolls and getting them ready for display. They also provide guidance and directions with regards to how the Golu should be arranged.

The actual arrangement involves the following steps –

  1. On Mahalaya Amavasya day, the auspicious new moon day when Mother Goddess Durga is invoked, the golu steps are brought out and set up. Some households have professionally built wooden or steel steps for the purpose. Others use make-shift steps constructed out of cardboard boxes, coffee tables and chairs. What is important is to create a multi-step like platform for the display of dolls. It is customary to construct steps of 3, 5, 7 or 9.
  2. The steps are then covered with a clean sheet of cloth, traditionally a white Dhoti. Nowadays, colorful saris and other types of attractive fabric are also used in some Golus that deviate from the conventional. The fabric is pinned up neatly so as to fit to the contour of the steps, creating a bright backdrop for the grand display.
  3. The Kalash or the auspicious coconut is placed within a silver or brass pot. It is placed at the centre of the top most step.
  4. This is followed by the ‘Marapachi’ dolls – which are a male and female pair of dolls that are characteristic of every Golu. Part of the arrangement involves decorating this couple in fine garments and ornaments made out of shiny paper, sequins or other decorative material.
  5. Beginning with Ganesha, all the other idols are placed one after another. There is no hard and fast rule as to which deity goes where, but generally, the top steps are reserved for deities, while the bottom steps are occupied by animal, human and inanimate statues.
  6. Popular Golu collections include the Dasavathar set, Lord Krishna’s Ras Leela, Ganesha in different poses, Shiva and Parvathi, a marriage party set, a shopkeeper or grocer set complete with all the grocery items and weights as seen in a traditional Indian grocer’s.
  7. Creativity is the main element of a Golu. So, within a broad framework, the golu is basically an expression of originality and creativity – an opportunity for people, especially women, to take a break from monotonous housework and unleash their talents on the occasion of Navarathri. There is really no limit to what can be displayed.
  8. Examples of unique and original displays include a miniature model of an Olympic stadium, a cityscape, a cruise ship, a temple on a hilltop, a home-made fountain or volcano, a world famous park or forest, a mall or multistoried shopping center.
  9. Many of these are made with recycled material found at home, although there are people who spend time, money and painstaking effort on building professional looking models.
  10. Children help with building parks or forests by soaking grams a few days ahead and sprouting them.
  11. Other decorative elements such as Christmas lights, flower garlands, Rangoli, beads and handicrafts enhance the golu and differentiate one golu from another.
  12. Of course, what breathes life into a golu is all the activities that surround it. Women and children dressed in finery visit each other’s homes to admire the golus, sing songs, exchange sweets and gifts. There is a healthy competition among neighbors, as everyone tries to create the most beautiful Golu in town. Ideas are freely shared and improvised, recipes exchanged, compliments showered.
    The Golu, at the end of the day, is a reflection of many of the aspects of Indian culture at its glorious best.

If you have never seen a Golu, head to a South Indian home today. You are likely to experience something quite extraordinary, and come back with a bag full of goodies!

The custom of Navarathri Golu

What Durga Puja is to West Bengal, the Navarathri Bomma Golu is to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. This custom of creating a special display of dolls during Navarathri has multi-layered significance.

Navarathri Golu is a lot of fun.

Golu, or ‘display’ is a tradition where people create an arrangement of steps in their homes, and use it to showcase their most beautiful collection of traditional dolls, statues and other decorative items. Usually, nine steps are arranged. However, 3, 5 or 7 stepped Golus are also common. The more dolls you wish to display, and the more space you have, the larger your Golu could be. Even temples and public halls display their own Golus in a much larger scale, with some life-size statues of deities and three-dimensional models.

Golu Unleashes Combined Creativity

It’s not just about arranging the statues, though. This is the time when creativity peaks in many households, as children and adults come together to make their Golu unique by building mini parks, zoos, cities and other models besides the main step-like display. Plans are made weeks ahead. This is a great occasion for families to spend quality time making crafts and building display items together.

Golu offers a feast for your senses

During Navarathri, women and girls are invited to each other’s homes to view the golu and accept small gifts. Women sing in praise of the Lord as they admire each other’s Golu displays. Lentils are cooked and constitute the main snack during Navarathri evenings. Houses are decorated with lamps and flour drawings (Kolam or Rangoli) on the floors.

The custom of Navarathri Golu serves many functions.

  1. It encourages socializing, especially among women and children who in olden days did not have the opportunity to mingle with people outside their families. Today, when busy lifestyles and work schedules leave us with little time to visit friends and neighbors, this custom provides an opportunity to meet people and unwind after a hectic day. The Navarathri season is a great time for community events and group celebrations.
  2. Women usually get together to sing or chant shlokas (holy verses) in praise of Goddesses Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Durga. Thus, many modern day women who don’t have the time or inclination to practice music or singing regularly, have the opportunity to learn new songs, refresh their memories and exercise their vocal chords, thus providing them with a creative outlet.
  3. The display itself is based on a structure – the lower steps allocated for inanimate objects, decorative items and animal statues. Statues of demi-gods and Gods are placed on the upper steps, the topmost step being reserved for the sacred Kalash or Kumbh (a silver or brass pot with a coconut placed at its mouth, representative of creation) and chief deities such as Ganesha, Shiva and others. This arrangement is both aesthetic and symbolic.
  4. Traditional Golu dolls are generally passed on from mother to daughter and so make wonderful family heirlooms. Preserving and passing these dolls on is a part of the south Indian culture and the custom of Navarathri Golu plays a role in keeping this rich culture and its elements such as dance, music and crafts alive.

Greeting friends and family, especially parents, grandparents and other elders to seek their blessings is an important part of Navarathri, just as any other Indian festival. This year, if you are unable to celebrate Navarathri with them for some reason, Free Ecards could be a great way to send your wishes instead. Choose from our selection of Free Durga Puja ecards and brighten their hearts this Navarathri. You could also use your own photos and create personalized photo cards if you prefer.

What is your favorite Navarthri custom?