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Posts Tagged ‘festivals’

Virtual Vethalapaaku

Posted by Sowmya on October 7, 2008

Its that time of the year again……..which, you ask? Time to unleash your creativity, people skills and time management skills, etc all at once. Navratri it is! 🙂 It is celebrated in various forms across the country. We even had an entire chapter in fourth grade which took an extreme round about route to convey a simple message that Navrathri = Durga Pooja = Dassera = etc i.e. all are celebrated at the same time in different parts of the country by different people.

I am used to celebrate it twin-style – Tamizh and Gujarati. We have an elaborate golu to show off our Tam Bram heritage and we also participate in the local dandiya fest as typical Mumbaites. My golu is an extremely integral part of my life and takes a significant share of my kid-time memories.  For the uninitiated, golu, simply put, is a display of figurines (usually of gods and mythological characters) on odd number of ‘steps’. Gah!!! I am not explaining this very clearly. Take a look –


Thank you! Thank you! I know its awesome and I am insanely proud of it. Though I have no idea why this whole ritual was initiated, my guess would be that it was done to showcase (literally) people’s hidden talents. This whole ensemble takes humungous effort, time and patience as also a year round preparation to boot. I know, not everyone may take it so seriously like us. Anything and everything we see, is with a will-this-be-somehow-useful-in-golu look. Like, the iron piece standing in for a readymade kolam (rangoli, in Hindi) was part of our side-table in the living room. We took it off since it made the small table toooo heavy. The marble pieces serving as a border line for the golu were taken at the time of our house renovation from the contractor with us alternating between threats, bribes and down right theft. See, it does get our creativity to the fore 😉

Some background material – Golu was probably compulsory in the years gone by but like many other traditions and customs has been cast away by the majority. They are not to be blamed considering the sheer amount of time involved! The most important figurines of the golu are ‘mara pachi’ (figurines made of wood), which you can see in the pic above (Just above the Rama, Lakshman, Sita set). These are first to be kept on the golu  and the first to be taken off. People who are not able to do a full fledged golu usually display atleast the ‘mara pachi’. These and other figurines are usually handed down through generations and are something akin to family hierlooms. The other requirement is that the number of ‘steps’ has to be an odd number. The yester-years did boast of many ‘9 step’ houses but space and time constrains have led to an average of ‘5 steps’ in today’s times. Having done this, it is customary to invite every female member of every family you know for ‘vethalapaaku’. A typical ‘vethalapaaku’ comprises of even number of beetle leaves, beetlenut, turmeric pieces and a fruit, usually a banana. The married ladies are given a coconut in addition to this. New age fads include wall hangings, small boxes, kumkum holders, etc as part of the ‘vethalapaaku’. This is always accompanied by ‘sundal’ which is nothing but roasted daal (every daal makes a different yummy sundal). This sundal is an offering to the Gods of the Golu which is then distributed to the invited ladies. Sometimes sundal is replaced with laddu or kesari but mostly it reigns supreme on these 10 days on account of its ease of preparation. The 9th day is ‘Saraswati Puja’ and the 10 day festival is concluded with ‘Vijayadasami’. On the day of the  Saraswati Puja, we keep before Godess Saraswati a sample of all our learning material like study books, music instruments, ghungroo, etc. This is to thank her for her blessings and pray that we propser in all the literary and fine arts. These are kept for a day in front of the Goddess and taken out on ‘Vijayadasami’ which is said to be the most auspicious day to start any new venture, be it studies, music, dance, business, work, whatever…. It is also a day when we pay respects to our teachers who teach us these divine arts.

The golu  in my house started a couple of years after I was born. My dad, being elated on having such a charming daughter (*blush blush*), decided to start the yearly custom. Initally we used woodden boxes and stacks of newspapers on a table and ‘built’ the 3 ‘steps’ which were then covered with a white cloth, usually a unused veshti (dhoti).  As is custom, we added a figurine every year, usually more and the Golu  grew bigger and better. Due to many constraints we could never manage to keep over 5 steps. With the collection growing year on year we needed a new idea. Eureka! Dad came up with this whole concept of keeping a section of the display on the floor just before the 5 steps. Actually you can say he pioneered it, atleast in our locality. We commenced this with a huge thermecol cut-out of the India map with a figurine in each state dressed in the specific traditional wear. Around 12 years ago, my mother remembered her childhood dream of having semi-circular steps instead of the usual straight laced ones. We hunted for a carpenter who could understand my mother’s vision and translate it into reality. It was not easy to find one in Mumbai cos few people there understood what a golu  was all about. We finally found our dream man who did a splendid job of creating a dismantle-able 5 step golu padi. Thankfully mom had the presence of mind to photograph each stage of the assembly line which, in later years, was put to very effective use as a guide for future assemblers.

If golu is all about creativity then I can assure you it definetely serves the purpose. All of us at home have come up with various themes, ideas and art work to enhance the display or hide some flaw in it. We have spent nights and days working on it and the end product usually took our breath away. We have drawn, painted, weaved, built so many golus and each one has been a cherished experience and have left us eagerly awaiting the next one. In the 3 months prior, all converstaions invariably turned to the theme of the year -what to do? how to do? what to buy? where to buy? I clearly remember my brother and me fighting to display our favorite dolls in the centre position or the one with maximum prominence. A couple of figurines were the ones handed over to us by our grandmom who never failed to remind us every year that she bought it for just a rupee some 40 years ago. You wont believe but that figurine still retains its charm and does not look a day older than 5 years. Golu  brings to me million fond memories of the 2 decades gone by…… Another purpose I see in keeping a golu  is that you get to meet everyone of your acquaintances. Thanks to the custom of inviting all females, we meet all our friends and relatives during these 10 days. It feels wonderful to catch up with them on the year gone by with promises to keep in touch more regularly. In fact there are people I meet only on these days since catching up otherwise becomes almost impossible. When it comes to my dad’s friends, even the guys turn up using this opportunity to meet the rest of the gang at one place. This is the only time I dress up, rather deck up with all the jewels my mom possesses. In the last few years I even took to wearing a saree leading to compliments and the usual its-time-to-get-you-married dialogue. My personal custom is to buy a new saree for Vijayadasami. If you want a logic for it, here goes – as I mentioned, this day is the most auspicious day to start anything. So I start my shopping for the year with a new saree. Hows that for logic? 😉

I do have a new saree this year but no golu. I am married and I was so keen to get back home and have other conversations with those sweet aunties who would come home for vethalapaaku, instead of the usual time-to-get-you-married lines. This time I realised how much I love this festival and how I looked forward to it every year. Though I troubled mom by postponing my share of duties, though I gave her a earful when she asked me to dress up, though I sometimes got totally bugged with the sacrifice of my sleep for golu  preparations, though I had to go around door-to-door and invite everyone to come home- inspite of all that, I still love it. I want to do it over and over again. I want to go through each of these experiences and then stand proud next to my golu to take a picture and put it on this blog.

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