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Bommala Koluvu - A Beautiful Indian Tradition

Mallika likes to research about world cultures and traditions, the secrets they hold and the scientific and philosophical thinking.

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A tradition is a belief or folk custom passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past. It is an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behaviour such as a religious practice or a social custom.

India is the land of many authentic traditions and customs. It is the motherland for four major religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma is the oldest religion in the world which constitutes many customs and traditions from Vedas (the primordial sacred texts), Epics and geographical & social conditions.

One such beautiful Indian tradition for Hindu women is Bommala Koluvu or Display of Dolls. Bommalu means dolls and Koluvu means court. It is the court of dolls which are decorated and displayed on an odd number set (3, 5, 7 and 9) of wooden steps. Koluvu tradition is mainly observed in South Indian states during festivals like Navratri, Sankranthi etc.


This article describes in detail about the significance and importance of this authentic beautiful tradition which is at the stage of fading like a flickering lamp. This tradition has to be maintained, followed and passed down to the future females.

An elaborate Bommala Koluvu/dolls display

An elaborate Bommala Koluvu/dolls display

Introduction

Bommala Koluvu is a traditional and artistic display of dolls by women in Hindu homes and temples. It is a tradition for girls, unmarried and married Hindu women. The dolls (also known as bommai/bommalu/bombe) are displayed on a series of an odd number of wooden steps/racks/planks. The number of steps can be ranging from 3, 5, and 7 to 9. This tradition is mainly observed on the festival of Dussehra/Navratri in South Indian states. The maximum steps in the display/koluvu/kolu/golu are 9 which symbolizes the 9 divine days of Navratri.

Other Names:

1. Bommala Koluvu, meaning "the court of dolls" in the Telugu language observed in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana states.

2. Bommai Kolu/Golu, meaning "the divine presence" in the Tamil language observed in Tamil Nadu state.

3. Bombe Habba, meaning "the dolls festival" in the Kannada language observed in Karnataka state.

4. Bomma Gullu, meaning "dolls display" in the Malayalam language observed in Kerala state.

Festivals on which this koluvu tradition can be observed:

1. Navratri/Dussehra/Dasara/Sharad Navratri:

2. Sankranthi/Uttaraayan

3. Vasanth Navratri

4. Shraavana/Shravan; fifth lunar month - July to August

5. Deepavali/Diwali

Popularly this tradition is followed during the festivals of Navaratri for 9 days and Sankranthi for 3 days.

bommala-koluvu-a-beautiful-indian-tradition

Bommala Koluvu during Festivals

1. Bommala Koluvu during Navratri:

Navratri is the biggest Hindu festival which is celebrated for 10 days which symbolizes the victory of good over evil. The festival starts on Padyami/Prathipada, the first day of Shukla Paksha (bright fortnight) of Aashwayuja/Ashwin month (7th lunar month) to the tenth day i.e. dasami also known as Vijaya Dasami of Shukla Paksha.

Popularly koluvu is observed on these 10 days of Navratri. It can be started from 1st day, 3rd day, 5th day, 7th day or 9th day. It can be observed for 9/7/5/3/1 days.

During these 10 most auspicious days, the goddess Devi Aadi Parashakthi is worshipped with utmost devotion in 10 different forms. According to Hinduism, She is the highest primordial cosmic power and Divine Mother to every creation such as celestial Gods and Goddess, the universe, planets, living beings and each and everything present in the universe and beyond the universe.

Mythological Origin:

1. Once upon a time, there was a brutal rakshasa or demon called Mahishaasura. That demon worshipped The God of creation - Lord Bramha and asked for a wish to overcome death and become immortal but Bramha couldn't grant that wish because every living being, born should die at some point. But Brahma said that the demon can choose his type and mode of death. The demon without thinking said that if death would happen to him then it should be at the hands of a woman. That means he can be killed by a woman only. That demon thought that women are weak and they do not have that power or that strength to kill a man and a demon-like him. But he was wrong. After attaining that wish from Brahma, that demon became more powerful and did horrible things to Gods, humans and made them suffer. When the Gods and humans prayed to Brahma, He told them to pray to the Divine Mother as She only can kill that demon. All the Gods, Goddesses and living beings prayed to Her to kill the demon.

This cosmic scene of Devi and the Gods, rishis/saints, demi-gods, humans and other living beings depicts the court of the Divine Mother - She at the centre and all the others praying to Her - is the symbolic representation by the Bommala Koluvu. It also depicts that Devi is sitting in her court with Her subjects, before the slaying of the demon Mahishaasura.

To Devi, we all are like dolls and we pray to Her for three kinds of strengths - Ichha Sakthi (strength to desire), Gnana Shakthi (strength to acquire the knowledge) and Kriya Sakthi (strength to work). Without these 3 things, no one can do or achieve anything in life.

Devi Aadi Para Shakti/Mother killed various demons for 9 days in 9 different forms and on the 9th day, She killed the demon Mahishaasura in the form of Mahishaasura Mardini. On the tenth day i.e. on Vijaya Dasami, the festival is celebrated remembering the success of good over evil.

2. Another mythological reason is that to kill the demon and his subjects, the Devi has to take all the powers and weapons of Gods and Goddesses and when they gave their powers, they became like statues without any power and Koluvu is the symbolic representation of this fact as well.


2. Bommala Koluvu during Sankranthi:

Koluvu is also observed during the festival of Sankranthi/Uttaraayan which is celebrated in the January month. It is a harvest festival which is celebrated for 4 days:

Day 1 - Bhogi; a bonfire festival

Day 2 - Sankranthi; a harvest festival

Day 3 - Kanumu; a festival of domestic animals like ox, cows, sheep, goats, birds and fish.

Day 4 - Mukkanumu; last day of Sankranthi festival.

Koluvu starts from the Bhogi festival and ends on Kanumu or Mukkanumu. During this festival, it can be observed for 1/3/9 days. The minimum is one day i.e. on Sankranthi day and maximum are 9 days of observation.

Mythological origin:

There is one interesting mythological story regarding the display of dolls during the Sankranthi festival. It is said that Koluvu during Sankranthi came into existence at the beginning of Kaliyuga (the present age/cycle of time according to Hindu mythology). This tradition during the harvest festival was started by the King Sataanika of the Pandava lineage. Sataanika is the son of the King Janamejaya - the great-grandson of the Pandava warrior king Arjuna.

King Sataanika had a wife and she bore 9 children but each child died immediately after birth. The couple prayed to Lord Bramha for the solution. Brahma advised them to arrange koluvu of Gods like Rama, Vishnu, Krishna, Lakshmi, Sita, Radha, Elephants and auspicious things on the day of Sankranthi (starting of Uttaraayan) which is a favourite day to Lord Vishnu. He told the couple to invite children to the Koluvu and worship Vishnu by them and distribute toys and sweets. The children would be happy and their happiness would be a blessing to the couple and they would have their successful progeny. The couple started the tradition and was blessed with a son. From that day onwards, Bommala Koluvu tradition is followed during Sankranthi.

According to this mythological story, Koluvu is arranged on Sankranthi day and should be ended on the same night if the host wants to arrange the display for one day only. If not, the display should be arranged for the next 8 days, total 9 should be observed.

But in general, it is observed for 3 to 4 days, beginning from Bhogi to Kanumu/Mukkanumu.


3. Bommala Koluvu during other festivals:

Koluvu can be observed during Vasanth Navratri which falls on the first lunar month, Chaitra. It starts on the first day/Pratipada of Shukla Paksha to the tenth day/dasami of the same paksha. The first day of Chaitra maasa is celebrated as Ugadi - Telugu New Year.

Koluvu is a representation of Goddess Lakshmi - Goddess of wealth. Auspicious things like Elephants, Flowers, Deepam, 5 elements etc. are present in the Koluvu which are favourite to Goddess Lakshmi. In Koluvu, Devi is worshipped in three forms, Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga who are Goddesses of wealth, knowledge and power respectively.

Koluvu can be arranged on the days of Goddess worship like Sraavana maasa and Deepavali/Diwali.

Shraavana/Shravan is the 7th lunar month which is very auspicious for Hindus. This month is dedicated to the Goddess Lakshmi and Hindu women worship the Goddess on various festivals like Vara Lakshmi Vratham, Mangala Gowri Vratham etc. Koluvu can be arranged in this month also.

Diwali/Deepavali is one of the important festivals in India and the festival of lights. On this day, in the evening Lakshmi pooja is done by the businessmen. Koluvu can also be arranged on this day during Lakshmi Pooja but it is very rare.

Significance of Bommala Koluvu and why it should be observed

1. Cultural importance:

  • Koluvu is the symbolic representation of feminine power and the creation of the universe. In Koluvu, all the elements of creation like Gods, Goddesses, demigods, saints, rishis, humans, plants, vegetables, fruits, birds, animals and different themes of human life are displayed.
  • It is mainly for women and kids. It is a way of teaching kids who are the future generations about the importance of our ancient culture, traditions, customs, mythologies, Puranas and Sanatana dharma.
  • It is an art which is a part of Hindu traditions and culture. It is a way to impart the ancient Hindu knowledge visually in the form of arrangement of different dolls.
  • It is a creative method of storytelling to kids about the mythological stories in Hindu Puranas, stories in great epics like Ramayana, Maha Bharatha, Bhagavatham etc. and the morals and values in them.
  • It is a way of teaching kids which helps to inculcate the Sanatana Dharma in the daily life, to live with ethics and morals, to know the importance of visiting temples, worship Gods, Gurus, parents, and importance about nature, environment, developing a humble and respectable character which helps to make better humans.
  • It blesses children and women with a long and healthy life as they participate in the pooja/worship of Divine Mother.

2. Social Importance:

  • At the time of koluvu, the host in whose house the koluvu is arranged invites his relatives, friends and neighbours as guests to participate in the celebration. It is a social gathering by which family and friendship ties are strengthened.
  • In olden days, it is a means of matrimony arrangements. The young women participate in this celebration and the parents try to find a good partner for their daughters and sons and matrimony alliances are formed.
  • Koluvu gives women to display their creative side. Women arrange the dolls following the traditional rules and adding a creative colour for the display by various decorations.
  • Koluvu is a chance for women to socialize. In olden days, Hindu women are very orthodox and are not permitted to go outside individually or mingle with others but at the time of festivals, functions they are allowed to mingle and to meet others. During this tradition, women invite other women to their houses to see their koluvus and participate in the celebrations. They collectively sing songs, distribute sweets, eatables, gifts to other women and kids. They socialize, talk and gossip and enjoy the celebrations.

3. Economic importance:

  • India is an agricultural country where the country's economy depends mainly on agriculture. Koluvu has a significant connection with the agricultural economy of ancient India.
  • This tradition aims to encourage dredging and de-silting of irrigation canals and river beds. In this process, big amounts of clay were obtained and it was utilized in the making of clay dolls.
  • In olden days, traditional dolls were made with clay and painted with different natural colours. These are eco-friendly dolls which are created from Earth and go into the Earth when discarded.
  • India is home to many traditional handicrafts like Kondapalli, terracotta, U.P glass toys, Bengal's cloth dolls etc. These native handicrafts should be encouraged and their economy should be boosted.
  • In koluvu, dolls made of clay, wood, metal, wax, glass, plaster of Paris, marble, stone, cloth etc. can be displayed. By following this tradition, handicrafts economy can be encouraged and boosted which can give scope for employment as well.

The art of Bommala Koluvu - Procedure and Process

To set up Bommala Koluvu the following are required:

1. A spacious room to set the display

2. Koluvu stand/set

3. Bommalu/dolls

4. Auspicious pooja items

5. Decorations

1. A spacious room:

Koluvu is usually arranged in domestic homes and temples (courtyards, mandapams etc.). Nowadays, it is arranged in women-oriented clubs and societies as well. A good spacious room is required for koluvu.

The room should have space for koluvu and visitor seating. The display can be arranged facing east/west/north directions but not south. Traditionally north and west directions are preferred. Visitor seating is in front of the koluvu.

Traditionally mats and carpets were used for visitor seating as many girls, married, unmarried women and kids are invited to see the display.

Koluvu stand

Koluvu stand

2. Koluvu stand/set:

The wooden steps stand or setup is called the Koluvu stand/set.

Traditionally Bommala koluvu is arranged on wooden planks or racks in the odd number of steps. The maximum number of steps is 9 which symbolizes 9 planets, an infant's journey of 9 months in a mother's womb and 9 auspicious days of Navratri.

In olden days, carpenters used to make these koluvu steps with wood but nowadays, steel steps are also available. Usage of iron and steel is not auspicious in poojas/worship so, they are not recommended in koluvu. Koluvu set with wooden steps is preferred.

Set with 3, 5, 7 and 9 steps can be used according to one's choice but 9 steps set is a complete koluvu stand. The measurements of the steps can be custom made or ready-made sets are also available in the market.

3. Bommalu/dolls:

In the court of dolls, many different types of dolls can be added to the collection. The collection should contain some particular traditional dolls with other types of beautiful dolls like dolls made of cloth, glass dolls, plastic dolls etc.

Traditionally dolls made of clay and wood are used. But other handicraft dolls can also be used according to one's innovation and choice. The dolls should depict auspiciousness and beauty.


Traditional dolls:

Vishnu doll

Vishnu doll

1. Dolls of Gods and Goddesses like Shiva, Parvathi, Sri Devi Rajarajeswari, Durga, Vishnu, Lakshmi, Rama, Sita, Radha Krishna, Vinayaka/Ganapati/Ganesh etc.

Anantha Sayana doll

Anantha Sayana doll

2. Anantha sayana doll - Lord Vishnu sleeping posture on the great serpent, Adisesha.

Dashavatar dolls

Dashavatar dolls

3. Dashavataram dolls - 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu.

Tri moorthi dolls

Tri moorthi dolls

3. Trimoorti dolls - Lord Bramha, Vishnu and Shiva are known as Trimoorti.

Tridevi dolls

Tridevi dolls

5. Tridevi dolls; Goddesses Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga dolls

Marapachi dolls

Marapachi dolls

6. Marapachi dolls; red sandalwood dolls of man and woman.

Brahmin wooden doll

Brahmin wooden doll

7. The doll of a Brahmin holding panchangam.

Chettiar dolls

Chettiar dolls

bommala-koluvu-a-beautiful-indian-tradition

8. Chettiar/Shetty/vaishya/Sethji dolls - A vaishya (grocery vendor) and his wife selling rice, pulses and lentils. The ingredients should also be displayed in small cups.

dolls displaying instruments

dolls displaying instruments

Fruits&vegetables dolls

Fruits&vegetables dolls

9. Dolls of instruments, vegetables, fruits, birds and animals.

Kalyanam/marriage scene

Kalyanam/marriage scene

10. Dolls depicting any scenes in Ramayana and Mahabharata epics or themes like Sita Rama kalyanam, Venkateswara Kalyanam, Baby Krishna stealing butter with his friends, Krishna holding
Govardhana Giri/hill, Krishna dancing on a five hood serpent, Rathayatra etc.

Other dolls like Tanjore nodding dolls, clay dolls, Kondapalli wooden dolls, terracotta dolls etc. can be added to the display.


4. Auspicious pooja Items:

Bommala Koluvu is a form of pooja/worship. It should have pooja items like Kalasha/ceremonial pot, vermillion, turmeric, sandalwood, diyas, cow ghee/sesame oil, incense, camphor, coconut, flowers, wicks, paan, beetle nuts, dry fruits, fruits like guava, banana, apples, oranges, pomegranate, mausambi/sweet lime etc.


5.Decorations:

Koluvu is decorated in many creative ways. They not only give a traditional look but depicts the creativeness of the women who arrange the koluvu. Light strings, flowers, garlands, craftworks, rangoli and theme-oriented dolls can also be included which make koluvu more beautiful and appealing.

Themes make Koluvu more interesting. The Themes related to mythological scenes, social themes, village life like farmers cultivation, market place, traditional artisans like carpenters, pottery etc., city life, hospital theme, park theme etc. can be included. Every year, a new theme can be introduced in the koluvu.



Procedure to arrange Koluvu:

1. First, the koluvu room is to be cleaned and a rangoli with white rangoli powder should be drawn in the space where the koluvu stand is placed.

2. A 9 steps koluvu stand which is cleaned previously should be placed on the rangoli and all the steps from top to bottom should be covered with a clean white cloth.

3. The cloth should be adjusted and pinned so that it covers all the steps properly. Dolls should not be placed on a bare stand. They should be placed on a cloth and white cloth symbolises purity.

4. Before arranging the koluvu, Ganapati pooja should be done first. It is very important to perform pooja to Pasupu/turmeric Ganapati – Lord Ganesh worshipped in the turmeric form.

5. In a copper pooja plate, clean white rice should be placed and on the rice, a betel/paan leaf should be placed. Turmeric Ganapati/Pasupu Ganapati should be placed on the leaf and this plate should be kept on the first step from the bottom i.e. on the ninth step from the top.

6. Pooja should be done to Ganapati and after this pooja only, dolls should be arranged on the stand. First, one doll should be kept on each step from bottom to top and after that koluvu is to be filled with all dolls.



Rules for arranging dolls on the steps:

There are some rules to arrange the dolls on the steps. Here the top to bottom reference is taken:

Sri Devi Rajarajeswari doll

Sri Devi Rajarajeswari doll

Laxmi Narayan doll

Laxmi Narayan doll

Kalasha pot with peeled coconut

Kalasha pot with peeled coconut

1. The first three steps/1st, 2nd&3rd steps:

The first three steps from the top should be decorated with Kalasha, dolls of gods, and Goddesses.

On the first step from the top, Kalasha is to be placed in the middle of the first step.

On either side of Kalasha, dolls of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati should be placed. The dolls of other gods can be placed according to one's choice.

Procedure to place Kalasha:

Kalasha is considered to be sacred and it is a ceremonial pot/vessel. Pots made of silver, copper and clay can be used. Iron and steel pots should not be used.

Take a clean copper plate and decorate the plate with sandalwood paste, vermillion/kumkum and turmeric. Place some clean white rice grains in the plate and spread them. With turmeric powder draw 8 petals lotus rangoli on rice and on that Kalasha should be placed.

The Kalasha should also be decorated with sandalwood paste, vermillion and turmeric. Pour clean water in the pot up to half or 3/4th of the pot. Place a beetle nut, a coin, a dried palm date, a pinch of turmeric, vermillion, sandalwood paste and sacred or holy rice grains/akshintalu (Rice grains mixed with cow ghee+vermillion+turmeric) in the water.

Take an odd number of betel leaves or mango leaves like 5/7/9 and place in the water. The leaves should be placed such that they form a circle.

In the middle of the circle, a whole coconut should be placed. A Kalasha is not complete without a coconut. In some traditions, whole coconut or peeled coconut is placed on the Kalasha. The Kalasha can be decorated with a flower garland or a gold ornament.

A red cloth which is usually an unstitched blouse piece is also placed on or below the Kalasha. It can also be placed beside the pot with a thambulum on the cloth. The cloth should be folded into a square and should be placed.

Thambulam:

Thambulam consists of 3 betel leaves, 2 beetle nuts, some dry fruits, 2 fruits like bananas, apples, oranges, guavas, mangoes etc.


Meera bai doll

Meera bai doll

2. The second three steps/4th, 5th and 6th steps:

These steps should contain dolls of demigods, saints like Sai Baba, Vivekananda, Meera Bai, rishis, Buddha, Marapachi dolls, national leaders etc.

Temple theme

Temple theme

Village theme

Village theme

3. The third three steps/7th, 8th and 9th steps:

On the 7th step, dolls depicting a Hindu marriage, Pongal festival, mythological scenes etc. should be placed. The dolls should depict a visual story.

On the 8th step, Chettiar dolls with commodities like rice, pulses, lentils etc., dolls of flower vendor dolls, fruit vendor, traditional artisans dolls like a potter, weaver, Ironsmith, goldsmith etc. should be placed. Theme oriented dolls can also be placed.

On the 9th step which is the last step from top to bottom, dolls of animals, birds, reptiles and other forms of evolution are placed along with turmeric Ganesh. This step usually depicts the evolution of mankind or living things.


After arranging all dolls, a rangoli with colours is drawn in front of the koluvu and two diyas are lit on either side of koluvu. Other themes or dolls also can be arranged beside the display.

Customs:

  • Every Hindu family can arrange Bommala Koluvu. There is no restriction that only the families which have the practice of this tradition should follow it. Anyone having daughters or daughters-in-law can start this tradition and continue.
  • Every year at least one new doll along with old ones should be included in the koluvu.
  • After arranging koluvu, pooja is done in the evening of the starting day. The host invites other people to koluvu to look at the display and pooja is done to Gods and Goddesses. Women sing bhakti songs, bhajans and participate in pooja.
  • After the pooja, prasadam/prasad (food offered to Gods) is distributed to all the guests. Kids are given some gifts like toys, sweets and eatables. Pens, books, slates can also be distributed to kids.
  • Women are given a gift bag which consists of thambulum, a coloured blouse piece, bangles, vermillion and turmeric packets, flowers, kajal, small comb, small mirror and sweets. The contents in the gift bag are one's choice but the above are traditional things which are usually given to married women.
  • On the final day of koluvu, after aarti, any one of the dolls is put to sleep to mark the end of the display. The dolls and koluvu stand are packed carefully and stored for the next year's koluvu.

This is all about this beautiful tradition. Traditions represent our rich culture and inner meaning behind the customs. They are like a river which should become a part of our life flow. To keep the flow going, they should be followed and enjoyed with near and dear and should be passed to our next generations.


Happy Bommala Koluvu.

Sarve Janah Sukhinobhavanthu. Om Shanti hi!