Celebrating a festival is a lot of fun but knowing why we celebrate is more important. It is unfortunate that many of us blindly follow traditions without knowing the history or significance of a particular festival. Keeping a kolu (arrangement of dolls), an essence of Navratri celebrations in the South, has its own significance too.
Like any festival, Navratri is celebrated religiously and socially across India. The whole concept came into existence after Goddess Durga’s battle against the evil power. The story goes, as you would know, Goddess Durga was in need of great power to fight against Mahishasur. And so, all the other gods and goddesses transmitted their power to Durga and later turned into statues. In order to respect their sacrifice, we set up kolus at home.
The custom of keeping kolu is mainly followed in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
The celebration of nine nights has been divided into three groups – Days 1 to 3 for Goddess Durga, 4 to 6 for Goddess Lakshmi and days 7 to 9 for Goddess Saraswati. On this occasion, people perform pujas to invoke the potential energies (three kinds) – The Ichchaa Shakti, Jnana Shakti and Kriyaa Shakti from all the three goddesses. After the nine day celebrations, the 10th day is celebrated as Vijaya Dashami, the most auspicious day of all.
Kolu is the way in which dolls representing deities, mythological events and even our day-to-day lives is put on display.
Kolu steps begin with the kalasa puja. Instead of a photo or an idol, Goddess Durga is represented in the form of kalasam (a brass or silver pot filled with water covered with a coconut and mango leaves). It is believed that goddess Durga resides inside the kalasam during the nine days of the puja and brings peace and prosperity into our homes.
Kolu padi (steps) is mostly made of metal or wood. It is mandatory that the arrangement of the kolu dolls should be on odd number of steps like 3, 5, 7 and9. Nine is the maximum limit for kolu arrangement.
The kolu is set up with different themes. The arrangement can be kept simple or elaborate depending upon the convenience and space. The placement of dolls should be in a particular order.
Kolu Padi 1-3
The first step is the topmost step in a kolu. The kalasam has to be placed on this step. The first, second and third step should have Goddess Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Brahma, Siva, Vishnu and all other gods and goddesses.
Kolu Padi 4-6
The next three steps should have idols of saints like Guru Raghavendra, Sai Baba, Azhwars etc. Also it can have people of importance, for example, national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda.
Kolu padi 7
This step can have dolls of your choice. You can arrange it with themes like festivals, marriage, family, etc.
Pujas are performed in the evenings and friends and relatives are invited to view the kolu. Books are placed and worshipped while devotional hymns and slokas are chanted. Sweets and sundals have to be made every day for the Naivedya and distributed to friends and relatives. Married women are invited and gifted with a small bag (tamboolam) containing coconut, sweets, fruits, turmeric, a small mirror, beetle leaves and comb.
After the nine day of celebrations, the dolls can be packed and kept safely for celebrations next year.
So, that’s how the nine days are celebrated with the kolu. Chanting / listening to divine mantras like Lalitha Sahasranamam / Devi Mahatmyam / Lalitha Trishathi / Lalitha Ashtothram / Durga Suktham / Sree Suktham / Bhagya Suktham during this auspicious period is considered very good. Use this divine opportunity to expand your consciousness. Happy Navratri.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)