Saturday, October 20, 2012

Navarathri - Golu, Sundal and Geometry

Navarathri Golu
It's not unusual for people to get excited about Oktoberfest, the annual beer fest held in Bavaria, Germany.  In the other part of the world, in the month of October, falls the annual Navarathri festival that lasts for 10 days.  Even though the Hindu calendar takes precedence in deciding the date on which Navarathri falls, as far as I can remember, it somehow coincides with the month of October.  Of course, as with every festival in the Indian community, there are many theories as to why we celebrate Navarathri.  One of the Hindu traditions during this period is the exhibition of dolls and clay figurines at home.  This display of dolls is called as Golu.

Kondapalli Dasavatharam
This year, Hema and I wanted to keep a simple Golu at our California apartment.  Now, moving from Kansas to California is a huge step, simply because of the difference in culture between the mid-west and the far west.  For us, some of the greatest differences we observed were the steep rental prices here and the massive crowd that followed in any shopping complex.  In Kansas, we have always obtained parking spots as soon as we entered a shopping complex, but in California, you literally had to fight for the spots.  I digress.  All that I wanted to say is the living room space here is a lot lesser compared to our Kansas apartment.  But, one of the greatest perks of living in California that overrides everything else in Kansas is the festive atmosphere here.  Just the day before Navarathri, we walked into Komala Vilas to buy a couple of dolls, and it was like a mini-Malleswaram or a mini-Mylapore. There was such a huge crowd in there, with a swarm of maamis and families fighting for the dolls of their choice.  It is a common experience in India, but in the US, it is a unique experience.  We had to walk into another Indian store to realize that it is a common experience in the bay area as well.  It is easy to get carried away by the festive spirit here.  We felt that living in a big city, and especially in the bay area, truly has its perks.
Kondapalli Hanuman

The best thing about Navarathri is the Sundal.  When I was in India, since I was in an apartment housing, I would visit a number of apartments just to get a packet of sundal from every maami's place.  The taste and flavor of sundal is different and variegated in every home.  And when you visited a temple, you would again be getting sundal as prasadam (temple offering).  That beats any sundal prepared by any maami.  The temple offering adds a unique flavor to the sundal.

As I mentioned before, since our living area is small, we had to dismantle our dining set first and place it in the room.  Since all the items from the living room had to make their way to the bedroom, it meant that we had to clean up the room.  Since the room had to look clean, we had to move a ton of stuff to the storage area.  In short, we had to clean the entire apartment.  This was also our best chance to remove all the unwanted junk that was lying in many hidden corners.  So, as we set out to create our Golu for this year, we were posed with a number of unique challenges.  You basically have to create raised platforms or steps of different levels to place the dolls.  So, this is how we went about creating the steps.

First Step - Kamakshi Amman and Gayatri Devi with the Marapachi dolls
We have a moving trolley on which we place our day to day items like a big plastic box of wheat and a big box of rice.  We also have the mixer and grinder in place there.

"Why don't we use this as the topmost step?", Hema asked me.

I was like, Use whatever you want.  Why ask me?

I acted as if I was pondering carefully.

I said, "Sure, why not? That seems like a good idea!" This is one of the things I realized from marriage.  Once the idea comes from the wife, it always is a good idea.  Period.

So, I placed it carefully at the instructed place.  She told me to move the trolley by an inch.   You guessed it right.  I moved it by an inch.

"Haan, this looks better." 

Honest to God, I could not see the difference.

We pulled out a couple of cartons, and big flat box to place it on the couple of cartons to create the next step.  For the last step, we placed a couple of plastic boxes containing rice and wheat flour, and placed a flat box to create the third step.

Second Step - Dasavatharam, Lakshmi, Saraswati and Hanuman
"You know what.  We have a problem", she said.  The second box does not subtend an angle of 180 degrees.  She could as well have said that the box is not in a straight line.  Or maybe that's what she said, and I understood the former.  This is how elaborate it feels when somebody asks you to do some household work.

I mean, I made sure it was on a straight line.

Then the boxes.  We placed the box of wheat and rice and then placed the cardboard on top of them.  Luckily, we had bought a new pack of rice which wasn't emptied on to this box.  If not, we would have  had to remove the rice out and put it in a separate cover.

What about the wheat flour? Take it out and place it in a bag, otherwise, we won't be able to have chapathis for two weeks.

I said, "No problem.  I will skip chapathis for two weeks.  Absolutely no problem for me."

That problem of pouring the wheat flour to the bag and making a complete mess of the carpet (since it would have been me emptying the box, I can assure you that the carpet would have been messed up) was thankfully circumvented.
Third Step - Aachi and Chettiar selling their wares
We then covered the entire arrangement with a brand new dhoti.  I thought it looked good.  For me, even placing the dolls on just the carton boxes would have been fine.  But then, it's not me who gets to decide on these things.

But the dhoti did not cover the sides properly.  It exposed the cartons and the wooden stand from the side.

What's my reaction?

Oh, wow, this looks awesome.  This is really good.

No.  We need to cover the sides.  We need to place one more dhoti.

Then, we examined the three steps.  Everything looked good.  To Me.

We need to move it to the right by a few centimeters.

I wanted to wiggle out of this.

Sugarcane in Kamakshi Amman's hand
We followed the whole process again.  Then, we started to place the dolls.  After several permutations and combinations, we arrived at what we figured was the best arrangement.

She observed the setup.

We did not place the dhotis like the way we placed them the first time.  Can we(read I) remove the dhotis and place them back again, exactly like the way they were before?

I didn't even try to figure out what she was saying.  These artistic patterns go over my head.  I nodded and placed them like the way she expected them to be.

See, the borders now line up exactly at the corners.  That's how I wanted.

I was happy that she was happy.  She was still examining like a surgeon.

You know what, the height from the first step to the second step is not the same as the height from the second step to the third.

I couldn't believe this was happening.

So, what do you propose to do? 

Let us rearrange everything, and swap the second and third steps.

In the end, whatever keeps her happy.


  1. Excellent ! Love the stereotyping of women !!

  2. Wish you can figure out the thought patterns(stereotyping) .but every single incidence is unique even with same women(same situation at different time period)has entirely different expectation.:-()))).just nod and follow the instructions.SOS.

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