Monday, October 29, 2007

Navrathri - my tradition

This post is by Kodi's Mom of Kodimeow Kronicles

Navrathri - always reminds me of....not the silk clad maamis, not vetthalai paaku, not sundal, not little girls parading the streets, not carnatic music...
....but my grandfather. Yes, Navrathri reminds me of my mother's Aaja.

All the more this year, for we celebrated with only his memory, his spirit.

In what I consider the golden days of my childhood, when Aaja was a retired, "active adult", I would be quite amused to see how he always took Navrathri very seriously. It didn't bother him much that this was socially labeled as a 'ladies festival'. For him it was a way to showcase his energy, passion, creativity.

Left to my grandma, she might have kept a quick 3 padi kolu (a kolu with 3 steps), made a sundal, and focussed on the puja, the invites and invitees.

Left to my aunt, the daughter in law of the house, she might have done an even simplified version of the above, for that's all she had time for, with twin boys, a full time job and a long commute.

But with my grandfather, Kolu took a different glow in our house.

A week before navrathri started, he would start the prepartions. Preparations meant walking down to the garden (they lived on the top floor of a two storey), digging up soil, walking back up with that load, cleaning that area along the back wall of the hall to make room for a 9 padi kolu and a miniature park, spreading the soil in the far corner, sprinkling it with water, making even rows with the eraser end of a pencil, lining it with mustard seeds in a perfect row, then watering that spot and...waiting. You see, he was trying to create a lawn effect. A pulveLi.
Amidst the lush green would be a snapshot of some busy Chennai junction - Parry's Corner or GN Chetty Road were his favorites. There would be a fountain in the middle. Perfectly straight two lane roads, marked by white chalk or rangoli powder. Billboards along the corner. Large matchboxes painted as Kumaran Stores and Nalli. Plenty of cars.

I don't recall ever seeing the an idyllic green or the luxury of a fountain in parched, hot-beyond-words Madras of those days - but it was all there in the kolu in Aaja's house. A futuristic Chennai...with more cars than two wheelers.

Once the basic elements of the park was in place, he'd proceed to set up the nine steps for the kolu, drape with a dhoti, dust the dolls, set them up in perfect order, giving due importance to the Gods and Goddesses. A whole afternoon's work would be reflected in the kaLai of the kolu. (the look of grace, elegance)

The kolu would look its best on day 3 or 4. When the mustard seeds would have sprouted and grown evenly to a 1-2 inch height. When all the dolls had been adjusted twice or thrice for the right effect. That's when the Maamis would start to arrive and ooh and aah at the whole spectacle. My grandfather would receede to the background only to show his face to family friends, and would graciously refuse any compliments that were directed his way. Oh, I didn't do much, it was all her (he'd point to me, while all I might have done was bring him the chalk). But there was a twinkle in his eyes those times, a suppressed smile, it was happiness like that of a child...happiness that his effort had brought joy to the beholder, that the details he put in were noticed and appreciated.

This tradition repeated itself not just a stray year or two, but every single year till he could no longer keep up with the physical demands. One of the last few years, the local newspaper gave his kolu a prize for the best in town.

I have missed my grandfather all year. I think of him often, but I missed him most during Navrathri.

Because of the foundation he laid, to me, Navrathri is not just another festival, not just another one of those gazillion traditions every desi family has. The tradition that he passed down to me, consciously or unconsciously, was the enthusiasm and spirit. How you take something from your parent's generation, add your own flavor to it and carry it forward, while keeping the intent of the tradition intact.

The intent of this one is to welcome the Goddesses of wealth, education, courage to your home. To socialize with friends and family. To give. How you implemented it was upto you.

This was our implementation this year...

No Dasavatharm set, or Ashtalakshmis, no wedding setup, - but a Japanese doll, a Thai tea set, a Parisian Notre Dame, a Floridan Mickey Mouse, a Santa Claus - these are the flavors we added to it.

One of the challenges while setting this up was - my very naughty 2 year old's presence! We kept him away from it only during setup and dismantling...the rest of the time, we tried to include him in the festivities. For him, that meant playing with the dolls. So he was told that he could take off only one thing at a time but he had to be very careful. He listened some of the time, but overall, the 9 days passed without serious mishaps.

Next year, we intend to dedicate a spot that will be solely his - where he can set up a zoo or farm or whatever he wants.

Last Navrathri, Aaja saw pictures of our modest kolu and was pleased to see America-vil kolu (a kolu in America). What amused him more was that there were maamis here too who came for vethalai paakku. I wish he could have seen this year's too. And all the ones that the future holds for us.

Maybe he will.


Asha said...

He is and he always will be looking at you and blessing you all!! I miss my Ajja too!:))
I love that cream silk cloth you have there under the dolls!

Tharini said...

*sigh* That was really beautiful. I feel blessed to have witnessed the golu in your home KM. I am just so impressed by the authentic lawn effect and the efforts to which he went to make it that real. And matchbox billbaords! Just too much. Do you have any pictures from any of those golus he assembled?

bird's eye view said...

How lovely. I remember the kolus from my childhood - each maami used to compete to create new things. I loved your poist, and it really brought your grandfather alive for me.

Kodi's Mom said...

Asha: thanks...tried to avoid the white dhoti!

Tharini: there are plenty of pictures - photography was another of his hobbies. I don't have any pics here tho, I have to get them in my next india trip.

BEV: thank you for your kind comment.

mummyjaan said...

That's a beautiful photo - and article.

mnamma said...

Kodi's Mom,
Reading through you post actually brought a lump to my throat thinking of my Paati. Your grandfather's personality reminded me so much of her. And the lawn and the bill boards description all make me long to see his golu. And your golu was awesome a true amalgamation of the cultures. Thanks for sharing these thoughts with us.

Dee said...

wow..that is a beautiful display of Golu!

Sheela said...

(misty-eyed) how lovely... i remember the mustard seeds greenery, and the Utopian township surrounding the golu padi in those days...

and am relieved to note that I am not the only quirky one to display the 7 happy gods, the laughing buddha, set of bejeweled clay elephant curios and other items dear to me now in place of the gorgeous traditional dasavatharam and ashtalakshmi sets :)

Sandeepa said...

beautiful article K'Mom...your Aaji sure saw your Nanvrathri Golus this year too

BTW what is "maamis"

IBH said...

that was beautifully sure ur aaji is present with you guys in heart and soul...

sadeepa, 'maamis' are traditional brahmin ladies from tamil nadu or karnataka who wear the traditional nine yards sarees for every function :)

Rachel said...

that is a nice display different from the usual ones I've seen.

It's a nice idea of giving a space next time to your 2 year old. It definitely keeps them occupied.. I bought my daughtrer a small xmas tree and decorations last x'mas..And she occupied herself decorating it...which by the way saved us the trouble of keeping an eye on the bigger tree.

Poppins said...

Hey that was an awesome post ! So much enthusiasm that your Grandpa had ! And you did a pretty good job I would say. This year was to be my maiden year of Golu, but poppin fell sick and I was so disappointed. Next year perhaps !

Kodi's Mom said...

mummyjaan, dee: thank you!

mnamma, sheela: yea, a kolu with an "international" theme is what it ended up..the authentic sets are too heavy and delicated to be transported across the seas; also I think the new ones just don't have the same look.

sandeepa: I should have provided translation, but didn't want the stuff in parens to deter from the intent..will do so in a footnote! maamis roughly translates to aunties.

ibh: I think maamis these days qualifies as anyone married with a kid or two. at least thats the definition my brother uses to classify me as one :D

Rachel: letting her decorate the xmas tree is a fab idea..after all whats the point of following these traditions if we cant get the next gen enthu abt it?!

Pop-mom: here's to a grand kolu next year!

NR said...

I started my kolu this year with one padi and a few dolls i had. I enjoyed every day of Navratri and happy to know there are others like me in US...Hats off to you !

Laks said...

Memories are always memories.
Your GF is watching you in the form of GOD whispering his blessings .I have started my Golu 2 years back in our townhome . My duaghter was 5 months at that time and I could not do much. So just for the tradition , I have arragned whatever dolls I had in a step spice stand.Also displayed the different tea sets. Last year we just moved into the single family home and We are just unpackaging it. So just kept 2 -3 swamy vigragam and finished the golu. For this year , I have got some boomai [asta lakshmi] and some other toys from india. Actually my MIL is giving away things to me as setting up things is so difficult for her. I am planning to do it with wire cube shelves. I have couple of them. Donot know how it's going to go.The park is a good idea. But if we buy one fisher price doll house which can be displayed in the golu as well as can be used by my duaghter. I am scared about one thing which is my 2.4 yr old daughter. Donot know how to handle her. But I think she'll enjoy.Yours is a good inspiration. Thanks for that. I'll do golu and display the pictures.

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