Thursday, October 10th, 2013

The Challenge of Making Holidays Special Far from Home: Navaratri in the U.S.

Navaratri- Meera's Golu (c)Meera Sriram-

Golu is an element of Navaratri unique to certain communities in South India, although the festival of Nava-ratri (nine-nights) is celebrated with great grandeur in many parts. During Navaratri, Hindus evoke the blessings of the Goddesses of health, wealth and prosperity, and the celebration culminates in Dusshera (the tenth day) that is auspicious for new beginnings. Golu or Kolu is the traditional practice of displaying dolls (mostly figurines of Gods and Goddesses) that I believe originated to tell mythological stories to children. It has evolved to include modern everyday objects and materials to make up the display. With women and little girls claiming more involvement, typical fanfare includes walk-ins round the clock for golu-viewing and getting goodies in the neighborhood.


Growing up as a child in the 80s in India, my excitement was boundless – it meant bringing vintage clay dolls in dull paint and slightly chipped pieces of pottery out from an old trunk. We dusted them and carefully arranged them on “steps”. The dolls were mostly handmade and passed down through generations with a few store-bought additions every year. Even more exciting was getting creative in building the steps (or stairs) out of boxes and furniture from around the house. A typical add-on would be a “scene” on the side of the “doll-ed up” staircase — a beach, a zoo or a snapshot of a park. Mom worked hard during these nine days. She made sundal, (a salty and spicy lentil or bean treat) every day to give away to guests. Sometimes they were sweet; the beans were mixed with jaggery and coconut. Navaratri also meant flaunting around in traditional wear with glittery accessories. It also gave us free license to sing classical music (devotional songs) to the many golus we witnessed, without being judged for our talent or the lack of it. Sometimes we were even blackmailed by the hostess — “you get your sundal only if you sing!” Looking back, it seems so outrageous and hilarious now!


Living in the U.S I started the golu tradition in our home when my little girl turned five. The inevitable deficiencies and personal twists in how we celebrate it here seem to highlight how different my experiences were.  With evites and rsvps, long drives in cars, expensive goody bags and weekend-only celebrations sometimes I feel the simple joys of the festival back home are lost. And yes, our golu here is really tiny too. But what’s beautiful is the vigor and excitement I sense in our own family and among our friends here.  And when I see my daughter adjust the placement of a wooden doll that has traveled with us in a suitcase across the Atlantic, while her bangles jingle and her pavadai skirts the floor, my head stops analyzing anything. Anything. Because while I am busy holding on to my past, she is busy creating memories to hold on to, both special in their own ways.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:

Family History

Who knew that becoming a mother merged our histories of loss and grief

The West's Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep

How the West sleeps is different from the rest

Breastfeeding Around the World

In photos and figures


Meera Sriram has been reviewing and recommending diverse children’s literature for about ten years now. She loves to pass on a title or an author to a friend (or a stranger, for that matter). Picture books particularly appeal to the inner child in her. She moved to the U.S. at the turn of the millennium from India. After graduate studies and a brief stint as an electrical engineer, she decided to express herself in other creative ways, primarily through writing. She has co-authored four books for children, all published in India. Her writing interests include people and cultures, nature, and life’s everyday moments. She also runs an early literacy program for toddlers and preschoolers in her neighboring communities. She lives in Berkeley, CA, with her husband and two kids. Curling up to read a good book with her children is something she looks forward to every day. She constantly fantasizes about a world with no boundaries over hot chai, to help her stay warm in foggy Northern California. More at

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsRaghu Pantula   |  Saturday, 12 October 2013 at 10:29 pm


    Loved the article. Having just returned very late from the umpteenth golu visit and an evening filled with carnatic music, more so.
    I would request substituting “theology” or other culturally reinforcing word instead of mythology.

    Dasara widhes to you!

    Best regards

  2. CommentsMeera Sriram   |  Saturday, 12 October 2013 at 10:45 pm

    Thank you Raghu! I miss the Navaratri kutcheris. I don’t think “theology” would apply here because golu is not a formal medium of religious instruction. Thanks again for stopping by and sharing your thought. Happy Dussera to you!

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!

A Children's Book for Raising Global Citizens

Every life is a story. It’s easier to understand someone when you know their story.

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!
[…] in their homes even if the US is an anomaly. Here are two articles on co-sleeping (click here and here) and one “Dear Abby” (click […...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
Hi...I am an Asian who was adopted and raised by Caucasian American missionaries in South America. I have two kids-my daughter is 16 and my son is 11. When I had my first baby I too was indoctrinate...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
This Karina, the Karina from the article. I'm now 13. It took this article was written 3 years ago and barely coming across it right now. I was originally trying to look for my folkloric pictures fo...
From How This Single Working Mom Raised a Trilingual Kid
Nice recipe, thank for shari...
From Vaisakhi Recipe: Sarson Ka Sag
I've been in Germany Ten years now, Lived in Frankfurt and Stuttgart, specifically Leonberg. In Frankfurt I was shocked by how unfriendly the People were, how aggressive their Drivers, but in Leonbe...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
At DreamAfrica, we are a streaming app for animations and films from around the world. We celebrate cultural representation in digital media and invite you to download and share our DreamAfrica appp...
From What We Are Not About
Imagine those people who work at your typical IT Department, yeah those weirdos with low EQ, no manners, no social skills; indeed those who kiss the bosses' ass when it's convenient, but get offend...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
I contacted the editor of this magazine (Stephanie) and she told me she'd inform Jan about this article. I have since changed my mind about going to Germany because of Merkel's policies, and this i...
From Are Germans Really Rude?

More Tradition and Parenting