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

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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.

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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 www.meerasriram.com.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hello,

    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
    raghu

  2. 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!

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