The Beauty of Dasara dolls - Tradition and Significance

‘Gombe Habba' (‘Festival of dolls') is a unique tradition practiced during the Dasara festivities. The dolls are adored through ritual worship and offerings during the celebrations.

Navaratri is a major festival of the Hindus that is celebrated in various styles all over the country every year. Different states of the country have different names and customs for celebrating this festival. In the southern part of India, the festival of Navaratri is celebrated with a very interesting and unique tradition called Bombe Habba or Golu or Kolu (Kannada) or Bommala Koluvu (Telugu) or Bommai Kolu (Tamil) or simply Dasara dolls. This tradition involves a toy festival that is celebrated by families across Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

The festival is celebrated for 10 days and culminates on the day of Vijayadashami or Dasara, the day when Goddess Durga won the battle against the demons or asuras after fighting for 9 days. In Karnataka, the festival is also known as Dasara Doll Festival. The origins of this fete are lost in the fog of time, but many in Karnataka trace it to Mysore’s Wodeyar rulers of the 19th century. There could be some truth to it as the Mysore palace is known for its Gombe Thotti or doll’s hall. The dolls, dating back to the 19th century, in all their finery, are one of the major attractions. No wonder that the famous Mysore palace model finds pride of place in many homes.

The Dasara Doll Festival of Karnataka

The Dasara doll festival is celebrated in Karnataka through an exhibition of various dolls and figurines arranged as per custom. The dolls are arranged and exhibited on a stepped platform having an odd number of steps or tiers (usually 7, 9 or 11) and usually covered with a white or light color cloth. Many households use nine steps for the exhibition of dolls to signify the nine nights of Navaratri. The dolls are ritually worshipped during the celebrations.

The main dolls of the festival are a pair depicting a husband and a wife. They are referred to as Pattada Gombe or Pattath bommaikal. This set of main dolls is handed over to a daughter by her parents during her marriage ceremony. They are presented to the new bride to start her own family and continue with the tradition of the festival.

The Pattada Gombe pair is a set of traditional dolls made from wood. These dolls are dressed colorfully using papers or silk textiles. This main pair of dolls is always dressed in the traditional style. Tradition demands that the first step of the platform be usually reserved for miniature idols or dolls depicting gods and goddesses. Generally the idols of Rama, Lakshmana, Seeta, Krishna, Radha, Shiva, Vishnu, Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, etc. are used in this festival. It is also customary to have a few wooden dolls in the collection.

As per the customs, the idols of Durga Devi, Shiva, and Ganesha are placed in the first row. The second row has different incarnations of Devi. The third row has kalasha and dolls of kings and queens. The fourth row has idols of human incarnations of gods and the fifth has dolls of human beings in different traditional professions. The dolls of the shopkeeper and his wife are a must here. The last step is the most creative of all.

Customs Followed in the Doll Festival

Most households follow a theme for the arrangement of dolls. Some households follow a simple and traditional theme while some follow elaborate and extravagant ways of presenting their dolls. People use their creativity to showcase their collection in a unique and attractive manner. Some people depict stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata on the rows of the platform. These days, people also exhibit dolls with modern themes like saving the environment or reducing pollution, etc.

Every year people add a new set of dolls to their collection. As such, the collection increases every year in each household. The dolls are passed on from one generation to the next. As such, some families have dolls that are more than 100 years old.

During the 10 days period, people invite and visit friends and family and enjoy the unique exhibition of dolls in each family. Everyday offerings is presented to the dolls which are distributed among the family members, neighbors, and guests as Prasad.

Significance of the Doll Festival celebration

Karnataka follows the doll festival in a way to be rooted in the traditions and introduces the new generation to the rich culture and mythology of the land. It is also a way to seek divine blessings and entertain the children during the Dasara festival.

 The craft of traditional doll making is on diminishing by the day. Mysore becomes a land of dolls during the Dasara festival. The festival encourages keeping the craft of wooden and clay doll-making alive and allows the grown-ups to become children for a few days each year.

A perfect blend of traditional and present-day dolls exhibited in the doll festival represent the past while reflecting the present