Scholarship From The Road: Southern India

By Deeksha Sivakumar
I am currently in South India, conducting pre-dissertation fieldwork on some of the dolls commonly used in Bommai Golu. Golu is a tiered arrangement of dolls used to commemorate the South Indian version of the an annual Hindu festival called Navaratiri, which lasts for 10 days. Dolls used in this ritual are preserved and handed down in Brahmin families from mothers to their daughters. Nowadays, the Golu is also performed in some non-Brahmin families, primarily due to the influence of arts and culture organizations. Moreover, the widespread secularized competitions awarding cash prizes for the best Golu has revived a traditional domestic ritual in modern and public spheres, altering the functions it serves and the significance it holds.
My earlier work on this ritual focused on some urban homes in central TamilNadu, where Golu is performed. While homes maintain a continuity in the ritual’s enactment, doll makers have maintained another kind of continuity – their craft of making these dolls. I am visiting three cities: Tirupati, Kondapalli, and Tanjore, (several villages in between) where artisans have lived for atleast a century preserving their craft. I will be documenting the social
(symbolized through these wooden dolls, each material used to make these dolls is part of a delicate social and biological eco-system), economic (in the past, dolls were a valuable and sustainable source of income but nowadays cheaply available material and machines have transformed the necessity for their craft, thrusting them into poverty), and religious (most of these craftsmen do not perform or know of Golu, they have several other stories that illuminate the Hindu relationship between the social and the material world), and politics surrounding those who do not necessarily participate in religious performances of the Bommai Golu but indirectly shape and reconfigure the nature of the ritual.
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