Pardon me for joining the “Return” bandwagon😉 But hang on! This piece is not on the “Return” which is in news in India these days! This is the time of the Navratri festival which is celebrated all over India with much gusto and gaiety though in different forms. In Mumbai where I live now being a melting pot of cultures it is, we get to see the Garba nights, Durga Pujo pandals of the Bengalis and ofcourse the South Indian way of celebrating Navratri in close quarters.
Before I landed in Mumbai in the early 90’s, I had not heard of Garba or Dandiya Raas,… During those college days, Disco Dandiya nights were popular among the youth who were getting drowned in the Remix wave. In Churchgate – cars with disco lights and blaring music used to be parked in the centre of the roads. Boys and Girls were seen crooning to the songs and rhythm of Garba all night long! I see less of them now. Today there are many Garba festivals almost in all suburbs featuring celebrities and wannabes where people let their hair down during the nine nights and have fun. Specialist singers and folk artists get imported from Gujarat for the same to belt out more traditional and original songs. (Doesn’t mean that there are no songs dripping with Honey Singh’s lewd lines and all that😁
There are also a few like Phalguni Phatak who have become celebrities by just making people dance to their tunes during Navratri. There are different types of Garba steps and in Mumbai a month before the season, classes spring up to coach people on those! I have been personally witness to the enthusiastic crowd in one of the classes in Mulund a happening suburb for Gujjus!!! Not to forget the crowd in outlets selling traditional wear like Gagras and Cholis! And talking of attire, these days the vogue thing is to follow the Navratri colour codes for the 9 days (even to office) so much so couple of days back which was a Green day – a ladies coach in Mumbai local resembled a cricket stadium in Karachi😁😁
This year, Raj Thackeray’s MNS which has an ongoing axe to grind with the Gujjus in Mumbai – wants to give their own “Marathi” twist to Garba it seems. They see Garba as another conspiracy of the Gujarathi traders to take over Mumbai. So at MNS supported Pandals (yes where there is money there is politics) as per party diktat no Gujju song is to be played and Garba will make way for Bhondla a form of Marathi folk music!!!
My exposure to Bengalis and the Durga Pujo (not Puja) festival was only after I started visiting Kolkatta on work. Bengalis are extremely proud of their culture. As oxymoronic as it may sound they are “passionate liberals” when it comes to their culture. For Bengalis, Durga Pujo is more than a festival which I understood in early years of my career. Once when I called for an important review meeting in the midst of the Pujo festival, I got a call from the wife of one of my team members from Kolkatta to reschedule the dates!!! Politely but firmly she said that her husband will not attend the meeting because its Pujo time in Kolkatta. I realized that Pujo was bigger than Diwali in that part of the world. Amidst the feverish pandal hopping they indulge in, eating, shopping and even match making happen feverishly! I see the Pujo pandals increasing every year in Mumbai as well. I don’t miss visiting atleast one Durga Pujo Pandal every year. I like the one at Hiranandani Gardens, Powai which is elegantly decorated devoid of too many ugly sponsor’ billboards.
Coming to my own backyard, I have fond memories of Navratri of my growing up days in Trichy. Every year we used to have our vacation to coincide exactly with Navratri after the Quarterly exams. Though it’s a festival which brings the ladies at home to the fore, at home we equally participated. The Kolu (tradition of arranging idols of Gods nicely in steps) at our place was popular among the neighbourhood. Apart from the Kolu steps we used to set up some theme based arrangement every year. Usually my dad threw the ideas and my brother did the execution with me and my sister pitching in with colouring and stuff. Those were not the days of Google or readymade clay, colours, models,.. Most of the stuff like a hill temple or an exhibition ground,.. were painstakingly constructed with waste material and made at home! Our mom was good at making different stuff made of beads which we used extensively in these theme based parks! We used to make some change every day which is what made our place👍
Nine days mean nine varieties of Sundal which is made and distributed to all who come as Prasad. If Bengalis do “Pandal hopping”, we Tamilians do “Sundal hopping”😁😁. Our decision to visit other house Kolus used to depend on the type of Prasad😜. Popular one being Puttu (Jaggery and coconut laced steamed rice flour). And generally houses which had paruppu masiyal (a very sticky paste like stuff made of dal) that day were given the cold shoulder😜😜. Navratri used to be the time those days when mamis feel much empowered sauntering in and out of the house wearing a different Kanjivaram every day and associated finery while mamas sit quietly in a corner reading newspaper😄 without getting much attention. One favourite question of the mamas to their wives was “Enna Innikku collection ellam aacha???😄” In those days of no WhatsApp, invitation to the Kolu needs to be done personally which is the job of us bachas. (Today a WA fwd does the job in a jiffy). As an interesting aside I vividly remember that in our one neighbourhood house in Thillainagar Trichy, during every Navratri there used to be a baby arrival!! This went on for 4 years in a row. Letting one naughty mama to comment – Koluvila dasavatharam bommaigalaa ivaa aathu pasangalaiye koodiya seekiram vechudalam pola irukke😁😁 (Soon we can keep 10 children of this house as Dasavatharam idols in the Kolu looks like)😁😁
As we grew and we went in different directions in pursuit of careers, the Kolu at home tradition stopped in our place as in many households I knew. But in the last few years I see the “return” of the Kolu tradition with a vengeance. Particularly the NRIs are in the forefront of the revival. From Dunedin to Dublin. I don’t know if the infectious enthusiasm has been fueled by social media. But these days FB posts and WA shares mostly are of pics of the Kolus and Sundal of the day. Another reason for one Mark and his friend Modi to be happy! Women these days assiduously prepare for the event including rehearsing nice Durga songs, scheduling their days (for hosting and visiting others) diligently trying their best to be at most places.
“How to throw a Kolu party???” is a caption of a news item today in today’s Bombay Times (Anything to do with TOI has to end with party I think😜). Well, the tradition of calling ladies for Vetthalai paaku (Haldi kumkum) for Kolu during Navratri has been given a very contemporary twist! The same piece also talks of a “Green Kolu” where instead of idols the steps are replete with plants of different sizes and shapes!!!
Among all the commercialisation that comes along with increased market activity and purchasing power and the lament that we are missing the cultural connect I do sense a “Return” of the people including the youth to their roots and Culture. And Navratri is a shining example of the same. And this “Return” is one we must be proud of unequivocally👍👍👍