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Wednesday, Oct 09, 2002

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The dolls of Dasara

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Dolls displayed at the Chitrakala Parishat in Bangalore as part of the Dasara celebrations.


DASARA is also known as the `festival of dolls' in Karnataka.

This tradition of displaying a variety of dolls at home originated during Raja Wodeyar's reign in Mysore (1578 - 1617). The Dasara festival itself was started by the Vijayanagar Kingdom in Hampi in the 10th century. It was celebrated with the installation of the idol of Durga in Vijaya Dibba or the House of Victory.

The celebrations were marked by fireworks and processions and performances by artistes.

In the 18th century Mysore, the royal family had what was called the `gombe thotti' or the dolls pavilion at the Palace where large-sized standing dolls (nillu gowris) were arranged during Navaratri. The nillu gowris are made of soft wood by artisans known as `gudikars'.

Many houses in Karnataka still follow the tradition of arranging the nillu gowri dressed in resplendent costumes. On each day of the 10-day festival, these gowris are adorned in different attires: as Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, Radha, Balarama, Lakshmi and Saraswati.

Says Mrs Anu Visweswar, who has displayed her 150-year old nillu gowris at Bangalore's Chitrakala Parishat, "These dolls belong to my husband's great grandmother.''

Her theme displays are very popular in Bangalore. How has she preserved the beauty of the 150-year-old dolls?

"Though made of soft wood, they are quite sturdy,'' she says, adding, "I got them painted once 25 years ago and a second time about fours ago.''

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