La Dolls Vita!

Responsibly chronicling the diverse traditions and cultures of Navarathri and the way it is celebrated across the country would have been easy. But I, as a sincere journalist, have chosen the hard way —- that is chosen to chronicle the diverse traditions and cultures of Navarathri and the way it is celebrated across the country in the most irresponsible manner.

This is my revenge on the people of other States for regularly mocking the single most important festival in Tamil Nadu’s calendar: The release of a Rajnikanth movie.

OK, here are the snapshots of the festivities of the nine-nights across the country.

New Delhi

When the sandpaper-dry air suddenly begins to develop a pleasant nip, when trees start stripping their autumnal leaves, when virgin dewdrops can be seen to crystalise on pea-green grass, the traditionally-minded in Delhi know the festival season of moving from cold beer to warm whiskey has arrived.  The season is also celebrated as Dussehra in one corner of Ramleela grounds.

While in most parts of India Dussehra is primarily about Goddess Durga annihilating forces of evil, in Delhi it’s historically celebrated as the symbolic triumph of Lord Ram over Ravana, confirming the fact that it’s not just now that New Delhi is totally out of touch with the rest of India. Apparently, it is a tradition that dates back to the time of the Ramayana.

Anyway, the reenactment of the slaying of Ravana through high-voltage pyrotechnics on the iconic Ramleela grounds is a popular event, to which enthusiastic dads and moms bring their young children, who, looking at the entire event, suitably feel: ‘Duh’.  For, before coming to the ground they had played Assassin’s Creed all afternoon.


The quintessential beats of the dholak, the metronomic rhythms of the batons, the swaying feet of the swirling dancers, the agreeable gaudiness of glitzy clothes and chunky jewels. Well, these are the images that the mind will conjure up if you were stupid enough to form your idea of Dandiya Raas from kitschy films (Remember Kalaignan?).

A traditional Dandiya Raas do that I went to a few years back played traditional rap set to traditional Bhangra beats, while young men and women in traditional jeans and T-shirts that were traditionally tight, jived in traditional clumsiness.

Dandiya Raas may be a traditional dance but it has a modern message, which is: You can hold an all-night party without booze, but you will still wake up with a huge headache.

The authentic Dandiya Raas is now confined solely to the inaugural ceremony of the National Games, which if you are interested, is currently being ‘live’ telecast on DD Sports.  Needless to say, the ‘live’ telecast is of the 2008 edition, when it was not held.

The Dandiya Raas is actually the mock staging in dance form of the fight between the Goddess Durga and the demon Mahishasura. However unfortunate and insensitive the choice of words may seem, the Dandiya Raas is truly a riot of colour and fun. Considering this, Narendra Modi should go on a 9-night fast to revive Dandiya Raas.  Being a dancer, Mallikha Sarabhai cannot possibly oppose this.


Akshara Abyasam, the formal beginning to formal learning, on the Vijayadasami Day is the highlight of Dussehra in Kerala, as it conveniently falls just ahead of the start of the academic season, which happens in January in Gulf, which is where the entirety of Kerala is located.


The Maratha State has a rich history of culture of celebrating any festival that allows them to set up a pandal and several loudspeakers blaring sounds loud enough to be heard by Chatrapathi Sivaji in whichever universe he is currently believed to be in.  After nine days and nights of non-stop festivities, things will be back to normal in Maharashtra. But in a distant universe, an ENT would be attending on Sivaji.

West Bengal

Kumortuli or Kumartuli. Spell it anyway, the Bengali is still going to mispronounce it.

Anyway, Kumartuli, situated in the northern nook of Kolkata, is less about words, more about images.  One indigent labourer, working ceaselessly to create ten static arms of Durga, a vivid visual metaphor for Communism, which as Hengels ought to have said, is about two hands sincerely labouring so that ten other arms can take it absolutely easy.

Many months before Dussehra actually arrives, the unsung and unheralded artisans of Kumartuli get down to work to get their famed Durga idols ready.  Is it because the demand for the sui generis effigies is high? No, it’s because Kolkata’s traffic is notorious for snarls that take months to clear.  If they began their work any later, the Dussehra idols could conceivably be delivered only after Deepavali.

Dussehra is the second most popular festival in West Bengal with most offices and business establishments shut for the celebrations.  The  rest of the year, the offices are shut for the first most popular festival: bandhs and hartals.

The fact that idol-makers and political parties are still to cast Mamata Bannerjee in a Durga idol replica shows that West Bengal has a long way to go before it can catch up with Tamil Nadu.