The 8 days of Navarathri

Navarathri is an inviolable tradition of nine-day festivities running into eight days this year.

No, that is not a joke. Navarathri is indeed truncated by a day this year. Why?  Did Standard & Poor, while bringing down its outlook on India, reduce the rating on Navarathri, too (if a Tamilian had authored that report it would doubtless read: Kajana kali & Kolkata Kali)?

Anyway, in the coming years, even if Navarathri is reduced to a three-day affair (NavaraThree), there is one aspect of the festival, as it is celebrated in these parts, that we are sure will never be tampered with.

What is it? Read on…

The Navarathri kolus these days have become elaborate and enormous, requiring more planning, more production effort and, of course, unimaginably more steel pins, than it did James Cameron to come up with the set for Avatar.

But just as it is impossible to avoid in Hollywood movies the kissing scene (timed and placed to show up precisely at the moment when the daughter joins you to watch the movie on TV, so you hurriedly switch to a Tamil channel which can be counted on to show more agreeable stuff for kids, like about the man, who to spite the girl that rebuffs his amoral advances, marries her mother to become her stepfather), there is one thing that kolus can never do away with:

1) Simple kolu:  Dolls placed randomly and a Dasavatharam set.

2) Thematic kolu: Dolls placed not randomly and a Dasavatharam set.

The above handy chart will help you understand that a chart can convey the same, simple message by occupying a lot of space, which, when you come down to it, may also be the whole idea of a kolu.

Yes, the fact is if it is to be classified as a kolu there has to be a Dasavatharam set. Otherwise it is just a collection of figureheads. Like Parliament, but not totally that pointless.

Thematic or non-thematic, the beauty of the Dasavatharam set is that the ten dolls that comprise it provide the creative space for people to mess up its sequence.

Just walk up to any person and ask him to give the precise order of the 10 avatars of Lord Vishnu. You will be surprised by the kind of response you will get. Yes, he will slap you. Just because I told you, in your eagerness, you just went ahead and stopped a motorist at a crowded junction.

Haha, the point is the city traffic brings the worst demon inside every one of us. No, the point is getting the order right in the Dasavatharam line-up is a bit a like the multiplication table of the number ‘16’ you learnt in the mathematics class: You think you know it by-heart. But it is when you attempt it, you run into problems. And you eventually work it out through some harried trial and error.

‘Does the Narasimha avatar figurine go before or after Vamana avatar?’ is one of the typical questions that desperate mothers are prone to throw up while attempting to set the kolu.  To all those who frantically rack their brains to get the Dasaavatharam series correct, I would like to pass on an important and instant formula:  Don’t bother. Remember we are a country of people, most of whom can’t even remember the words in the National Anthem right.  So just take it easy. At any rate, if you seasoned kolu-keepers are not sure, it is only logical that we kolu-watchers are even more unsure.

But all the trouble taken in trying to get the sequence exactly right will be worth it, when you cast a look at the beautiful array of dolls depicting the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu, and spiritually and spontaneously wonder: ‘Hey wait! What exactly did Balarama do to deserve a position alongside Rama and Krishna?’

Though I am no expert in these matters, but with my knowledge I feel that Balarama got his place in the pantheon based on his epic achievement of being Lord Krishna’s brother.

Ha. Ha. Ha. Don’t take me seriously. I am just being my puerile self.  Balarama is, of course, well known for many heroic exploits and godly deeds none of which readily comes to my mind now.

Once you get the right order, you are almost ready to go, provided you can spot the difference in the looks between Rama and Balarama. In a standard set of dolls, both of them are tall, well-built and carry a bow. So the essential trick to differentiate between the two is  — you must write this down in a paper and if possible teach your children, too because they will love this — inky, pinky, ponky.

With the identity too sorted out, your kolu is now fully worked out. But remember the success of any kolu is pivoted on aesthetics, tradition, style, sincerity, devotion, and, above all, the one quality without which the whole of Navarathri, be it an eight or nine-day affair, loses all its significance — the taste of sundal you serve for the day.

In the coming weeks, we will see the tradition of Deepavali celebrations, how Lord Krishna killed Naragasuran so that people can a have a full day to watch TV programmes involving 36 hours of advertisements.