In Southern states of Tamil Nadu and to a lesser extent in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, the festival of Navrathri is called Kolu or Navratri Golu, where women set up decorated planks in a corner of the house and decorating it with dolls which are collected over the years. The origin of the word Kolu can be traced to Tamil Kolu or Telugu Koluvai, which means a sovereign sitting in his royal durbar. As per belief the concept of arranging these Navrathri dolls on the plank is to depict that Goddess Mahishasuramardini is sitting in her Kolu, prior to the slaying of the demon Mahishasura.
The dolls are only decorated during these ten days but the collection of dolls may have started over years. These dolls can be very simple to very complicated ones as per ones likes. Every year women enthusiastically arrange these dolls as per their tastes. They either remodify the existing dolls with some new additions or they add couple of new dolls to the existing stacks to decorate the plank every year.
These Navratri dolls are arranged in several tiers. Maximum no of tiers in which dolls are arranged are 9 depending on time and space constraints.
Steps 1-3: These steps are dedicated to— are devoted to the Gods. So all the different idols of
various Gods are arranged here. The kumbham or the ceremonial jar for holy water, which is a conical vessel, is filled with fresh water. A silk cloth covers the mouth of the vessel, a coconut and mango leaves are placed on top of it. This is kept on the first step.
Steps 4-6: The next three steps are devoted to saints like Sai Baba, great men like Swami Vivekananda, demigods and even national leaders who have sacrificed their lives for the country.
Steps 7: Various sets such as the marriage set and pongal set, which signify the various human activities, are placed on the seventh step.
Steps 8: The eighth step is devoted to various businesses and crafts, say the Chettiar dolls (equivalent of Sethji)—a businessman and his wife are placed and their commodities like rice, pulses in cups and other utensils are kept in front of them.
Step 9: The ninth step is the last stage where the traditional wooden dolls called Marapachi — the male and female dolls that are dressed in colorful and shining clothes — are placed. Dolls of animals, birds, reptiles and other forms of evolution are also kept on this step.
On the 10th night after the ceremonial arti and prayers, the dolls are put to ‘sleep.’ And the next day, the exhibits are packed carefully in cloth or paper and preserved for use the next year. Another novel trend is the concept of `community kolus’, when many women, unable to keep kolu in their homes, join hands and put up a Navratri kolu in a common place.
Arranging Navrathri Kolu is also an event in itself it means inviting neighbors, friends and other relatives to visit your home and view the Kolu decorated. Pleasantries and small gifts are exchanged amongst women generally women exchange coconuts, cloths and sweets amongst themselves. Sumangali (married) women also exchange bags containing a small mirror, turmeric, comb, beetle leaves with supari.