Like a stuck record, I can keep writing about certain things that are dear to me. One such thing dear to me is the navaratri festival. I have fond memories of this festival in my childhood, perhaps the reason why I keep chanting about it :)
Since I have already written much about the festival before, I am not delving into many details about the significance of golu. Golu is the display of dolls down south during navaratri. Today since we are scattered around the world, we make do with whatever dolls we get locally. But in days of yore when the concept was started by Krishnadeva raya(?) or Raja Raja chola(?) the main doll which adorned the golu was the marapacchi toys along with clay dolls. The “marapacchi” toys are wooden dolls made from the Red sanders wood.
The dolls are given to the girl during her wedding which she displays it during the golu in her marital home . From then on she keeps buying new dolls (not necessarily wooden) every year during golu time. The collection grows until the dolls are collected enough to be arranged in odd number of steps. Some dolls are a part of heirloom. Today “marapacchi” shares its space along with Lladro, Mattel, lego, Swarovski and other such international brands.
It is passed from one generation to another. Some elders also say that these were like barbie dolls of yore. Since child marriage was prevalent in olden days, the girls were given these as play toys when they were married. Dolls for a kid , we know are like silent companions with whom we share our secrets and they absorb our emotions. We tuck them under the pillow and talk to them and dress them up and hence they were given during child marriages.
Coming to marapacchi toys, these toys are made from a medicinal wood called Red sanders. These dolls come in pairs like that of "Shiva- parvati" or "Lakshmi- Vishnu". The dolls are dressed in cloth and jewellery before they adorn the golu.Today the tree from which the dolls are made is protected, the toys are made of neem wood or alternative wood.
Whatever be the reason, this wood is one of the most sought after wood and fetches a huge value in the international market today. The red sanders tree is unique to the seshachalam hills of tirupathi or nearby dry tracts of chittoor and is grown nowhere else in the world that the state has applied for a geographical indicator. It is one of the most smuggled good and is in the news often. During the recent international biodivesity meet @ Hyd it was concluded that some foreign countries make a drug to control BP which are patented by them.
This tree has medicinal properties. Revati Shankar a multifaceted media personality ( who acted in Robot as Rajnikanth’s mother) is an authority on the information of native wisdom. She mentioned once on tv that this was used to treat hypertension and most homes in olden days had 2 sets of marapacchi bommai( dolls). One set was used for the display. While the smaller ones were used for extracting the paste by rubbing against a rough surface. This paste when applied externally on heat boils would heal the boil. An infusion of this wood is used in the control of diabetes and the fruit of this tree is used to treat chronic dysentery. It is also used in various skin diseases and to treat headcahe, scorpion sting etc., This doll also served as a medicine and hence found its presence as first aid in most homes of yore. The little dolls with medicinal value served as a teether for teething children.
As if authenticating this info, I recently found them in my husband’s grandparents home at Lalgudi. The huge house was sold last May, since it had no caretaker. Many of the antique toys stocked in the attic were given away. I picked up the marapacchi toys and a few brass toys. I also brought some during my trip to Tirupati. These toys are unique to Tirupati and are today sold in most outlets like the government run handicrafts emporia like Cauvery, Lepakshi, Poompuhar and pudumai of Pondicherry. When decorated in the golu the reddish brown dolls lend an ethnic touch.
The craftsmen around Tirupati who carve these dolls are now using them on the panels of doors and furniture. Demand for these have now risen and since the wood is now protected, the crafts men have started carving using neem wood , mango wood etc.
The decorated dolls displayed in a cousin's wedding held in 2011 which will be displayed in her first golu.
This pic was clicked by me at Tirupati from where i picked two dolls.
this intricately carved door was for sale at shilparamam a crafts village @ HyderabadInfo source: I have compiled the info about dolls in weddings based on hear say from elders. The news about the protection and GI was taken from 'The hindu'.