I had a chance to visit an Arts and Crafts Exhibition at Arya Gowda Road in West Mambalam, Chennai, India. The specialty of this exhibition was the focus on one of the upcoming festivals in India called Navratri, which literally means “nine nights” (Nav = Nine, Ratri = Nights). It is celebrated to worship the nine forms of “goddess of power” (Durga) and the way it is celebrated differs across different regions of India.
I want to take you on a journey of experiencing this festival in one of the states, Tamil Nadu, in the Southern part of India. The nine-day festival begins by people setting up wooden benches or steps in odd number format at their homes decorated with a lot of dolls – theme based or otherwise in those steps. A traditional lamp is lit every evening and hand-made decorations with Rangoli or traditional patterns of art, created with colors or rice flour, are arranged before each such a display. A small offering of sweet and savories is prepared every evening during the nine nights and devotional songs and hymns are sung. During this celebration, there are numerous arts and crafts exhibitions which cater to the needs of people who want to buy the dolls, and display them at their home.
I went to take a look at one such exhibition which featured a large display of dolls, idols, everyday themes, wedding displays, etc. They were made of wood, bamboo, fiber, terracotta. Many of them are often brought and passed on as a legacy from one generation to the other.
As I treated my eyes with this colorful display, I saw so many people who came with the same purpose of selecting the best ones for their decoration back at home. The Terracota products displayed a sheen of colors and looked inviting. The dolls had a theme of daily activities like housewives working, religious groups singing, carpenters, cobblers, national prominent leaders etc., while there were other pieces of wind chimes, storage jars, pickle and preserve jars lending an earthen but artistic aura to the whole set-up. There were also the various forms of gods and goddesses, each conveying a mythological or historic story from the great epics of India.
Another amazing colorful display were the clay and the paper mache items that one could actually mistake them for real! The intricacy and the finish of the minutely carved vegetables and fruits reminded me of the farmers market and the freshness associated with it.
The panorama of small but eye-catching gift items like small lamps or “Diyas”, pre-set rangoli or colorful patterns, the garlands for the altar and the puja rooms were all hand-painted with clay and meticulously arranged. There was a special children’s arena – where miniatures of their favorite cartoon characters Chota Bheem, Dora, Little Krishna etc., were available. Overall, a splurge for the eyes.
If you are traveling to Southern India especially the State of Tamil Nadu, it is worthwhile to stroll through the streets in late September or early October. The spirit of celebration is infectious and so are the doll and the theme displays. And if you know a friend or a family member, drop into their house to view the amazing step display and eat a bite of sweets and savories specially prepared in honor of the occasion.
Blog contributed by: Rekha Chellappa, Craft Hobbyist, Chennai, India