October 23, 2016

Kolu Tradition of Gujaratis

Durga Pooja, which is celebrated as part of Navaratri celebrations, is very popular in Bengal; similarly in Tamil Nadu state of India, Navaratri is celebrated in grand manner with the display of dolls assembled and arranged on the steps. The assembly of dolls of various sizes and materials in the houses or temples is called as 'Kolu'. (People often mispronounce this word as 'Golu'). Even in the states of Andhra and Karnataka, Navaratri is celebrated with the display of Kolu dolls. The dolls that are displayed in Kolu may include the idols of deities, animals, humans and depiction of few scenes. Some people even arrange the dolls in innovative story telling concepts.

The other parts of India do celebrate Navaratri in different manner but not by displaying Kolu idols. Of course, in Gujarat state, people celebrate Navaratri in grand manner by performing poojas to the Mother Goddess. But, they do not have the tradition of displaying dolls during Navaratri. However, there is a group of Gujaratis who follow this tradition of South Indians. This article is to focus on this subject.

The Gujarati community of Tamil Nadu has its own history and tradition. Kheda is a district near Ahmedabad city in Gujarat state. The Brahmin community from Kheda are called as Khedawal Gujaratis. A group of Khedawal Gujaratis from Kheda district migrated to Tamil Nadu state in the beginning of the 18th century CE. The reason for their migration or the exact year of their migration is not known, though there are different versions and different theories about their migration.

Hundreds of families that belong to Khedawal Gujarati community still live in various parts of Tamil Nadu. Although they speak Gujarati at home (of course, in a very different accent), they mostly learn Tamil as their second language in the schools. Their food, dressing sense, rituals and other traditions mixed up with that of South Indians, as they have been living in the south for about three centuries.

Khedawal Gujaratis, who were attracted by the Kolu tradition of the Tamils, started decorating their houses, made artificial steps and arranged dolls on those steps. All this was done with one major difference. Instead of displaying the dolls during the Navaratri days, they started the new tradition of having Kolu during Krishna Jayanti. (The Khedawal Gujaratis neither adapt to new tradition completely or forget their old tradition; they just mix up both. :-) )

All communities of Gujaratis (in and outside Gujarat) traditionally celebrate Janmashtami (Krishna Jayanti) in grand manner. They would dress up the idols of Krishna beautifully and decorate the divine cradle. The Khedawals extended this tradition by assembling more dolls and made it like the South Indian Kolu.

Even today, this tradition of displaying Kolu dolls during the Krishna Jayanti is being following by very few families of the Khedawals. The others from this community either migrated to the Kolu tradition of Navaratri or completely stopped this tradition.

Happy travelling.

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