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Navratri Golu: The Stories of the Marapachi Dolls and More

The Navratri festival is celebrated all across India, and no matter how it is done, it is always a celebration of womanhood, of all the different forms of a woman. There is a pantheon of goddesses in Indian scriptures and mythology, all of who together embody these different ideals.

I have mentioned this festival many times on my blog, so here is a quick recap.

Navratri is a multi-day festival (literally meaning nine nights) that ends with the tenth day of Vijaya Dasami (vijaya meaning victory, and dasami referring to the tenth day). It is celebrated variously across India.

The festival takes the form of Durga puja in Eastern India. It is celebrated with the colorful and energetic Garba dance in the western state of Gujarat. In the north, people fast and pray to Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. Across the nation, devotees celebrate the victory of good over evil. Of the goddess Shakti over the demon Mahishasura, and hence also referred to as Mahishasura Mardhini (or the slayer of Mahishasura); of Lord Rama over Ravana. And before I forget, the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu celebrate this with Navratri Golu.

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The Navratri Golu Overview

Again, a quick recap (paraphrased from an earlier post)

The Golu or kolu (golu means courtyard) is a display of dolls arranged in steps – number of steps should be odd (3, 5, 7, 9 and so on). Dolls are arranged in a hierarchy across the steps from the divine to the humans to animals to inanimate objects. The display is kept for the nine days of Navratri and on the 10th day, any one doll is symbolically laid down to sleep to indicate that Navratri has ended for the year.

One of the main components of the golu is a pair of Marapachi dolls.

The Marapachi Dolls

The Marapachi dolls are a pair of wooden dolls predominantly made with a reddish wood (either silk-cotton, sandalwood, or redwood). They originated in the southern Indian town of Tirupati, and are carefully handcrafted. The Marapachi dolls are handed from generation to generation, and passed down as part of the bridal trousseau.

The w these dolls are made of a special kind of wood with medicinal values. Marapachi is the name of the wood and Bommai means dolls so it means dolls made of Marapachi.

There are various beliefs around these dolls. First, let us talk about

Who They Represent

It is variously said that the Marapachi dolls embody the divine couple of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu, or the royal couple (a king and a queen). Traditionally these dolls are the main symbol of the golu itself, and are revered regardless of their position on the tiers of the golu itself.

In many homes, these dolls take the highest position on the tier. While in others, they are arranged right after the divine figurines. And the female doll is always placed to the right of the male doll (proving the age-old wisdom that the woman is always right!!)

& What They Represent

Some beliefs indicate that in the days past, child marriages were common, and these dolls were given to the young bride as a plaything. Other stories hint at these dolls becoming part of a memory chest for the newlyweds marriage; kind of in lieu of photographs (when they were non-existent)! Given that these dolls are dressed in wedding finery, this story seems very plausible!

Mothers would pass on these dolls to their daughters in the hope that the tradition continues (and thus silently praying for her daughter’s motherhood). They were also intended to be toys for the newlyweds children. Since these dolls were made with wood that had medicinal properties, in the event that a child puts this toy into its mouth, it would all be fine and good.

In some communities, a symbolic wedding of the Marapachi dolls is usually done by families with unmarried girls (whose wedding is delayed for some reason).

In essence,

these dolls represent the hopes of the family for the newlyweds, for progeny and prosperity for them. And symbolize the start of the tradition of the Navratri Golu in yet another household. So when I place the Marapachi dolls or bommai on my golu, I can almost hear the many generations of women whisper to me and pass on their blessing, and more!

You can get a pair of these dolls for your little ones here.

Marapachi Dolls, Well, Doll Related Reads

  • William’s Doll.(4 – 8 years). I first heard the song ‘William Wants a Doll’ from the Marlo Thomas project ‘Free to Be… You and Me’ a few years ago (when my teens were tots), and captured by its theme. Then I read the book that inspired it. Pick it up for yourself or for all those who want something that is considered ‘not cool’ or ‘not their type.’
  • The Littlest Matryoshka. (3 – 7 years). Russian nesting dolls have fascinated me since my dad first bought them home one day a long time ago. This book is a sweet, sweet read about sisterhood and with frame-worthy, picture-postcard sweet read is sure to
  • Emily’s Idea. (4 – 8 years). This book reminded me of Flat Stanley in some ways, and of making paper doll cutouts as well when I was little. My dad taught me how to make them, and he was an expert! I sure do miss him everyday but am glad for the memories and love he left me. Back to the book, this one is such a cute, delightful read with a wonderful, much-needed message that we are all “the same, but different”; and that is okay.
  • For books to read for Navratri, check out my post here.

A few more books I loved are included below:

These reads go towards It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? over at TeachMentorTexts


Check out these beautiful dolls for a little one.

Or for yourself.

And Now, the End of This Post

Dear reader, I would love to hear your comments and thoughts on this post as well as try to address any questions or queries you have about this. Do let me know if you have any similar traditions or maybe one you cherish? Which of the books would you pick for yourself?

5 thoughts on “Navratri Golu: The Stories of the Marapachi Dolls and More

  1. It is neat that they are all handmade & I love that they get passed down each generation. I enjoyed reading this and learning something new.

  2. This is great stuff, the tradition is very classic. The next generation must preserve this awesome event! The displayed dolls look cute and have great vibes to them! Loved it!

  3. Yes, it’s Navarathri time! The Dasara dolls are very nice. We have a few friends in our neighbourhood who do set up the dolls in their home. We have an invitation to visit them. And we’ll be in going there one of these days.

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