By Nithin Sridhar
Mysore is famous all across the world for its celebration of Dasara festival (also called as Dussera, Dashahara in other parts of India) that includes various religious and cultural events such as the famous Dasara procession that happens on the day of Vijayadashami.
Among various traditions that are associated with Dasara, one beautiful practice that is unique in its observation is the festival of dolls called as ‘Bombe Habba’.
The Doll Festival is widely observed across South India. It is unique in the sense that it not only appeals to the people with spiritual or religious bent, but also those who are creative and with tastes for art and handicrafts.
Traditionally, the celebration involves arranging the dolls on stepped platform that usually contains nine-steps signifying nine days of Nava-Ratri. The dolls are usually arranged based on themes from Hindu Puranas and Itihasas.
A conventional manner of arranging the dolls is that on the lower most three steps, the idols of various Gods and Goddess are kept. The subsequent three steps are used to place icons of kings, queens, saints, and other leaders. The final three steps are used to showcase scenes from Hindu festivals and events from everyday life.
This arrangement not only serves as a medium to explain various stories from these Puranas containing many moral and spiritual lessons to small children, but it also helps the children to connect with the religion in a creative and artistic manner.
The central character in the Bombe Habba is the pair of wooden dolls who represent the King and Queen, may be as a reminiscence of olden days when kings used to rule Mysore, who are called as ‘Raja Rani Dolls’ or ‘Pattada Gombe’ (Royal Dolls). These wooden dolls are washed, cleaned, and adorned in new clothes and are usually placed in a prominent position during the display.
The festival was once widely celebrated across Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and erstwhile Andhra Pradesh. But, the practice has dwindled over the last few decades especially in urban areas owing to pressures of modern urbanized life. Now, fewer households arrange and display dolls throughout Navaratri. Many families keep only the ‘Pattada Gombe’ as a customary gesture.
But, all is not lost yet. With an intention to generate interest among people towards the Doll festival, Ramsons Kala Pratishtana has been organizing “Bombe Mane” (House of Dolls) – an exhibition of thousands of dolls with varied themes, every year since past decade in Mysore.
This year, they have organized the 11th edition of ‘Bombe Mane’. The organization intends to not only rekindle the interest among people towards dolls, but also to support various artisans and doll makers.
Every year, they put an exhibition cum sale of dolls procured from various states for around 50 days during the time of Dasara. One unique feature of this Doll exhibition is that, every year they design the exhibition around a central theme. This year the central theme is ‘Sapta-Matrikas’– the seven mother goddesses of Hinduism- Brahmi, Maheshwari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrani, and Chandika.
Speaking to NewsGram, R.G.Singh, Secretary of Ramsons Kala Pratishtana, said that around 400-500 people on average are coming to the Bombe Mane each day. The exhibition began on 25th September and will end on 15th November. Singh added that he expects a sale of Rs. 20-25 lakh this year.
Dolls made from different materials like clay, wood, terracotta, plaster of Paris, cloth, and metal were all on display. Singh said that at any time during exhibition around 8000 dolls and idols are displayed in public.
When asked about his involvement with Doll-making industry, Singh said that he has been in the industry since 1970, when he and some others started Ramsons Handicrafts Sales Emporium. Later, they started Ramsons Kala Pratishtana to support artisans.
Singh said that lately people are preferring smaller dolls over larger ones, and dolls which are easier to handle like those made of wood than dolls made of clay that needs careful handling.
He added that though a large number of people have begun to purchase dolls which do not have religious themes, yet the majority of sales happen from dolls that depict religious and mythological themes.
‘Bombe Mane’ is open for visitors between 10 AM and 7 PM till November 15.