Dolls on Display: A South Indian Festival of Identity and Play Restricted; Files Only

Sivakumar, Deeksha (Spring 2018)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/4x51hj04n?locale=en
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Abstract

   This dissertation is an ethnography of the festival display of dolls called BommaiGolu (literally “court of dolls”) to commemorate the south Indian domestic celebration of the nine nights of Navaratriconcluding with Vijayadashami. I describe how participants annually display materials, particularly dolls as deities, alongside mythological and life history narratives in the form of dioramas. Prosperity in the form of antiquity and abundance, continues to be a theme of this festival, a way through which participants honor the goddess’ auspicious blessings. Doll-play characterizes Bommai Golu’s ritualized style of performance, showcasing these displays as material markers of one’s identity. I argue that creating and viewing Golus is a form of reflexive doll-play, a way for participants to situate their own identities within their broader social and religious worlds. In this way, the festival remains fluid, inclusive, and appealing to participants from a variety of socio-economic classes, from traditional Brahmins, their adopted kin to Indian immigrant families to the US. 

 

Table of Contents

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER ONE:  INTRODUCTION TO BOMMAI GOLU................................................................................................1

The Evolution of Bommai Golu (circa 1950-2018).................................................................................................6

Locating the Ethnographic Contexts.....................................................................................................................12

Mylapore.......................................................................................................................................................12

Sunnyvale, California....................................................................................................................................17

Locating the Players..............................................................................................................................................26

Situating this Dissertation......................................................................................................................................31

Navaratri and Bommai Golu..................................................................................................................................31

Materiality and Bommai Golu................................................................................................................................35

Chapter Divisions..................................................................................................................................................38

CHAPTER TWO:  BOMMAI GOLU AS AN INHERITED TRADITION IN BRAHMIN HOMES..........................................45

Meenakshi’s Golu..................................................................................................................................................49

Mrs. Seshadri’s Golu.............................................................................................................................................62

Materials Display Inherited Caste Traditions.........................................................................................................75

Conclusion............................................................................................................................................................80

CHAPTER THREE: BOMMAI GOLU AS LEARNED TRADITION AMONG NON-BRAHMINS........................................84

Keerti as a “new-comer” to Bommai Golu...........................................................................................................87

Keerti Mingles with Mylapore Brahmins...............................................................................................................92

Meeting Sheila in Aarti’s Golu..............................................................................................................................95

Durga-Ma leads Sheila to Bommai Golu..............................................................................................................98

Sheila’s Golu........................................................................................................................................................101

Adopting Brahmin Rituals....................................................................................................................................105

Conclusion...........................................................................................................................................................113

CHAPTER FOUR: BOMMAI GOLU AS A PRESERVED TRADITION BY THE MYLAPORE TRIO.................................118

Who are the Mylapore Trio?.................................................................................................................................119

Forming a Sacred Mission...................................................................................................................................122

Dressing the Part........................................................................................................................................124

Sculpting a Religious Identity......................................................................................................................127

Mylapore Trio’s Golu.............................................................................................................................................133

Memorializing Tradition – Nostalgia and Authority................................................................................................137

CHAPTER FIVE: DISPLAYING DOLLS FOR BOMMAI GOLU: ANIMATING THE GODS USING THE INANIMATE.......143

Who/What is a doll?..............................................................................................................................................145

Dolls Compared to Murtis.....................................................................................................................................147

Play and Religious Rituals.....................................................................................................................................148

Playing with Dolls..................................................................................................................................................152

Playful Devotion (Bhakti)........................................................................................................................................156

Bommai Golu as Doll-play.....................................................................................................................................163

Mimicking Motherhood.................................................................................................................................165

Imagining Spaces..........................................................................................................................................169

Golu play........................................................................................................................................................174

CHAPTER SIX:  CONCLUSIONS AND NEW DIRECTIONS.............................................................................................182

Bommai Golu for Hindus........................................................................................................................................185

Can Bommai Golu be Eternal?...............................................................................................................................188

BIBLIOGRAPHY...............................................................................................................................................................193

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