Dolling up the past: Bengaluru-based advocate's collection of Golu Dolls brings alive a vignette of what life was years ago

Bengaluru-based advocate Ganesh V Shivaswamy has always been connected to the past

author_img Jayanthi Madhukar Published :  31st October 2021 12:23 PM   |   Published :   |  31st October 2021 12:23 PM

Golu Dolls

Bengaluru-based advocate Ganesh V Shivaswamy has always been connected to the past. Take his collection of 127 original lithographs of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings that has been put together by scouring antique shops across the country. He also has another set of acquisitions that is intangibly linked with an era bygone—the Golu dolls.

Most South Indian homes know of Golu, the thematic display of dolls and figurines during Dussehra, when they come out of trunks beautifully adorned and line up odd-numbered shelves arranged as a cascade of steps. On these shelves come alive a vignette of what life was years ago. Shivaswamy points to his favourite doll, made of clay, which is at least five decades old. It depicts a temple priest feeding two white vultures on a rocky outcrop.

This ‘tableau’ is strikingly similar to a photograph taken by his father in the 50s at Thirukazukundram, a temple town in Tamil Nadu. Back then, the priest from the temple on top of the hill would finish the prayers and sit on the rocky outcrop waiting for two white vultures to feed them prasad. “This event was witnessed by my father,” he notes. The last sighting of the Egyptian vultures over there was in 1990. But the doll reminds the Shivaswamy household of that event.

The Golu dolls were also showcased in a first-of-its-kind exhibition (Dasara Gombe Habba) at the Chitrakala Parishath, an art gallery in Bengaluru, which concluded on Dussehra. Art historian Suresh Jayaram, along with members of the organisation, curated the selection of vintage and contemporary Golu dolls. At the show, some dolls made of sawdust and cow dung were kept alongside Kinnala dolls made using light polaki wood and organic colours—an ancient craft unique to Kinnala village in Karnataka.

Several precious stories repose in Golu dolls, passed on from generation to generation, traditionally gifted to brides by their parents as part of their wedding trousseau. In the past, chitragars (traditional artisans) made dolls and toys depicting occupations of that era. Not anymore. “Nowadays, we are so few artisans,” Kinnala artist Santosh Kumar Chitragar says, “that we usually do what people are more interested in. Idols of Garuda, Hanuman, Gouri busts, Rati and Manmata are popular.” The pandemic has hit their livelihoods. Having secured a loan recently, Santosh hopes to reintroduce new varieties of doll making. Barring Kinnala dolls, most other dolls are mass-produced in small factories or homes of the makers and appear during Dussehra only.