As seven-year-old Kataksha looks wide-eyed at a doll set depicting Krishna’s birth, she asks her mother to narrate the story. Shopping for Golu dolls at Giri Trading Agency in Matunga, the mother and daughter revisit such stories until Kataksha finally zeroes in on a Bal Ganesha doll.
As Navaratri nears, it is a ritual for many families to clamber up their lofts and bring out the special dolls to arrange Golu — a tradition that involves placing dolls on odd number of steps. Followed in most parts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, it is practised with equal gusto by those from the southern states living in Mumbai.
The festivities are part of Navaratri celebrations and the Golus are kept for nine days.
While the dolls are passed on from one generation to the next, it is customary for every family to buy at least one new set every year. For people in Mumbai, Giri happens to be the one-stop destination for Golu shopping.
“As we lived in Matunga earlier, we have been visiting this store since childhood. Now, we have moved to Vasai but we still come here to do our Golu shopping as we know we will get everything according to our needs,” says Ganesh Kumar, Kataksha’s father, whose family has been celebrating the tradition for over a century now.
Started by Swarna Gireeswaran in 1954, the store began selling Golu dolls from the late 1960s.
Run by the second and third generations of his family now, the Golu collection is exhibited in a separate store nearby for two months, from Ganesh Chaturthi till Dussehra.
Procured from Tamil Nadu, the store stocks up all kinds of dolls made of clay, fiber, plaster and wood ranging from gods and goddesses to national leaders and social scenes.
“We generally have a lot of demand for religious dolls like Ram and Sita or Shiva and Parvathi. Until last year, we saw a great demand for national leaders like Gandhiji, Vivekananda and Ambedkar. But the demand has dipped this time. We received queries regarding Jayalalithaa and Jallikattu dolls as they have arrived down south. But we do not keep them,” said Anthony Ammai, the storekeeper.
Hema Kannan, a Thane resident, has been visiting the store for the past 28 years and shares a strong bond with it. “I bought my first Golu doll set from this store. It was a small Dasavatharam set. Since then, I visit the store every year. Sometimes, some of the dolls in a set are cracked and they have to discard the entire set. Based on my need, the store allows me to pick up a few dolls from that set,” she says.
Apart from the traditional dolls, the shop also sells plastic “Golu Padi”- the steps- and the white cloth to cover those steps. While cost of the dolls range between Rs 15 and Rs 3,000, the steps cost anything between Rs 3,000 and Rs 15,000 and the cloth cover can be bought in the range of Rs 600 to Rs 1,000.
“The cost is higher for a group of dolls or the big ones- two to three feet- or the ones that have intricate handwork. In these dolls, the material cost is less and the labour cost is more. Ten to 20 per cent of the cost is for transportation from Tamil Nadu,” said Kashi Visvanath, Gireeswaran’s son.
Traditionally, families would create the steps from home furniture, old trunks or metal stands and cover those with a white “veshti” or sari.
But with lightweight and foldable steps, people have an easy solution now. Available in sets of three, five, seven and nine, the steps can be converted to a kitchen rack or a book shelf later.
“We were the first in the country to manufacture these steps. While it is lightweight it is strong and can hold weight up to 90 kgs,” says Visvanath, the pioneer of the steps.
While many smaller stores provide Golu dolls in the city, Giri is one of the largest sellers and has already sold over 5,000 dolls this year, apart from 3,000 Golu Padis and 1,000 cloth covers.