All dolls lined up for Bombe Habba

From a 1,500 square foot showcase to 150-year-old heirlooms, the dolls form a significant part of Navaratri

An invitation from a college friend, Aparna Acharya, read, “We are back with Bombe Habba for Navaratri based on the 64 traditional arts.” That was enough to spur a tour of Dasara displays in Bengaluru.

“Convention, passion and a desire to help the handicraft sector is the catalyst for displays in the city,” says B Gangadhara Murthy, from the village handicrafts cooperative, Grameena Karakushala Udhyama. Murthy, who is also manager of Grameena Angadi in Jayanagar is known for his Kinnala Gombe showcase.

“Families from Kinnala village in Koppal district in Karnataka have taken to other professions owing to the lukewarm demand for their handmade, soft, drumstick wood dolls.”

Murthy says Grameena Angadi is stocking dolls from Channapatna near Mysore, papier-mâché dolls from Kondapalli in Andhra Pradesh and Krishnanagar clay dolls from West Bengal. “We have to help the artisans or we might lose valuable traditions.”

Going strong

Shobha Rathnakar has been putting elaborate displays at her home in Malleswaram for the past five decades. “Although I have added dolls to my display, I have scaled it down,” she says. Shobha’s traditional pattada gombe and ivory masterpieces are family heirlooms. Some of the dolls in her 4,000-strong collection are 150-year-old.

Her collection features dolls from all over India: silver with meenakari work from Mathura, glass from Delhi’s Meena Bazaar, Krishnanagar miniatures from Bengal and leather puppets. There are also dolls from Holland, Switzerland, Sweden, the UK, Vietnam, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

“I cherish the wooden ones I picked up from Varanasi and the traditional Kinnala dolls with the “Standing Gowri’ that has poseable arms and legs.”

    Dasara by Dhaatu

    Anupama Hoskere, the founder of Dhaatu, an organisation that works to revive traditional puppetry, has an intricate dolls house for the season in Banashankari. The doll and puppet maker and expert storyteller says the 1,500 square foot showcase aims bring back cheer to the season, after the challenges of the pandemic.

    “We have 72 story boxes of Ramayana,” says Anupama who has made 60 wooden dolls this year. “Each box is dedicated to an episode from the epic. The larger showcase also includes puppets of Ramayana that we used for the Avadh University display last year.”

    Discussing the Gowri dolls Anupama says, “They are typically short, wooden dolls and a speciality of Karnataka since the Vijayanagar period. Available in Mysore, Dharwad and Hubli, the dolls are always part of Vasantha and Sharad Navaratri. They are crafted and costumed to depict mythology.”

    Anupama organises puppetry classes and co-ordinates with well-known puppeteers across the world. Karnataka is home to a large number of puppet forms including leather, string, rod, shadow, specialised string, glove, jointed and finger.

    “My goal is to train children to make dolls and puppets.”

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