The festival of Dasara (Dasahara, Dussera...) in our part of India is a very traditional one. It is a time when all the toys and dolls go on show in our homes. The festival usually comes in the end of September or early October. With changing times the tradition of exhibiting dolls on specially prepared/fabricated temporary platforms for the entire duration of ten days in our living rooms is waning slowly what with the newer generation not getting interested in these 'weird' things! Of course, there are exceptions here and there.
When we were young, we always looked forward to this festival which also meant a holiday fortnight beginning when the half-yearly exams ended. When the festival closed in, boxes of dolls would be 'downloaded' to the ground from the attic. The brass ones would be polished with tamarind juice. The traditional wooden man-woman dolls were tidied up with their shining art paper dresses while the old ones that were damaged would be replaced by pasting new ones neatly ! When they were ready, Mother, grandmother and an aunt would prepare the platform - a white cloth would be pinned to the surface. Ours were only two levels while others displayed theirs in step form. Since no picture was taken in those days, I show a picture of the place in our hall where it was displayed. The table near the big photo served as the platform. We no longer live in this old house.
We would prepare a mini zoo using dirt and sand and grow Ragi sprouts that served as grass. It grew quickly and we timed it in such a way that the best look would be by the 5th or 6th day. Then the little pieces of animal toys would be kept in 'enclosures' representing a zoo. It was great fun. We did it beside the arrangement separately.
Most of what went on show were from the family heirloom from the 19th century in my estimate, most of them wood and brass toys. After the festival, they again went back into the boxes and up in the attic, only to be removed next year! Children in the locality would visit houses and look at the display. The girls would sing a devotional song if she knew. For these visiting little guests, some snack would be given. This was their main attraction, really! Most houses displayed the dolls and gave snacks. So by the end of the rounds, the children would collect a variety of them!
This custom has degenerated with the passage of time, but I can see the old tradition still existing in the narrow streets of what was once 'old Mysore', in particular, my late friend M.V. Lakshminarayan's house. His wife takes great interest to show the huge collection of dolls. She always arranges with a royal touch, showing events of the famous Mysore Dasara Procession and the Palace, among many rare varieties. You can see it here in the first picture below. The next two are also from the same place.
See how their living room space is devoted to this - the sofa set has been shifted to the bedrooms!
Doll collecting was also one of late Lakshminarayan's hobby.
There are a few families following the old tradition and I happened to visit 2-3 of them, just because I like to see them, having grown up in what I would like to call golden era. The era before that was even more golden! Imagine how the traditional fervour was then! Dasara was really Royal! Now it has become a weak festival without much pomp, though we may see all sort of colour and the modern things. Those who have been in that era and those who are of the type that does not accept a change easily, will never like the secular Dasara of today.
Here are a few pictures I took when I visited others:
This was at my friend's place last year. Beautifully done, but the TV serial continued to distract! Modern times!
Also last year at an old neighbour's. Iyers. The show occupies one quarter of the hall.
On getting poked by a friend, I visited an unknown house, her friend's, this year. It was a nice show, they were really enthusiastic to exhibit and invite people to look. They even gave me a packet of snacks!
With changing circumstances, the Dasara festival in our house has become an internal affair getting restricted to the worship room. But the dolls and toys are on show 24x7 in permanent showcases! But the cleaning part is an unavoidable chore and this fugitive dust flies everywhere, esp. more in areas of heavy traffic like ours! Pictures from our house now:
Small scale show, purely for worship. Note the pairs of dolls on the right.
Celluloid and wooden section of our showcase:
Bead work of my late paternal aunt:
Brass toys from another golden era! This is what children at home played with. They also had clay toys that were fragile. They were gone before my time. Plastic was emerging slowly.
Porcelain toys from China, a gift from a relative that toured Japan in the early 1930s.
My favourite elephant - the yellow one. It walks on a downward slope click-click-click! Bought it in Dasara Exhibition in the 1960s when it used to be held in the Medical College buildings.