Dressing Dolls & Draping Gods
Feature Articles

Dressing Dolls & Draping Gods

August 29, 2019

What started as a hobby 45 years ago, saree-draping took a serious turn for these 4 sisters who have now turned it into ‘doll couture’

By Sreekanth Datta

If Ganesha idol-makers are literally burning the midnight oil to meet the deadlines as the Ganesha festival approaches, in a quiet corner of city, a group of sisters in Kuvempunagar play the ‘Dolls Advocate’ by draping colourful sarees perfectly on dolls and Goddesses. 

During Gowri festival, women and young girls in traditional attires worship Arishinada Gowri (idol of Goddess Parvathi made of turmeric). Nowadays, beautifully painted and adorned clay idols of Goddess Gowri are worshipped. The idol of the Goddess, decorated with Gejje Vastra (hand-made cotton garlands), Kalasha and Mantapa are assembled and puja is performed according to the tradition and customs following which Gowri Bagina is offered to the Goddess and exchanged with married women or Mutthaides. Later, special Gowri festival food is prepared and savoured by family and friends.

One of the most important and creative aspect of the festival is adorning the idol of Gowri. As female folk wear traditional attires and ornaments, why not the idol be adorned and decorated in the same way? Using different colours, textures and materials, the idol of Gowri is decorated affectionately and devotedly. 

DOLLS HOUSE: Decorated idols of Goddess Gowri.

While a city like Bengaluru has many professional saree drapers for idols, Gods and Goddesses, here in Mysuru a group of four sisters stand out in the task of saree draping. And they do it professionally with their dexterous hands. Months ahead of the festival season, these saree drapers get busy with dolls, sarees, cutting, shaping and needle work. Apart from draping dolls, they get orders during marriage  season.

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Deft with their hands, this delicate and creative work is fetching good returns to the family of Indira, Meera, Geetha and Vatsala. Like a saree that has many pleats and a rich pallu, the awesome foursome sisters have many ideas to make a doll or God colourful and aesthetically appealing. If they are busy draping sarees for Gowri this festival season, other days they get orders during marriage season and during Gombe Habba and Dasara.

“Maharaja, Palace and Gombes (idols/dolls) are an integral part of the residents of Mysuru region which was the earlier Mysore Kingdom. Gombe Thotti in Mysore Palace is very popular,” says Vatsala, one of the sisters.

“During Gowri Habba, most of the households usually decorate the idols with new saree, but here we adorn metal idols available in the market in a more attractive way using silk cloth, ornaments, jewellery and do the hair in traditional way. Our decorated figurines evoke life-like image of the Mother Goddess,” she reveals.

Grand display of figurines of Gods and Goddesses.

All four sisters, Indira, Meera, Geetha and Vatsala live together at their humble home # L-72,  ‘Anugraha’ 1st Stage, near Shanthi Sagar in Kuvempunagar, carrying on this passionate tradition from the last 45 years.

“It all started as a hobby from our student days. My mother used to say we need to learn a decent hobby to spend our free time in a meaningful way and to keep our minds occupied. After completing our education, all of us started working in different professions but continued this creative work with passion. Later, two of us retired from service and the other two took voluntary retirement but we continued to pursue this passion full-time,” says Geetha.

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“We not only decorate the idols. We do carve on copra, decorate coconut and jaggery and make cotton garlands. We get orders for all festivals and ceremonies including marriage, house-warming ceremony and this keeps us busy throughout the year,” she added.

Doll-replicas of royal couple Yaduveer – Trishikha during marriage rituals.

Adorning dolls (Gombe in Kannada) is not new to our tradition. During Navaratri festival, most of the households prepare and decorate dolls depicting life of kings and courtiers in festive mood. For example, how a Durbar might look during Dasara and how the King might look on the Golden Throne are portrayed using figurines. 

“Particularly in Mysuru region, Chandanada Gombe made of Red Sanders is gifted to brides during their marriage. Traditionally, they say there are two reasons behind this — one is for longevity and continuity of lineage and other is for the medicinal properties of Red Sanders. After receiving those Gombes, the married couple adorn them as their Kula Devata like Venkateshwara-Padmavati or Krishna- Rukmini,” Vatsala explains.

In the last three to four years, younger generation is showing a lot of interest and enthusiasm about these customs and coming forward to learn this art of adorning statuettes. During this internet era, one can easily watch and appreciate this colourful depiction of the tradition. Especially those living in far-away lands like the US and Europe feel like they are missing their roots and are more eager to learn this art form. They celebrate Dasara in their homes by adorning hundreds of dolls according to customs and spreading Mysuru culture abroad, the sisters say.

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