"We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same." Anne Frank 

We Asians are a diverse bunch, speaking different languages, wearing different traditional clothing, eating different types of foods.  And yet we are similar!  We value the same staple food – rice.  We respect our elders.  We leave our footwear outside the door.  We consider baby boys better than baby girls. We expect women to stay at home and fulfil their duties of caring for the husband and family.  (The trend is changing as far as the last two are concerned, but I believe they are still issues at large)

Interestingly, a few months ago, I stumbled upon yet another similarity…one of tradition!

It was Navaratri, an important Hindu festival signifying the victory of good over evil.  While I set about getting ready for the annual display of the kolu dolls at home, I realized I knew very little about the festival to pass on anything about the tradition to my own children.  A Google search laid out a ton of information about kolu (or golu).  But my eyes also fell on something unfamiliar and unheard of - Hinamatsuri.  Curiosity led me to dig further.

While I did gather some information about kolu that I had set out to seek, I was amazed that a festival from another culture bore such semblance to my own!
Hina dolls
Hinamatsuri, also known as Dolls’ Day or Girls’ Day, is a festival from Japan.  It is celebrated on March 3 every year for the health and happiness of young girls in Japan.  This tradition originated in the Heian period (794-1185 AD) when dolls were believed to possess bad spirits and set afloat on a boat to do away with evil.  But this tradition was discontinued because the dolls often got caught in fishermen’s nets.

Kolu is a festival from South India celebrated during Navaratri (or Dushehra, as it is also popularly known).  It was originally aimed at de-silting irrigation canals and providing employment to local artisans, who used clay from the canal area to make the kolu dolls.  For women and girls who were hardly permitted to step out of their homes, it was an important festival because it enabled them to socialize with women and girls from other families. Even today, kolu is a girls/women's festival in those terms!

On Hinamatsuri day, families set up a display of dolls on a red carpet-covered tiered platform (5 or 7 levels).  The doll display usually begins in February and ends after the festival (March 3).  It is believed that displaying dolls after March 4 results in late marriage for the daughter! 
Interestingly, kolu dolls are also displayed on tiered platforms.  Covered with special fabric, the platforms are made up of odd number of levels (3,5,7,9,11).  The display is kept for 9 days and the dolls are laid flat on the 10th day, symbolizing closing day.

The Hinamatsuri dolls are placed in a prescribed order.  For instance, the imperial couple are always on the top step, the Emperor to the left of the Empress.  The lady attendants are on the second step, musicians on the third, and so on.  Peach blossoms, signifying a happy marriage, are essential decorations for this occasion.  


Similarly, in traditional kolu displays, the placement of items, idols and dolls is also done in a specific order.  For instance, the kalasham or metal pot goes on the first step, the gods and goddesses on the second, and so on.  The positioning, however, varies depending on how things have been done in the family over generations.  But every kolu display must have idols of the gods and goddesses, marapachi (wooden) dolls and kalasham.   In olden days, the marapachi dolls were representative of the King and Queen and people prayed for their long life and prosperity of the kingdom.  The kolu area is adorned with kolam (or rangoli) and oil lamps. 

Both Hinamatsuri and kolu dolls are special and taken out for display only for a few days each year.  Later, they are boxed away until the following year.  

Parents usually buy a new set of hina dolls for their newborn girl.  Some dolls are passed down from one generation to the next.  

Similarly, the marapachi or teakwood kolu dolls are given by a mother-in-law to her newly married daughter-in-law to continue the family traditions and pass down family values. Some dolls are passed down through generations.

Today, while the old kolu tradition continues, some families display scenes or dolls with a specific theme or social message.  In addition, kolu dolls are not confined to the tier format.  Some families use entire rooms to depict their large collection of dolls.  Modern toys such as matchbox cars and Barbies have become a part of the display.  The annual kolu has become a means for girls and women to unleash their creative instincts through exquisite displays that leave people mesmerized.

Hina dolls displayed by my Japanese friend
Hello Kitty Hina dolls
Similarly, Hinamatsuri has been adapted to the modern times.  Hello Kitty characters and Mickey Mouse are a part of the display.  Owing to a lack of space and for convenience, people use miniaturized versions of the dolls for display.

Just in case you're wondering, YES!  There's a Boys' Day too that is celebrated in Japan on May 5 every year.  It was later re-named Children's Day and celebrates the happiness of all children and expresses gratitude towards the mothers.  Houses put up colourful carp-shaped windsocks outside their homes, one for every child.  

 "Diversity is not about how we differ. Diversity is about embracing one another's uniqueness." Ola Joseph 


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