Dolls are popular across the world. One of the earliest playthings after one is born is a doll. In our early age, when we don’t have many friends, dolls become our friends. As we come of age and join school, they remain our friends. A friend who tells us stories and educates us about our cultural heritage.


A doll is known as Puttika in Samskrt, as Gudiya in Hindi and as Bommai in the South Indian languages.

These dolls are made from different materials such as clay, wood, rubber, paper and other traditional local materials.

Kondapalli Dolls

Kondapalli is a town near Vijayawada, which is famous for its toys, which also include dolls. These dolls made of light softwood called Tella Ponniki available locally and painted using vegetable dyes, convey visually, the daily life in Andhra Pradesh as well as the nimble craftsmanship of the artisans of Andhra.

From grace to shape, Kondapalli dolls bring out the tales of the day to day life of the Telugu people as well as the animals and birds in the land, through intricately carved, colourful, realistic wooden dolls.


Kondapalli dolls

More on Kondapalli toys and dolls in our book, “Telugu Talli”.


Chennapatna Dolls

Chennapatna is a town located in the Ramanagara district of Karnataka. This town is famous for its dolls known as Chennapatna dolls and toys.

The Chennapatna dolls are made of a variety of wood, belonging to the Wrightia Tintoria tree, locally known as Aale Mara – Ivory tree. The wood of this tree is lacquered in the process of making the dolls and toys.

This traditional craft of this town is safeguarded by the World Trade Organization as a Geographical Indication.

These dolls and toys are greatly relished as a form of story-telling.

 On account of the great liking for these dolls, Chennapatna is referred to as Gombegala Ooru, “Toy Town” of Karnataka.


Chennapatna dolls

More in our eBook – Kannada Kasturi.

Puducherry clay dolls

Puducherry clay doll is one great aspect of Tamil tradition. These dolls are particularly used for Kolu decorations. The Kolu doll makers of Puducherry have been relishing this art of doll making for many centuries. These dolls are used extensively across Tamil Nadu as a form of storytelling, and especially come to fore during the Navaratri festival.


Puducherry clay Dolls


Kolu, A continuous sequence of storytelling

Kolu, also known as Golu is an artistic display of dolls on numbered tiers and steps.

In South India, during the Kolu festival in Navaratri, families visit each other to view the Kolu display.

Doll Maker

When a doll is created, the maker of the doll is involved with the story that the doll expresses.


A Kolu Doll Maker


The vendor who sells explains the stories behind the dolls as he sells them.


Kolu doll Vendor

Specific themes

People arrange these decorated dolls during Kolu in their houses in such a way that they convey a folk story or a puranic tale, or a spiritual idea. Every year, there are specific themes, which the dolls convey.


Samudra Manthan Kolu theme

Each house has multiple steps – 3 steps, 7 steps, 9 steps, 11 steps, where these Kolu are arranged.


 Youngsters explained stories

Youngsters in the house are explained heritage stories through these dolls, as they are set up for display in multiple steps.

During the 9 day Navaratri festival, children also collectively visit the houses, and come to know of a range of stories of our heritage, through this doll display. This way, the children get the habit of storytelling, and also joy of listening to interesting stories.


A Kolu decoration which depicts the visit of Hanuman to Lanka

Children explain to visitors

Children in turn also invite the elders in their neighborhood to view their Kolu, and explain the stories behind the dolls, to the visitors.

Thus, we see that from doll makers, to vendors, to elders, to youngsters, to visitors, there is one continuous sequence of storytelling.

However Kolu festival is not just about storytelling.

Aesthetic Variety

Kolu festival has,

  1. Stories for Knowledge
  2. Traditional Carnatic music for hearing and soothing the mind
  3. Dance which bring out best artistry
  4. Sundal which caters to the taste

For each of the 9 evenings of Navaratri, the host of the Kolu make a Sundal preparation. Sundal is made from peas. There are nine types of peas called as Navadhanaya. Each evening, a Sundal involving one of the peas such as green peas, white peas, white chick peas, black chick peas, are prepared. Sundal is Ayurvedically very nutritious. As per Ayurvedic norms, it is a health snack.



Thus children and visitors also sing and dance around the Kolu, making it a wholesome cultural display of not just storytelling, but also dance, music and also culinary skills. Kolu brings an overall aesthetic sense for the mind, vision and tongue, as it meets the needs of all the senses.

Dolls popular across the world

There are doll museums across India and world, as dolls are popular everywhere.


Jaipur Doll Museum


Shankar’s International Doll Museum, Delhi


Doll Museum, Paris


Yokohama Doll Museum, Japan

Matryoshka dolls

Russian handicrafts are popular all around the world. Among them are the Matryoshka dolls. These are a set of dolls placed inside each other, in decreasing order of their size. Thus they are also known as Nesting dolls, meaning dolls within dolls.

Matryoshka means mother, as the smaller doll is placed inside the larger doll.


Matryoshka dolls

Doll Festivals

Today, it is a fashion to conduct doll festivals in different parts of the world, whereas this festival of Kolu was about conducting doll festivals, in every house, every village, every town. A veritable annual festival.

In the world, two places are famous for its traditional doll festival,

  1. South India
  2. Japan

Hina Matsuri

While it is Autumn in India during the Navaratri festival, in Japan, it is Spring instead. It is the time when one gets to see Hina Matsuri, similar arrangement of dolls in houses and public places. The dolls are arranged here in honour of the Emperor, Empress and the girl child of the house. Prayers are made for the health and well being of the girl child. It is interesting that the number of steps can be a maximum of 7.


Navaratri festival at onset of Autumn in India


Onset of Spring in Japan


Kolu Dolls arranged in steps in Tamil Nadu


Hema Hari at a Hina Matsuri display of dolls in steps, in Japan

Similar thought, similar expression, similar choice of a time window of seasonal change.

More on this in our book, Indo Japan – A Connect Over Millennia.


Traditional Art and Craft

In this land, each house, community and village have their own doll stories.

We see how, doll making has been a traditional craft and storytelling through these dolls has been an art of our heritage, across times, and across communities, across villages and lands.

Access the Complete Navaratri eBook :

Click to access navaratri-ebook.pdf

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