Every year, as the Hindu festival of Dasara approaches, Radhika Jatkar clears a space in her home office, pulls boxes out of storage and unwraps the collection of dolls and figurines that is essential to her family’s celebration.
Under strings of lights, she arranges the collection on a tiered platform covered in brightly colored fabrics. There are deities – Krishna, Lakshmi, Rama – but also families, cows, dogs and more.
The display of dolls for Dasara is a tradition known as golu, and it’s one Jatkar has carried with her from her childhood growing up in Mysore in southern India to Raleigh, where she lives with her husband, Sunil, and their daughter and son, ages 14 and 11.
Continuing the tradition is a chance to “spend some time celebrating the culture that we come from,” said Jatkar, who has lived in the United States for 15 years.
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It’s also a way to remain connected to her family. Jatkar and her sisters, who live in India, share photos of the displays they make. And her father is proud to know she’s maintained the tradition and shared it with her own children.
“It makes my dad so happy,” she said.
Dasara, also know as Navratri, is a 10-day festival that marks the triumph of good over evil, when the goddess Chamundeshwari killed the demon Mahishasura. The festival is celebrated differently throughout India – the central story even varies depending on location – but the theme always is the same, and the festival is a major one for many Hindus.
The Jatkars welcome about 70 family members, friends and neighbors into their home for a feast on the final night of Dasara, which this year fell on Saturday.
The practice of golu developed alongside the festival, with women gathering to complete the decorations. Each family starts out with a small collection of dolls passed down through generations and adds to it over time.
Jatkar’s in-laws celebrated Dasara differently, displaying only a large version of the idol Devi, or Gowri. When Jatkar and her husband moved to the U.S., his parents passed down the doll, which stands at the base of the platform and is a reminder of the bridging of two cultural traditions, she said.
It’s a big job every year to continue the golu tradition, but Jatkar said she’s glad to do it. It’s a way to honor the generations before her and have some fun at the same time.
“Hopefully my kids will pick it up one day,” she said.