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The Age-Old Marapachi Tradition

Shalu Ramachandran

Every south Indian girl is entitled to her precious pair of Marapachi
Bommais at the time of her marriage. Tradition dictates that the
bommais are brought out in display, every year, at the time of Navarathiri. The bride's parents present the bommais (dolls) to the bride and initiate the
yearly tradition of Navarathiri Gollu in her new home with her husband. These bommais come as couples dressed in their wedding attire, signifying the start of the bride's Gollu collection, which then grows over the years
with the addition of various clay dolls from the southern part of India.

Marapachi bommais are special dolls from Tirupathi, the land of Lord
Venkateshwara. Some explain the word Marapachi as a special kind of
wood that has medicinal values and hence the name Marapachi Bommai - dolls made of marapachi. And like any age-old tradition, you can't help but
wonder, what is the significance of  Marapachi Bommais? Some believe that these dolls were presented to the bride and the groom at the time of marriage as toys for the couple. After all when two people, rather two children, get married at the age of ten what better gift than toys to keep them happy. So, it is reckoned that they were truly for enjoyment purposes to please the little couple.  My father brought yet another very interesting reason to my attention. He was told that these dolls dressed in their wedding attire helped in capturing the moment in the days where technology was clearly non-existent. In the absence of pictures, what better way to remember the way you looked when you were married !!

And as for me today with technology at my fingertips, I still cherish
my marapachi couple more than any picture from my wedding album !!

(Shalu Ramachandran is a resident of Burlington, MA. )

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Gollu at Shalu's home

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