Every toy has a story to tell
She is the diva of golden years of Telugu cinema, with an illustrious cinema career that marks the milestones of history of Telugu cinema. After...
Dasara invariably brings with it the many hues and traditions. One such tradition that yesteryear actor Jamuna has steadfastly kept alive is her popular Bommalakoluvu. She keeps the age-old ritual relevant by enlightening young children in the stories of our epics through her Koluvu
She is the diva of golden years of Telugu cinema, with an illustrious cinema career that marks the milestones of history of Telugu cinema. After working in around 198 films that include a few memorable Hindi films too, today she chooses to live away from the limelight. Yet, the 10 days of Dasara is the time when she keeps her doors open, not just for friends and family, but to anyone else who wish to see her ‘Bommalakoluvu’ – the traditional practice of arranging the various toys and idols - a popular ritual across South India.
What makes this Koluvu special? Jamuna first started arranging the Koluvu along with her mother, when she was 6-years old. And since then, she continued to enthusiastically arrange it in the most elaborate way even when she was busy with back to back films, till today, almost 73 years later. And some of the idols on display are as old as 100 years (considering she has preserved even the dolls and idols that belonged to her mother and her mother-in-law). “My mother did not like my going to any one else’s house, so she tried to provide for anything I needed at home. In those days, we would play the mock game of ‘Bommala Pelli’ (marriage of the toys). She would make the bride and groom with taati aakulu (pine tree leaves) stitched clothes for them, and made jewellery too with the leaves and we would play. When I wanted to play ‘Kitchen’ games, she went to the black smith and got a small stove, garita, bandi (a ladle and a deep frying pan) made for me. I have them with me till date. One day, I saw someone selling Pandiri Mancham for Rs 5. I ran to my mother asking her to buy it for me, and that small version of the ancient cot is still with me. Apart from these, and the idols of Lakshmi and Saraswathi, most other collection is my mother’s,” shares Jamuna.
There’s an interesting anecdote she relates, “I was in Chennai and wanted to buy the idol of Krishna (the one my mother gave me was broken). However, I did not like any of the Krishna idols, I was not happy with the way the faces were done. However, I liked the idols of Lakshmi and Saraswathi and bought them. I walked into the airport with each of the idol tucked securely under my arms and that drew a lot of attention. They must have been amused as I brought them all the way in the flight to Hyderabad.”
It is interesting to note how the enthusiasm remained unfazed through the years. Today, she sits patiently along with her grandson and arranges each one of the idols carefully, despite the cumbersome process of unpacking and packing involved. “It is all the more important now. Our children are moving away from our traditions and our stories. ‘Bommala Koluvu’ is not just a ritual; it is our way of staying connected to or roots. I have a series on Ramayana with various important events of the epic. I place all the Rama idols, Hanuman, Ravana, Seeta etc on a plate and ask my grandson to identify the scenes and place the idols accordingly. In the process, I clarify all the doubts he may have in the language he understands. There is one idol that shows Gajendra Moksham from ‘Bhagavatam’. He wanted to know why the powerful elephant is caught by the crocodile. It was an opportunity for me to let him know the power of almighty Vishnu. I did not have to explain to him ‘Ganga Bhagiradha’ story (there are idols that symbolise the story of Bhagiradha bringing Ganga to earth and Lord Shiva holding the force of the Ganga in his hair (Jatajootam), as he watches ‘Mahadev’ on TV,” she smiles. Her only regret this year, however is - she couldn’t display much of her collection for want of space.
Jamuna’s Bommalakoluvu is very famous. Popular actresses of her time like Savitri, Bhanumathi, B Saroja Devi would come for her ‘Perantam’ – the traditional get together of women in the evenings. “Even the lady living in the farthest corner of the street would come down. It was an interesting way of catching up with each other. Even marriage alliances would materialise during these evenings,” she shares.
The other interesting idols on the Koluvu are that of Subhash Chandra Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru and Gandhi, the national heroes who enjoyed the status of Gods; the idols of Sur Das singing as young Krishna listens with folded hands, the village scene with all the houses, the postman, doctor, the fields and farmers working in them, the women doing their chores at the well etc.,
It is heartening to see Jamuna who explain the various stories to the young children; her invitations for the koluvu invariably carries a special invitation for the children – ‘Please bring your children and the others whom you may know - she insists. Jamuna, known to be the most self-respecting, idealistc heroine of her times, continues to live by the principles she believes in, and is happy doing her bit, to safeguard our traditions, in her own way.