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In America, they celebrate Thanksgiving, a celebration of being thankful for what one has and the bounty of the year.

In Tamil Nadu, we celebrate Sundalgiving, a 9 day mega orgy of protein intake, as ATP points out. Sundalgiving is also known as Navarathri, during which the nine forms of Shakthi, the female divinity, are worshipped.

The first three days are dedicated to Durga, who is responsible for cleansing us of impurities, comic sans font, vices, Tamil soap serials, bad ringtones and defects.

The second three days are dedicated to Lakshmi, who is responsible for showering us with the immense amounts of wealth needed to pay off our credit card bills.

The third three days are dedicated to Saraswathi, the Goddess with the Fender Veenacaster. She is the one who gives us the wisdom to go easy on the Sundal, watch out for Trans-fats and use Wikipedia for doing homework.

But personally, I have always been more interested in the dolls. Every year, they are taken out of their Hindu newspaper wrapping and placed on an odd number of steps (3, 5, 7, 9, 11 etc), while the women visit each others houses and exchange betel leaves, one rupee coins, small gifts and various kinds of Sundal.

For the Tamil challenged, a Sundal is a dish made out of boiled grams/pulses/lentils (a different one every day) mildly seasoned with mustard seeds, ginger, chillies and coconut.

Let’s get back to the dolls though. Over the years, I have been noticing a marked deterioration in the quality of the dolls. Here is Shiva, circa 1980, purchased at Bangalore. 10 rupees.


And here is Gopikrishna (Dopeykrishna, more like it), circa 2007, purchased at Kuralagam, Chennai. 100 rupees.


While the Shivas, Krishnas, and various Lakshmis make up most of the divinity, and Chettiars and Chettichis selling groceries, Koravan/Koratthis (yeah. still) and assorted Apsaras make up the rest. There is usually a floor arrangement of various animals, village scenes, temples and other plastic toys. One can find the occasional Buddha, Gandhi and Vivekananda doll as well.

Clearly the Chettiar dolls are slightly more contemporary additions compared to the deities. Perhaps two to three hundred years ago? So I was wondering if one could add more modern business icons in the place of the grocer. I thought Steve Ballmer might fit rather nicely. Large, bald, round and peddling questionable quality software. My younger brother suggests statues of Richard Dawkins, Charles Darwin and Bertrand Russell. My other suggestion. A warrior wielding a pen, with a bald head and large spectacles. Cho bin Tughlaq.

Another common fixture is the Dasaavathaaram, the 10 avatars of Vishnu. Off late, I find that a lot of households get the order of the avatars wrong. So, much to the surprise of my relatives who expect me to be this ignorant lout, I usually correct their arrangements.

Matsya – The avatar that seeks out anything fishy in our world – corporate malfeasance, corruption and dirty politics and eliminates them.

Koorma – The slow and steady tortoise who gives us a moment of peace and serenity in our high-speed, high-tension urban lives.

Varaaha -The boar who reminds us to stop reading inane DC superhero comics and pick up Asterix instead.

Narasimha -The lion who reminds us that he is almost going extinct in Gir.

Vaamana – The dwarf who teaches us that size does not matter and that grandeur and hubris are not good ideas.

Parasuraama – The understated overachiever who goes about his duties without expecting to be on the front page of Time magazine.

Raama – Who reminds us that bridges are not just made of bricks, mortar and stone and constructed by monkeys and squirrels, but are metaphorical constructs that take us from ordinariness to glory.

Krishna – Who laughs at all those hypocritical Hindutva-toting moral police types and teaches us that it is OK to chill out with the babes once with a while.

Buddha (ok this is debatable. But my grandmother prefers Buddha to Balaraama) – Who implores us to question everything

and finally, Kalki – the white horse of the apocalypse who gently reminds us that if we do not take care of the environment, he will most certainly come to destroy us in the future.

19 responses to “Sundalgiving”

  1. clarissa Avatar

    You have put the gods into the public domain. Good job and thanks for sharing. 🙂

  2. Preeth Avatar

    Navarathri for dummies.Garnished with a little humour. very nice indeed.Thanks for the education.

  3. mahendrap Avatar

    //My younger brother suggests statues of Richard Dawkins, Charles Darwin and Bertrand Russell.//
    I’d sure like to meet your bro! 🙂

  4. rambodoc Avatar

    “My younger brother suggests statues of Richard Dawkins, Charles Darwin and Bertrand Russell.”

    Is it because you have put them up in a pedestal already, because they are dummies, or because you need newer excuses to eat sundal and get a Service Pack 2 of Flatulens, the latest blogging software?

  5. Bikerdude Avatar

    Lovely I say. Just went yesterday to one of those, complete with a mini Bangalore airport and helipad, and maamies lisping out purandaradasa top ten hits.

  6. maami Avatar

    I just wish we don’t have to sing for our sundal, worse, listen to others sing off key before packing our bags.
    I mean, look at the Gujaratis, Punjabis ( but then they don’t need an excuse to sing and act merry) or the Bengalis during Puja- the women have great fun.
    And here we huff and puff through the day and put up the dolls and then we invite the women only ( as for the men accompanying the women, poor sods less said the better), sing and all we can be given as send off presents is a chick pea salad. yinda bengalis, gujjus ellam jollya sweets, dance nu kondaadaraa. namma pondugal mattum sad-a sundal distribute panni ( we can’t even play hostesses and offer sweets and sundal at home, but tell guests walk the streets back home and try the sundal, if bad and chuck in the trash can by the wayside). stay at home, pannidigai or no pandigai that’s the dictum here.
    P.S. I am in love with the Dopeykrishna with maroon lipstick.

  7. Revathi Avatar

    And the art of making good pottalams is dying out with the advent of zip lock bags. In the good old days, news print was considered to better the taste of sundals. There was one maami that I remember who deplored her “scout” son not knowing how to make pottalams.

  8. farkandfunk Avatar

    KA , you’ve touched upon a topic close to the heart! Sundals , pottlams and navrathri. Reminded of those days when I had to accompany my mom on those golu trips straight after school. Arghhhhhh!

    @revathi -news prints bettering the taste of sundals !!! BRILLIANT !

  9. Aniruddha Avatar

    Love the boar comment 😉
    BTW, have you read the new, Uderzo only, Asterix? Not the same.

  10. anand Avatar

    Oh, all the while I thought I was the only one nitpicking on comic sans. Phew, good to see fellow comrades! I think it’s the most disgusting when Govt. of India websites use it.

  11. Guruprasad Avatar

    I like the Kicha statue with an overdose of red pie or lipstick – whatever. Other good thing about navrathri kolu is the young girls in good-traditional dresses (before others start pooh-poohing the traditiona dress…come out and have a look…you can stil spot pavadai-chattai, chudidhar [oh yes, with current standards they have become tamil traditional] and occasional pavadai-thavani)…

  12. Lakshminarayanan Avatar

    Nice article Ashok…both jesting and informative…I belie with the order of Dasavatharam that you have mentioned…Balarama is before Krishna…and also Buddha is not at all considered to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu…in fact, in ancient days when Hinduism was deteriorating because of the emerge of Buddhism people like Ramanuja and Adi Shankara clarified many doubts to lay persons on Hinduism and lead to the revival of Hinduism…from their work, if you can see, they clearly tell that Buddha is not at all considered to be a Deity or an avatar…

  13. madhurisinha Avatar

    Wonderful post. Dil khush hua.
    I love Dopeykrishna. 🙂

  14. Aqua Avatar

    very informative post. i thought the dolls thingy was a kannadiga custom. am married to a tamilian but both of us aren’t really into celebrating festivals or rituals (out of sheer laziness and not coz we want to make a point etc) The 10 avatars of Vishnu info was also interesting. unlike your grandmother my MIL strongly prefers Balaraama as the 10th incarnation. I’m a Buddhist btw. hmmm!

  15. […] I ran into quite a few that attacked one of my favorites – Sundal. Krish Ashok talked about a 9 day mega orgy of protein intake (also pointing to a descriptive woe of sundal consumption by ATP). I had then made up my mind on […]

  16. desigirl Avatar

    Dopeykrishna stole the show!!!

  17. […] a lower’s guide to Chennai to Navrathri to desified Chinese cuisine to Delhi survival guides for Madrasis to the funniest review of the […]

  18. parthi Avatar

    how I miss my few years in a trichy agraharam where we were one of the few non brams and had real fun watching the kolu and the gals! It all seems so far from sri lanka!

  19. Deep Rest Avatar

    Cho bin Tughlaq! Somewhat brilliant!

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