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.