They say that a bridal trousseau is incomplete without the Marapachi pair — two wooden dolls passed down to the new bride in memory of her marriage. The very sight of the red sandalwood form takes her back in time, to memories of paati and amma and the whisper of a promise to pass it down to her children.
Significance in the Indian household
Marapachi dolls are said to have originated in Tirupati, and were predominantly made with red sandalwood, silk-cotton wood or redwood. The dolls were carefully and exquisitely handcrafted, and to this day, people often complain about not finding the perfect Marapachi pair. As for the culture that led to giving these dolls away, some talk about passing it on for the newlyweds to play with and cherish for the years to come. You see, child marriage was prevalent in India and dolls such as the Marapachi Bommas were given away to the bride and groom to entertain their young spirit.
At an age where photographs were yet to become popular and widespread, these dolls became a memoir of the newlyweds’ marriage. A doting mother would give these dolls to her daughter in the hopes that it would be passed on to her child. Given that these dolls were made with traditional mediums such as red sandalwood, they were greatly recommended for toddlers and children. When a child inevitably put this toy into its mouth or gently chewed on it while playing, the medicinal extracts of red sandalwood would be absorbed into its system.
These days, however, the pair of dolls are more of sentiment and are used to remember a time far gone. Yet, the demand for these dolls is on an upward graph, signifying that their charm is not lost on us.
Bright tones and festive vignettes
Marapachi dolls are an integral part of Navratri arrangements and have long been indispensable from Golu tiers, the highlight of Navaratri decor. Golu is an elaborate arrangement of dolls and keepsakes spanning an odd number of tiers on beautiful display stands. This is usually prepared a couple of days in advance, with families coming together to lend a hand in decorating the display. Dolls, old and new alike, are taken out from storage and cleaned thoroughly. Meanwhile, the display stand is cleaned and set up to accommodate the dolls and keepsakes. Dolls and toys are segregated based on the tiers, with the Marapachi pair left for the top.
It is said that the Marapachi dolls represent the royal couple, a king and a queen, and are reserved the highest position on the tier. Some arrangements have divine figurines, in which case, the Marapachi bommas will take the highest place in the doll tier and the divine figurines are arranged atop it.
It is also believed that the Marapachi pair embody the divine couple (the names of the Gods vary from region to region, but mostly Lakshmi and Vishnu) and are often placed on the top tier irrespective of the placement of other divine figurines.
Everlasting for the affluent
While these dolls were a part of long-standing tradition, and still are to a great extent, they went through a rare transformation. Affluent families in south India began replicating the Marapachi Bommai in golden hues of brass and bronze.
Brass Marapachi dolls usually range between 3 to 8 inches in height and are rare finds, reminiscent of a time when permanence was a privilege.
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