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6 Simple, Sustainable Navaratri Golu Return Gift Ideas

If a Golu return gift is a must, then why not try these thoughtful and useful items that are also eco friendly and fairly inexpensive?

In the southern part of India, Bommai Golu (TN)/ Bommala Koluvu (AP & Telangana)/Bombe Habba (Karnataka) is an integral aspect of Navaratri celebrations, and women and children often visit each other’s homes. A Golu return gift is often given, but how much thought do we put into these?

Golu as a display of family heirloom dolls and other accessories

Golu is in very simple terms – a display of family-owned dolls in staircases within homes. I say family-owned because most of the dolls were heirlooms, passed on through generations.

Most were made from clay or wood and carefully preserved throughout the year, brought out only during the Navaratri period, and carefully tucked back right after. When the paint started wearing off, the artistic ones in the family helped repaint them. Very rarely, one or two dolls were added a year, even during the 1990s when I was growing up. Among these dolls were also crafts or pieces of art done by members of the family, making it a budget-friendly affair.

golu return gift

Some family heirlooms from my Golu at home.

On the left, a Krishna doll bought in 1950s that has been repainted several times. It has its imperfections but has a very important place in our Golu as it is a 3rd generation family heirloom.

In the middle is a handmade woollen handbag done by my great-grandmother in the 1940s, who used to regularly fill the Golu with such unique pieces.

On the right is another handmade artifact by my great grandma, little bits of crafty decor pieces slotted into a glass bottle, carefully preserved from the 1970s.

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I remember complaining to my mother once during the Pooja holidays about how bored I was, and she gave me the task of creating some artifacts for our Golu that year.

Makeshift ‘décor’ I made about 25 years ago with bits and pieces of leftover material that still is a part of the Golu every year!

She brought home some ‘volunteer’ badges from her workplace and gave me a few wedding invitations that were lying in stacks in a corner. I set to task with a pair of scissors, and we had some bright new decors for the golu steps. They still adorn our Golu steps, almost 25 years later! One of them pictured above.

The way we look at Golu has changed over the years

The focus back then was clearly on making it a community event. Sundal was prepared in large amounts, doors were open to everyone in the neighborhood, and children danced and sang, delighting in what a ready audience they had.

Our current celebration has evolved quite a bit from this scene. Themed golus are now common, with some families choosing a different theme every year. Golu competitions are held by many neighborhood clubs and communities. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with such competitions or themes, it has made several women mount undue pressure on themselves to make their golu the most unique one in the neighborhood or change the entire set of Golu dolls every year.

People want to give the ‘most unique’ Golu return gifts, regardless of their usefulness.

This commercialization has also found its way into the return gifts that are given to guests visiting the Golu. Every year, weeks ahead I see women seeking unique and trendy Golu return gifts while still sticking to a budget. This mostly means they end up buying a showpiece or plastic items that are of no or little value to those who receive them.

What a typical Golu return gift bag of my childhood looked like

In the 90s, the ‘tamboolam’ or the return gift bag given to guests mostly had these items –

A blouse ‘bit’ – A plain blouse material in common colours. This made sense back then as most women especially those from middle-class families predominantly wore sarees, and a good blouse material was a very useful thing to give.

Betel leaf with betel nut – These help in digestion, so it helps during a festive season like Navaratri when one had to eat Sundal (lentils) everywhere, and is a meaningful gift. It is now common to give a plastic lookalike of a betel leaf with a kumkum holder. This sadly finds its way to the trash almost right away, as it does not serve any purpose.

Money – People added in coins or money notes of 1/11/101 rupees, which depended on how much they could afford to give, as well as how important the guest was. These days, this simple token isn’t enough, and a return gift is considered compulsory by most.

Other than these were items like coconut and flowers that did not add to the clutter of the house.

Some great modern options to give as a Golu return gift

So what can you do if you still believe it’s essential to give a Golu return gift? You can consider gifting one of these highly practical, budget-friendly, sustainable, and most importantly – useful items.

Here are 6 simple Golu return gift ideas for this Navaratri season.

Nuts & Dry fruits – Since they have a long shelf life, they make for excellent gifts. They can be had as such or also used for preparing sweets, commonly made during the festive seasons.

Steel items –  Dabbas, plates, and tumblers made of steel have always been an integral part of the Indian middle-class household and have been passed on for generations. This is a gift option that certainly will not end up in the trash.

Cotton towels/face towels – Given how our clothing choices have widened, these are better alternatives to blouse bits. They can also be used regardless of gender or age.

Earthen diyas – Navaratri falls before Deepavali and a simple earthen Diya is a great gift that can be put to use almost immediately after.

Saplings – A friend once gave tomato saplings grown in paper cups as a return gift.  We repotted and it grew to give us a few tomatoes. My daughter was excited to witness how it grew from a paper cup to a big plant and ended up on our plates. It is a thoughtful return gift for children instead of toys that may just add to the clutter.

Golu Dolls – A small-sized clay or wooden Golu doll will go up immediately on the steps if the person receiving it also celebrates this event. This was a common practice that allowed people to add to their Golu collection gradually without burning a hole in their pockets.

Changing the norm is in our hands

Celebrations can be made wonderful and memorable even without any extravagance. While this festive season is a time to indulge, we also have a responsibility to our planet, and to pass meaningful lessons to the next generation. Let us try to make simplicity a norm by changing the way we look at our celebrations.

Do you have any good ideas for Golu return gifts? Do let us know in the comments!

Image source: embar from Getty Images Free for Canva Pro 

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About the Author

Jayashree Ravi

An engineer turned SAHM of two who wants to be known beyond that. Passionate about words, parenting, making eco-friendly choices, feminism and lifelong learning. read more...

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