Marapachi dolls (Marapachi bommai)
Marapachi dolls were Redsanders wood handmade, crafted dolls originally made in Andhra Pradesh state confined to the sacred town of Tirupathi, the holy land of Lord Balaji it is because these dolls were made from the valued Red sanders wood which is found only around the forests of Tirupathi., and nowhere else. Hence it was these red sanders dolls of Couples personified as man women, bride groom, Balaji Padmavathi, Vishnu sridevi bhudevi sets and others which were once the most sought after souvenirs (Of course next to Balajis laddoo) to be bought back from Tirupathi pilgrimage. These dolls always comes in pairs of identical size, shape, height, wood grain and texture. To achieve this they select a round block of red sanders wood of desired height and width, then the wood is slit exactly in the centre to form two semi circular cylinders and hand carve the pairs from each block. As a result the two pairs will be strikingly similar in colour, texture, wood grain and look stikingly beautiful. The reason behind selection of this particular wood is an interesting story, the red sanders wood is known for its medicinal value, has digestive properties, proven skin soother, cosmetic, tested over years as a house hold ointment for minor cuts during kitchen work and cooking, wound healing abilities, antiseptic properties etc.
Every south Indian Bride girl is entitled to get a precious pair of Marapachi Bommais the time of her marriage as a part of the wedding dowry from her home. It was customary to dress these dolls exactly with the same fabric and replica jewellery as the bride & groom, placed at the wedding venue as an immortalisation of the wedding days makeover, it was because those days cameras were not common and hence they used the dolls as a live representation of how they looked on the big day.
Traditionally these Wooden bommais are brought out in display, once an year, during Navarathiri golu display. The bride’s parents present the bommais (dolls) to the bride and initiate the yearly tradition of keeping display of Golu steps with terracotta dolls and marapachis in her new home along with her husband. These marapachi bommais comes as couples dressed in their wedding attire fully decked with ornaments and accessories, signifying the initiation of the new bride’s auspicious golu, which over the years gets big with the addition of many more terracotta dolls depicting various mythical stories, epics, gods, life lessons etc.
Marapachi couple dolls are dressed exactly as the real bride and groom are kept on display at wedding reception and later given as wedding gifts to the newly weds. The way these dolls are dressed depends upon the cultural background, ethnicity and region of the wedded pair, typical styles include dothi and angavastra clad male dolls and saree draped female dolls., it is also customary to dress up the pair to look like Lord Balaji and Godess Padmavathy. These dolls enjoy super VIP attention during Nava rathri golu where the mythology states that no golu is complete without Marapachi doll pair. Marapachi dolls were given as teether dolls for new borns due to their medicinal properties, as the baby chews these dolls the soft wood helped in making the gums strong while the redsanders gets mixed with salaiva in mild quantities acted as a digestive aid, as the baby grew these dolls were used as play dolls to mimic the life of a man and women, later when the kid grew these dolls were gifted as wedding gift to continue the cycle in that family too
Marapachi dolls are also found in kerala usually were made using the abundantly available Karungali wood (again a wood well known for its medicinal value as a diuretic, even today in Kerala houses and hotels they boil Karungali wood shavings in water and drink it), Karu Eeti (Dark Rosewood) and Rattha Chandanam (Red Sanders wood sourced from Andhra). It was a common practice to repurpose broken Marapachi red sanders dolls to make Rattha Chandanam paste by rubbing it over a stone with little bit of water to make a thick paste which was used as a face pack by Royal ladies & Namboothri Brahmins women, further this paste was used as a household ointment for cuts and burns in Kerala, I had heard that whenever one got accidental cuts during cooking in kitchen, the elderly used to call the kids to get their Marapachi doll, which is rubbed with water over grinding stone to make a paste for the cuts, apart from it Marapachi dolls were used in puja & horoscope based remedy rituals in Kerala, it was said when they want to unite a couple who has difference of opinion and failing marriage, they get a pair of marapachi dolls stick the photo of couples on the dolls face personify them as real couple, and bind them adjoining face to face (dolls facing each other) and perform a (Attraction) puja so that they get attracted again, united & be happy always, many success stories of above are heard often in Kerala, it may be coincidence or luck but who minds when it had a happy ending…
For the same reason it was always a rule not to keep binding the marapachi dolls with their backs touching and face away from each other, it was believed to bring difference of opinion and fights among the couples who own them, so even while storing them after golu elderly women advise to keep them side by side just like couples. Also there is another popular belief among old grannies that marapachi dolls lends its ears to conversations and sees all happenings, hence they say one should not keep them outside after navarathri golu, soon after the golu these dolls are fully wrapped in cloth and newspapers and kept on loft, and if its kept outside they are fully covered with a cloth so that they cant hear or see the happenings in house, sounds funny though..
Marapachi dolls comes in different subjects
1. Male – Female
2. Raja – Rani
3. Vishnu – Lakshmi
5. Vishnu – Sridevi – Bhudevi
6. Venkateshwara – Padmavathy
8. Dasavathara set
9. King Queen pair
10. Soldiers set
11. King on Horse
12. Soldier on Horse
13. Elephant with royals seat on his back (Aanai Mel Ambari / Yaanai Ambari)
Nowadays Red sanders wood has been banned from felling and hence they make the marapachi dolls from Neem wood, Mango wood, Silk cotton wood, Padak, Vaagai wood, Itchi wood, etc and dye them to look like Red sanders marapachis..