I photographed this antique "marapachi" couple at the Kanchi Kudil museum in Kanchipuram. They were beautifully and simply decorated in traditional cotton weaves.
Marapachi dolls are part of the traditional doll collection of south Indian homes. In olden days they were part of a woman's dowry, given to her by her parents during the wedding, to continue the traditon of decorating and displaying them. Typically they are always found in twos, and they represent prosperity and abundance.
Marapachi dolls are displayed during the annual Golu/Navarathri festival (a 9-day festival that usually happens in Oct-Nov). During this festival, women make attractive displays of dolls and figurines, arranged in a series of steps (Golu padi). The Golu padi is decorated prettily and women from the neighbourhood visit each other to see the golu arrangement. It is a time for socialising and meeting with friends, exchanging news, and singing songs.
Here is the stepped display that I photographed at the home of my dance guru, Dr. Jayashree Rajagopalan. At the bottom row there is a set of marapachi dolls.
No golu padi is considered ok unless it contains the auspicious marapachi bommai. In some houses, these are the very first dolls to be decorated and placed on the padi. It is a practice to put new clothes for the marapachi bommai each year. Here is the closer look at the bottom row, you can see 3 pairs of marapachi bommai in this photo.
Marapachi dolls are made of teak or rosewood and are not easy to buy these days. In fact it is quite difficult to get large-sized marapachi dolls with aesthetically designed features. I went looking for some in Mylapore but couldn't find them. I have heard that good ones are available in Tirupati. If I go there, I will surely look for some. Meanwhile if you know some place in Chennai or Bangalore where I can buy them, please let me know!