Golu (गोलु) or Kolu, the showcase of figurines, is a popular and entertaining tradition. It is a part of the Sharad Navaratri, the fall (autumn) Devi fest. Golu means rounded. It is a derivative of the Sanskrit word Gola which means sphere or globe.

The Golu tradition focuses on educating our kids about Human Evolution. In Tamil, an ancient language still spoken widely, Kolu means Royal or Divine Presence. As the names suggest, it introduces spirituality through Earth Science. Traditionally, a Golu always had nine steps or levels of statuettes.

Harihara and Ardha-Nareeshvara

There are many subviews in Sanatana Dharma, and each has a different take on Shiva, Vishnu, and Devi. Of that, the Tantrik scriptures of Devi view Shiva as an inert life-giving principle. Plus, Devi and Vishnu are two sides of the same coin here. They represent the thriving creative energies of manifestation.

For that reason, in these traditions, Shiva and Vishnu’s combined form – Harihara – is identical to Shiva and Devi’s fused form – Ardha-Nareeshvara. Since the Lalita Sahasranamam belongs to Sri Vidya Tantra, it describes Devi as Karanguli Nakhotpanna Narayana Dashakritihi. From Sri Devi’s nails emerged the ten avatars of Narayana or Hari, the protector Vishnu!

Significance of Vishnu’s Ten Main Avatars

Highlighting Vishnu and Devi’s commonality, the Dasavatar of Vishnu is the central theme of a GoluDasavatar, Vishnu’s ten primary forms, portrays the progression of human evolution. Not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. Below is their symbolism, along with the Golu placement:

1. Matsya, The Fish

  • Evolution: In his first form, Lord Vishnu was a marine being – a fish. According to modern evolution theories, life started as aquatic forms.
  • Golu First Step (from bottom): This Golu step contains aquatic beings, denoting the Matsya Avatar. Further, it displays other life forms at the lowest end of the food chain. That includes plants and produce. Moreover, inanimate things like pottery and utensils go on this step. That is to indicate that everything in this universe is Divine.

2. Kurma, The Turtle

  • Evolution: As land emerged, many lives moved out of water. To signify this movement, Vishnu’s second form was an amphibian: the turtle or Kurma.
  • Golu Second Step: Correlating with the Kurma Avatar, this step showcases amphibians, insects, and other crawling and creeping life-forms.

3. Varaha, The Wild Boar

  • Evolution: As life-forms adapted to living on land, they evolved into four-legged beings. The Varaha, or the wild boar form of Vishnu, was a representation of that.
  • Golu Third Step: This step contains all sorts of animals and birds. Panchatantra stories find their place here as well.

4. Narasimha, Part-Human And Part-Lion

  • Evolution: Lord Vishnu’s Narasimha Avatar was half-lion and half-man. This form depicts the primordial humans, who might have evolved from other vertebrates. That ideology is in line with Darwin’s theory.
  • Golu Fourth Step: Depicting the prehistoric humans, figurines of cave dwellers, and other primitive lifestyles are of interest here. The devoted Hanuman and Lord Ganesha find a place here as well.
  • Esoteric: The legend of Narasimha alludes to human intellect and its limitations. Despite Asura Hiranya-Kashipu’s super-smartness, the Divine found a way to demolish his designs! When intelligence yields to conceit, destruction is inevitable. Hiranya-Kashipu’s son Prahalad, and Lord Hanuman, denote surrender, a form of humility that’s a by-product of Bhakti. Lord Ganesha represents wisdom – intelligence coupled with experience and humility – that brings auspiciousness.

5. Vamana, The Dwarf

  • Evolution: The early humans could’ve been short in height, like the Vamana Avatar. Eventually, they also started living in communal groups.
  • Golu Fifth Step: Transition of early humans to live in communities is the theme of this level.
  • Esoteric: In this avatar’s story, the just Asura King Maha-Bali intensely pursued power. For the most part, he was ignorant of Vamana’s divinity. Similarly, at this stage, people remain unaware of their latent potentials and inner Divine. Fulfilling desires, socializing, and adhering to norms is the focus of their lives.

6. Parashu-Rama, The Skilled One

  • Evolution: With time, homo-sapiens developed well-formed bodies. Similar to the Parashu-Rama Avatar, they excelled in the usage of tools and weapons.
  • Golu Sixth Step: This step portrays human advancements in skilled labor and trade. Agriculture, vendors, and marketplace setup belong here. Perhaps, we can even array malls, corporate professionals, modern tech advancements, and so on.
  • Esoteric: The warrior Parashu-Rama indicates physical robustness combined with worldly skills. However, this avatar’s short-temper and brute force symbolize uncontrolled emotions. Such a person may have a golden heart and be of great use to society, but they suffer internally due to their feral tendencies.

7. Rama, The Gracious Human

  • Evolution: The subsequent human development pertains to evolving emotionally. As signified by the Rama Avatar, discipline and emotional maturity are vital to our well-being.
  • Golu Seventh Step: The seventh Golu step indicates the trained mind. It showcases writers, musicians, dancers, artisans, painters, and other evolved human activities.
  • Esoteric: Striving to be kind-hearted and emotionally mature is the basis of spiritual evolution. Typically, a selfless, righteous, and duty-oriented person finds fulfillment in their life. To emphasize this, for the most part, Lord Vishnu refrained from revealing his Divine identity in the Rama Avatar. By being Purushotam, the superlative human, he brought reforms in the world. Lord Rama’s serenity signified his disciplined mind. And discipline is the signature of intelligent living.

8. Bala-Rama, Exploring Our Divinity

  • Evolution: When we are intellectually advanced, physically robust, skilled in worldly activities, and emotionally balanced, we move on to discover ourselves spiritually.
  • Golu Eighth Step: Statues of divinely humans, like exalted saints and monks, decorate the eighth step of the Golu.
  • Esoteric: Supernatural elements were at work in the Bala-Rama Avatar. He got miraculously transferred from Devaki’s womb to that of Rohini, his father’s other wife. He was also aware of his divine identity. In this stage, we experience that there’s more to this world than our mind can understand.
  • A Side Note: Bala-Rama, the brother of Krishna, is Lord Vishnu’s eighth incarnation. Some scriptures suggest that he was the avatar of Vishnu’s serpent Ananta-Sesha. Interestingly, Puranic stories refer to Ananta-Sesha himself as an avatar of Vishnu. Some replace Bala-Rama with Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. However, the traditional texts make no mention of this.

9. Krishna, The Complete Incarnation

  • Evolution: When life feels fulfilling, and we’ve also sensed the Divine spark within us, we develop objectivity towards life. Now, we can choose to help actively help others evolve. Or, we can even work on rendering out personal Gita! In essence, we’re ready to conquer the world through our love, kindness, and wisdom.
  • Golu Ninth Step (topmost): All manifested divine forms belong to this level, but the Supreme Goddess takes the center spot. After all, Navaratri is the Divine Mother’s festival, and the Golu tradition is a part of it!
  • Esoteric: Krishna was Lord Vishnu’s Poorna Avatar or complete incarnation. An embodiment of love and compassion, his Divine presence caused massive reforms. In untainted happiness, he was beyond the emotional rattles of this world. At times, Nature danced to Krishna’s tunes! Those traditions which view Vishnu and Devi as identical refer to Krishna as the Goddess Maha Kaali.
  • A Side Note: A married couple made of Marapachi or wood occupies the final Golu step. They represent the Vedic philosophy of masculine and feminine principles. From a Tantrik perspective, at this stage, Vishnu or Devi has merged with Shiva. Sometimes, a Kalash, the auspicious pot of water invoking Goddess Maha Lakshmi, is placed here.

10. Kalki, The Formless Divine

  • Evolution: Lastly, we’ve arrived at a stage beyond creation. An avatar or a divine-human has wholly merged into the Formless Divine.
  • Golu Step: There isn’t any Golu step representing this avatar. Besides, Navaratri is a festival of nine nights, and it makes sense to have nine steps rather than ten!
  • Esoteric: The idea symbolized here is Samadhi. With the cessation of thoughts and deep absorption, we perceive our formlessness. Figuratively, in the Tantrik viewpoint, Devi or Vishnu have not just merged with Shiva (to become Harihara or Ardha-Nareeshvara). Together, they have also become a singular unified Formless Divine! The texts of Advaita philosophy refer to this Formless Divine as the Brahman.
  • A Side Note: Kalki is on schedule to visit us during this Kali Yuga, current scriptural era! The Harivansha Purana prophesies that he will appear in the village of Shambala, in a Brahmana family. Shambala or Siddha-Ashram is a mythical place in the Himalayan region. Formed or not, Kalki denotes total annihilation.

Om Sri Hari!