Gharonda means a house or a home. In Bihar we have a custom of making a dollhouse during Diwali that we call a ‘Gharonda’. Some people also call it ‘Gharkunda’. We decorate it and place toys and dolls on it. We also place small earthen pots calls ‘kulha-chukiya’ and fill them with batashe (sweet made of sugar) and puffed rice (lava). Then we distribute the lava and batashe in the kulha-chukiya in the neighbourhood. I don’t know how or why this custom came about, but my guess is it was perhaps meant to engage children.
Traditionally the gharonda was made of clay and cow dung. The structure was then whitewashed and decorated with paints. People would get creative by making a two or three storey gharonda with a staircase running by the side. The doors and widows would sometimes even have a curtain on them.
My earliest memory of a gharonda is from my dadighar (paternal grandparents’ house) where my dadaji (grandfather) had got a permanent gharonda made with concrete. Although I don’t have a picture of the gharonda, it is etched in my memory. As a four-year-old I was totally fascinated by the two-storey structure with a balcony and neat little steps leading up to it from the ground floor. There were windows and doors and the gharonda looked so real. Every year it got a fresh coat of whitewash and looked as good as new.
Later, when we started going to school and the Diwali holidays were too few to make a visit to my dadighar, we started making our own gharonda with the help of my father. We used cardboard and paper and Papa would come up with such amazing creations. Once he designed a hilltop house like Mandrake’s Xanadu. He used an old cooler and covered it with a green tablecloth to make a hill. Then using chart paper, he stapled a topsy-turvy ‘road’ that led to the top of the hill from the base. At the top was our cardboard gharonda and my dolls waited to welcome all visitors. Then there was this other time when he created not just a house, but an entire city. There was an airport with planes, a train station with a running train, a bus stop, a zoo with tiny plastic animals and offcourse houses. But the best part was the network of roads crisscrossing the city with tiny working streetlights shining the way for our toy cars and buses! I wish I had pictures of these amazing creations, but all I have are words to describe them.
As we grew older, my brother and I took up the responsibility of making the Diwali gharonda. One year we tried making it the traditional way with bricks and mud. But it was too much work and so messy that we never repeated it. Later as we got busy with our studies, we stopped making a new gharonda every year. Instead we bought a wooden gharonda from the market that we would decorate in our own way each year.
This unique Bihari custom is one of my favourite Diwali traditions. To me a gharonda is an integral part of Diwali celebrations. I still enjoy making one every year and try to make something creative out of them. Here are some of my creations.
This one was a lot of fun to make. The biggest challenge was to find the various boxes with the exact correct sizes. Much of the paper used to cover the boxes were reused from old gift wrappers.
2. European Villa
This house was rather easy to make. Just needed one cardboard box that I had to cut away in a specific manner to get the shape. The roof came out of the cardboard I had earlier cut out. Some windows and doors later the design was complete. Cotton was used for the snow and I spray painted a piece of cotton to create the smoke coming out of the chimney.
3. Indian Traditional House with a well
This year I really wanted to do something traditionally Indian. The staircase on the side was not in my original design, but my son insisted on one, else how would the residents go to the upper floor? It even has a functioning well.
With Diwali 2020 done, I am already thinking what I would make next year? I really want to recreate the city scene with the street lights that I had made with my father as a kid. Maybe it’s about time!
Do share your gharonda tips and designs in the comments.
Edit: Here is a partial pic of my earliest memory of a gharonda at my dadighar (and yes, that baby is me :-D) :