“I bought these old broken dolls from the Eco Shop. I stitched traditional Indian dresses for them. They used to be Barbies and now they are all Indians,” Tulsi says with a glint in her eyes, as she looks at beautifully-dressed Indian dolls on the shelf.

We are in a room that is a treasure trove of Indian deities, paintings, representations of Indian gods and goddesses, and artifacts. Each holds a story, and Tulsi is excitedly telling us about each one, explaining where they come from and their significance.

This is the home of Tulsi and Gopal, a devout Vaishnavite couple who have been collecting and creating these works of art for over 30 years.

However, this room is just the beginning. The entire house serves as a canvas for their love of art, spirituality and appreciation for Indian culture.

The couple perfectly complement each other. Gopal is concise and professional, while Tulsi thrives on conversation and swiftly gets into storytelling. As she narrates, he stands beside her, adding details in a matter-of-fact tone, providing contextual depth to her tales.

Originally from the southern Indian city of Chennai, Gopal, who is an engineer, worked at various places in India before moving to Fiji to set up a cable factory in 1982.

After six years in Fiji, a transfer brought the couple to Christchurch, in 1988, where he worked his way up to become a regional director for a cable company.

The couple built the house in 2005, and the collection which started with a small puja room grew significantly over the years as the couple travelled around India and other places.

“As a devout Hindu Vaishnavite, one must visit 108 temples, and we have visited all of them, including the ones in Badrinath, Dwarka and even in Nepal, collecting interesting deities,” Tulsi says.

The couple has also travelled extensively around the world, including Europe, the Americas, East Asia and Australia.

The room has now transcended from a mere Puja space to a mini museum, housing not just collectables but also creations born from Tulsi’s artistic interests. Repurposed items from op shops, dressed and transformed into characters from Indian scriptures, stand proudly alongside statues and paintings.

Pointing at a huge statue of an Indian goddess, Tulsi says, “We bought this from an op shop, and I dressed her. Now she’s Anjana–mother of Lord Hanuman.”

She has a huge collection of Ganapthi. “Every Ganesh Chaturthi, I make Ganapati in different mudras using clays and keep them in the room.”

A huge picture of the Golden Temple adorns a wall. “We were in Chandigarh for some time, and that’s where we picked it up.” Gopal shares.

Tulsi, who worked in a children’s library at Church Corner for 13 years as a volunteer, is also a published author and has written four non-fiction books in Tamil. The Tamil Nadu government has approved one of her books as a non-detailed study textbook.

She has written about her life in Fiji and New Zealand, as well as Maori customs and traditions. She is also a well-known Tamil blogger and has written about 3,000 articles on travel and other subjects.

The couple’s involvement in the community is as vibrant as their collection. Founding members of various cultural associations, they have actively contributed to fostering Indian culture in Christchurch.

There were very few Indian families in Christchurch back in 1988. A small group of people started the Indian Social and Cultural Club, with Gopal spearheading its formation.

“We had our first gathering to celebrate India’s 25th Independence Day and used to screen Indian movies to raise funds,” Gopal recalls of his efforts and endeavours to found the club.

The club has grown huge over the years and now hosts the biggest Diwali celebration in South Island. The couple were also the founding members of Canterbury Tamil Society and Christchurch Kerala Association.

Tulsi is also one of the most visible faces in community events. “I love to chronicle the events, posting pictures on my Facebook page and sometimes writing about them on my Tamil blog.” Tusi smiles.

The couple’s passion for Indian culture and heritage is evident in everything they do, from their home to their community involvement. As they prepare to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next year, they stand as true ambassadors and torchbearers of India’s cultural heritage. Their contributions continue to enrich the tapestry of Christchurch’s multicultural identity.