Varanasi being located in Uttar Pradesh state is situated in the centre of the Ganges Valley in North India. One of the oldest living cities of India is Varanasi. History states that the first Aryan settlement was in the middle Ganges Valley. Later by 2nd millennium BCE it became the seat of Aryan religion in Varanasi. It also became the famous centre of Aryan philosophies, commercial and industrial hub for its silk and muslin fabrics, ivory works, perfumes, sculptures and wooden toys. Varanasi is also known as Kashi/Banaras. The prominence of Varanasi in Hindu mythology is virtually still unrevealed. This place is more famed as ‘Kashi’. The word Kashi is the derivation from the word ‘Kas’ which means to ‘Shine’. It is also said that, it is this place where the Lord Shiva and Parvathi stood as the beginning of time that is considered as the original ground created by them. Varanasi is a city of classical, traditional, cultural, sanctified place by religion and also glorified by mythologies. Thus, since ancient time it has attracted a large number of pilgrims and worshippers. During 6th century BCE, the capital of Kashi i.e Sarnath was the first place where Gautama Buddha taught about Dharma for the first time. As an outcome of all this, Varanasi remained as a centre of educational, religious and artistic activities as shown and distinguished by Chinese traveler Hsuan-tsang when he visited the place during 635 CE and he also mentioned that, the city (Varanasi) got extended about 5 km along the western bank of the Ganges.
Since ages Varanasi is a Hindu centre for learning. It has countless Brahmin pandits and numerous schools for learning. It is also a centre for arts and crafts, dance and music, famous for silk production, brocades with gold and silver threadwork, glass bangles, ivory work, brassware and wooden toys. These wooden toys are very famous since ages. Craftsmen of Varanasi started carving wood after the ban of ivory. The fathers of these craftsmen were ivory carvers at the royal court. History states that toys of Lord Rama originated from Kashi. It is a special kind of wood used for making these toys. These wooden toys have great demand in abroad as the colors used for these toys are germ-free and harmless even when a child puts the toy in its mouth. But one of the major problems of toy makers is non-availability of wood as the Government has banned cutting of these wood. But one of the major steps taken by government to uplift the business of wooden toys of Varanasi is to allow the toy makers to display their craft (wooden toys) during the exhibition held on January 26 for Republic day parade. This hopefully helps the toy business to set back and surely increase the demand for it and toy market might progress as the Indian and foreign visitors tend to visit the show.
Initially it was Corea wood which was mainly used for manufacturing toys. This wood was predominantly used as the wood was soft and it could be shaped easily by giving fine finishing to the toys. Before 1983 this wood was available easily but then Government gave an order to private outworkers to cut down Corea trees and these workers started illegal activities by cutting down teak wood. As a result of this, the administration cancelled the contracts and banned cutting of Corea wood. Since then the toy makers of Varanasi started to use Sheesham, Eucalyptus and Liptus wood to make toys, which are comparatively hard, wood and very tough to carve. But as the industry started depending on the Liptus wood the industry started suffering from economy. The cost of Corea wood costed Rs.600 per quintal whereas the liptus wood costs INR.1200 per quintal, which is exactly the double the amount. Also the costs of sealing wax, which is used for making these toys have gone up, and also the cost of colors and dyes used for painting the toys have become double just within a year. The insufficient power supply has also affected the business majorly by worsening the production of toys. Earlier nearly 50 pieces of toys were made in a day but at present condition only 15-20 pieces are prepared because of the inadequate power supply. Due to all these serious issues, the wooden toy maker informed they are not paid with the proper wages. As the production of wooden toys making has increased by 50 % in just a year it is adding more trouble to the artisans by discouraging them to do wood art. Earlier this industry fed thousands of houses of Varanasi. According to the president of Human Welfare Association, who is working on preserving and promoting the traditional art and craft, there are nearly 2,500 wooden toy making artisans engaged in this particular work all over the city but whereas now it has become limited to few households only.
These toys are made by cutting, peeling and shaping of wood with sharp tools like knives and other equipment. The art of making wooden toys includes spherical, diametrical, cylindrical toys and also traditional – religious articles, pen stand, vermillion case, gods and goddesses, animals, birds and boxes are included. Some toys like parrot and spinning wheel are attached on to the marriage mantap (altar). A pair of parrot is usually gifted to a new married couple. The ceremonial parrot is painted in red, yellow and green colors symbolizing something auspicious. These toys are intricately carved and eventually made to be sold to pilgrims. The highest height of these toys is four inches. The potters from the Prajapati community paint these wooden toys. From July to November month is the best flourishing season for wooden toys. Stalls of wooden toys are set up during fair by the vendors. Usually huge sales of toys take place during Krishna Janmashtami for decorating tableau.