Varanasi, being the cultural center of India is also rich in the craft of toy making and is gifted with a community of craftsman who have been practicing this craft and passing it on from one generation to other. But the scope of this project is limited to the craft of toy making in wood in Varanasi.
The information about the history of this craft, stories behind the toys and the present business model has been gathered by interviewing various craftsmen and their families, painters, salesmen, shopkeepers selling the toys and the local people of Varanasi.
Also, the sites of making the toys and selling them were also visited to document the whole process of toy making. Basic visual elements, colors, themes and cultural and religious motifs have been identified based on the research work.
Since ages, mankind has been leaving its mark in various forms for the generations to come. It was started with the engravings and inscriptions on the walls of the caves where early men lived. At first, there were the drawings carved on the wall, reflecting their culture and daily activities like human form, their dressing style, celebrations, animals, hunting and also their gods which were depicted in the form of symbols like sun, moon or other natural powers.
After the development of tools, it took no time for those drawings to materialize into pieces of stones or wood roughly carved to exhibit forms, popular styles of clothing, occupation, social life etc. and after the invention of wheel, a sense of mobility was brought in even into the toys which could be pull along. A much refined example is marbles!
As India has a rich culture of storytelling through its toys, our ancestors have been preserving this culture by making toys which show a perspective of life. Not only does it help in educating the children about their culture, children also grow up playing with these toys, which creates a beautiful bonding them and their toys and nurtures them.
Its not by chance that in this age of industrialization and mass manufacturing, the handmade toys not only thrive but also make their presence felt in the local market. These toys have survived because they make a meaningful value addition in a household in terms of a toy. They are endowed with the natural beauty of a handcrafted object.
Although, the market is overflowing with the modern plastic and metallic toys , the handcrafted toys are comparatively cheaper and also offer a visual treat to the children. Thus, this project aims at studying this art of toy making, understanding the reason and stories behind it, documenting the whole process and analyzing this craft in this modern era of technology.
History and Background
India has a rich legacy in toy-making. Historically Indian toys date back to 5000 years. The excavated toys and dolls found in Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro included small carts, dancing woman, etc. A large variety of natural materials like rocks, sticks, clay etc. were used for making dolls and toys.
Earliest toys were created by the parents or sometimes by the children themselves, as an object of joy and playfulness. Gradually they started having more meaning added to them when they became a mirror of rural India, its folklore, legends and myths. And eventually toys had their own market where some artisans could practise this craft to earn a living . Thus, the incorporation of the tradition and culture of rural India became more evident through colourful toys depicting village scenes Like a women carrying water in the pots, women drawing out water from a well or men riding bullock-carts, elephants, etc.
Later on, many household articles were produced in miniature sizes including sets of toy cooking vessels in clay and wood.These toys were a girl’s favourite collection whereas for boys, there were ‘chakri’, a fast moving paper fan, bow and arrow made out of sticks, etc.
Also, this craft has been through many influences depending upon the culture and happenings of an era which varied with the hindu, mughal and british rule. Indian craftsmen crafted numerous motifs and designs, intricate and beautiful in a variety of hand-crafted toys.
The religious influence has been enormous leading to a different set of toys altogether depicting stories from epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata and also influenced by the tales of gods and goddesses, particularly Lord Krishna, Hanuman and find a rapid sale during the festive seasons. Slowly, similar influence also attracted toys inspired by the birth of Christ and made way for other religions in this craft. Initially, such toys were available only in local markets and fares but now they are also carried from one city to another for the purpose of selling.