Varanasi also known as Banaras or Kashi is a north Indian city on the bank of the Ganges in Uttar Pradesh. Varanasi is one of the oldest living cities in the world. The word ‘Kashi’ originated from the word ‘kas’ which means the shine. Kashi is the original ground created by Shiva and Parvati upon which they stood at the beginning of time. It has always attracted a large number of pilgrims and worshippers from time immemorial.
The art and culture of Varanasi are unique. It is the rich cultural tradition of Varanasi that makes it the cultural capital of India. A combination of archaeology, mythology, geography, art and history makes Varanasi a great center of Indian culture. Varanasi presents a complete museum of Indian art and culture. At Varanasi, one can feel the changing patterns and movements in course of history. It has a rich and unique style of art forms and folk art. For centuries, Varanasi has produced master craftsmen and earned a name and fame for its beautiful sarees and handicrafts.
Besides the famous Banaras Sari, brassware, copperware, Ivory work, glass bangles, Wood carving, Carpet weaving, stone, clay toys and exquisite gold jewellery are some of the other crafts Varanasi city is famous for. This place has been famous for handicrafts items for years. It has been hailed as a leading center for some of the finest Indian handicrafts.
Varanasi is well known across the world for its hand-painted wooden toys. These wooden toys are sculpted and chiselled by artisans, and then attractively painted with bright lacquer colours. This industry is believed to have a 400-years history in the city. This place was one of the largest toy producing centres in India.
About the craftsman and wooden idols:
In Varanasi, many small-scale industries are gradually coming to an end and one among the many is the wooden-idols manufacturing industry. The wooden toys are famous in India and foreign countries as well but the ignorance of the governments has affected this industry to such an extent that it is on the verge of its end. Earlier, this industry used to feed thousands of houses in Varanasi. But now, it has been limited to a few households only.
The craftsman who works on wooden crafts mostly belongs to the Vishwakarma caste. The craftsman who works in wooden idol-making says that he is working for about 20 years in the wooden crafts, and he has gained the knowledge from his father and grandfather, it is a gift he has got from his ancestor. He says craftsmen are not able to come out with an innovative designs.
The workmanship of wood has flourished in India over the centuries. The cost of colors and dyes, which are used for painting idols and wooden articles are expensive. The wood of Coraiya and Ghurkun are predominantly used by the idol makers because these are soft and can be shaped and cut easily for producing fine finishing in the idols. However, these varieties are not easily available and artisans end up buying Gular, Eucalyptus and other types of wood, which are hard and available at INR 500 to INR700 per quintal. An erratic power supply is another impediment for toymakers.
Dolls made from wood are very popular. Varanasi is known for its carved objects and dolls. Traditional designs are carved on wood and then painted over giving the whole object a rich effect. Craftsmen use Gular wood to sculpt exquisite mythological pieces. This place offers the choicest varieties of wooden dolls blended both in folk and classical forms, which provide an aesthetic appeal with a freshness and charm of their own. Wood carving is a traditional craft of Varanasi.