Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh was once one of the largest toy producing centres in India. It is an ancient craft, where the toys made in wood are crafted in the form of complete sets based on different themes. These include, among others, a series on birds and animals replicas of orchestra ensembles and dance troupes. Attractively packaged for sale in boxes, these toys are gaily painted and represent ‘Indian’ themes.
Besides the theme sets, the toys made in Varanasi include the child Krishna flying on a large bird, contemporary mobiles of fish, ducks, cows, horses and other animals, tortoises that move their necks and tails, dolls of all shapes and sizes, and furniture for them. The toys can be found in all sizes and prices: from a one inch mobile to a large two feet high doll; and from Rs 20 upwards. These toys are similar to the Lucknow clay toys in that they are crafted and sold in sets.
Wood is the raw material used for in crafting these toys. Earlier, sal or seesham was used in the making of the toys but owing to increased prices, cheaper and lighter wood is now being used. The paints applied are bright and usually comprise of primary colours. The tools used are akin to those used by a carpenter and include a saw and chisel.
Chedi Lal Vishwakarma, a National Award winner and master craftsperson, is reluctant to give up the skill that has been in the family for generations. He has trained his sons and grandsons in the tradition while also sending them to schools – leaving the choice about their future clearly with them.Brightly coloured wooden toys line his stall and people are curious to see his wares. ‘But nobody buys or plays with wooden toys anymore’, states Chedi Lal Vishwakarma. ‘They have been replaced by plastic ones.’ The craft that once brought him recognition and allowed him hours of creativity no longer sustains him; he teaches students to play the tabla and the flute, to earn a living. The only time he makes toys now is when he visits a craft hath, an exhibition or for special orders. He enjoys the work and creates his own stock of toys.Yet another craft that is danger of being lost, the wooden toy sets of Varanasi need our attention.
Handicraft, handmade, India, Lac, turnery, Uttar Pradesh, Wood