Simple is beautiful : Stories of six charming wooden toys from across the corners of India

While our kids are engrossed in many imported modern toys, we often forget that India has a rich tradition of indigenous toys. We are going to especially talk about six styles of traditional wooden toys from different parts of India. They are all made with local woods and use natural materials and have a rich interesting history behind them. 

You may want to acquire these toys to build an interesting collection and regale your guests with charming stories when they spot an arresting piece in your drawing room. These toys can also work as props to teach your children about the country in an interesting manner. For as you will see in the following paragraphs, these simple toys are linked to diverse interesting topics of mythology and history.

  1. Varanasi Wooden Toy: From the lanes of Kashmiri Ganj and Khojwa in Varanasi comes brightly painted and shining lacquered toys which are a delight to the eyes. These toys depict various topics of daily life, natural world and animals as well as Gods and Goddesses and mythological scenes. The figurines of multi-headed Hindu Gods like Ganesha and Krishna and of Gods and Goddesses atop their Vahanas are particularly signatures of this style of craft. It is said that the artisans come from a line of ivory carvers who worked for the Mughal emperors but shifted to woodcarving later. Various varieties of wood like Safeda (Eucalyptus), Kirbil, Bhurkul, Shisham, Kaima etc. are used for making these toys
  2. Nagina Wooden Gamesets: Nagina is a small town in the Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh. The exquisite woodcrafting tradition of this tiny place however has a rich history. It is said that artisans from as far as Iran and Multan came and settled here during the Mughal era. Nowadays, the place is famous for its exquisitely carved wooden decorative items. The local artisans use wood of trees like Sheesham, Haldu and Mango to create intricately carved boxes, trays, bowls, walking sticks and other articles. They also make toys like wooden tic-tac-toe, puzzles, mazes etc. which are results of an innovative application of the ancient craft on modern games
  3. Notungram Dolls: Notungram is a village in Bardhaman district of Bengal. The traditional woodcraft from this place flourished under the patronage of a local royal dynasty. Made from wood like Gamar, Chhatim, Shimul, Ata or Mango and brightly painted in shades of yellow, red, blue and green, the dolls embody a characteristic rural sweetness. The most iconic and recognisable piece from this style of craft are figurines of owls, which have traditionally been used for worship of Goddess Lakhsmi in Bengal, as the owl is the Vahana of the Goddess. The craftsman also make figures of king and queen, soldiers, bridegroom, RadhaKrishna and Gour-Nitai (Vaishnava saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his disciple Nityananda)

  4. Sawantwadi Toys While you are heading to Goa from Mumbai, you can make a pitstop in the picturesque Kolgaon village of Sawantwadi Taluka of Sindhudurg district. Here you will find a 400 year old dying tradition of wooden toys that is now being kept alive by only a few families of artisans belonging to the Chitari community. Their craft had flourished under the patronage of the erstwhile royal family of Sawantwadi. Using wood from trees like Mango and Sivani, the artistes create charming models of animals, people and carts. The place is very famous for wooden toys in the shape of fruits, vegetables and miniature kitchen utensils
  5. Kondapalli Toys The artisans from Bommala Colony (Toys Colony) in Kondapalli in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh might not have heard about the lofty ideas of the worldwide move towards ecologically sustainable natural products, but their 400-year old craft is a prime example of how traditional crafts have been made with 100% natural raw materials. The famous Kondapalli toys are made from local softwood called Tella Poniki and use gum made from tamarind seed paste and color dyes made from various stones and plant products. Mythological figures, animals, birds, carts, village life articles are common themes. The craftsmanship particularly shines in mythological figures like Dasavatharam where half-animal-half-human figures are created with aplomb. The artisan community is said to have migrated from Rajasthan since long back and find mention in ancient texts like Puranas. Their forefathers were involved in the carving of various stunning stone sculptures that the temples of this region are famous for
  6. Kinnala Crafts

    While Channapatna in Karnataka is well known for toys, the town of Kinnal in north Karnataka also boasts of an ancient tradition of wood carving and toys. The speciality of Kinnala crafts lies in the use of powdered tin colors (which makes the artifacts brilliantly shiny). Apart from this, local softwood, tamarind seed and pebble pastest and jute rag scraps are used. The artisans mostly work with religious and mythological motifs but also make figurines of people and everyday articles. It is said that the artisan community’s forefathers were the craftsmen for the Vijayanagara empire and have created the magnificent carvings in Hampi