While children today amuse themselves with electronic gadgets, India’s traditional dolls are, unfortunately, being sidelined. Together with the magical colours of nature, the richness of mythology, and the joy of festivals, these time-honoured dolls are increasingly becoming rare to find.
Many varieties of dolls made in India are created using eco-friendly and bio-degradable materials like mud, wood and waste cotton clothes. For example, clay dolls are made all across the country and are used as offerings for worship, and in the case of Ganesha idols, for immersion. Each region possesses its distinct clay craft tradition. While Bihari toymakers make clay dancing figures faintly reminiscent of Mauryan pottery, the speciality of Lucknow is a series of dolls depicting musicians and brides of India. In Bihar, there is a charming tradition of giving every bride a lapful of clay dolls. In Panruti, a village in Tamil Nadu, clay dolls are moulded by hand and depict rural scenes, animals , birds, gods and goddesses and the ever-popular Chettiar couple. Panruti dolls are also an integral part of the Dasara Kolu Festival.
The most prolific and variegated of Indian traditional dolls are made out of wood — carved, sculpted, lacquered and painted. The most famous being the lacquered dolls, which are made at Etikoppaka in Andhra Pradesh. Channapatna in Karnataka is home to a mind-boggling repertoire, which includes birds, animals, snakes and rattles among others.
These, along with the brightly coloured Kondapalli dolls of Andhra Pradesh, made out of light ‘punki’ wood, are the traditional dolls of these regions.
Sudarshan Khanna, head of department, toy design, at the National Institute of Design (NID) says, “It is sad to note that over the years, we have neglected the craft of doll making in India, which beautifully reflects the tradition and culture of the country.” Conducting workshops for the much ignored doll making community, improving their designs and training them in quality control methods, the design institute seems to be doing all it can to revive this traditional folk art.