The wooden toy engine displayed in a shop starts chugging and the wooden lantern begins to glow, while the chariot rolls forward with the press of a button. These are modern versions of the famous lacquered wooden toys of Varanasi, known for antiquity and beauty, as they come alive in a designer and electric ‘avatar’ to keep pace with the demands of the global market.
These traditional wooden toys, including train engines, carts, chariots, and lanterns are now battery-operated, courtesy awarded designer craftsman Rajkumar Singh.
Singh started working on electric wooden toys last November and succeeded in operating the wooden train engine with a battery. Later wooden chariots, wooden carts and wooden lanterns were also fitted with batteries.
“The new concept of wooden toys has got a very good response from the buyers in the domestic market. People like them,” said Singh and added that many people bought them for decoration purposes, while children purchased them to play.
“Battery operated wooden toys, including train engines, wooden carts, chariots and lanterns are all set to land in the international market. Initially, we are making 100 sets of each of these wooden toys for export,” Singh said.
These toys will be exported to Russia, Germany, France, Australia, USA and also Sri Lanka, Japan and Thailand to gauge the response, added Singh.
A post graduate in fine arts, Singh learnt the craft of shaping wood into toys from his father, national merit award winner craftsman Rameshwar Singh, who had been carving gods and goddesses for three decades.
Singh said wooden parrots, myna, elephants, horses and chariots were much in demand in domestic markets, while Russian dolls, Indian dolls and traditional Indian couple were in demand abroad.
His father and ace craftsman, Rameshwar Singh, is quite enthusiastic after getting an assurance from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who spoke to him via video conferencing after inaugurating the toy fair.
“I am thankful to PM Modi for assuring us all possible support for the promotion of wooden toys. His assurance has acted as a catalyst and encouraged all the artisans to innovate further in making wooden toys. We are working on new designs while maintaining antiquity and exclusiveness of the toys.”
Singh is the son of late Ramkhilawan Singh, who was popularly known as the ‘Bhishma Pitamah’ of wood craft and toy making. He played a crucial role in reviving wooden toy making in Varanasi over three decades ago when this craft was dying, said Padma awardee Dr Rajnikant, who is credited with getting GI (geographical indication) tag to 13 handicraft items, including wooden toys in Kashi.
The wooden toys made in Kashi are exclusive in design and diversity. Wooden toys on mythological characters are also made here. The artisans also make beautiful masks, which are used by the actors in Ramleela. In addition, toys like ghunghuna, jhunjhuna, different birds, horses, elephants, carts and many more are made of wood.
Dr Rajnikant said idols of deities were very popular and high in demand in Mauritius and certain other countries. Omprakash Sharma, another awarded craftsman, is expert in making wooden idols of deities, he said.
According to him, a common facility hub equipped with a training centre for diversification in designs of wooden toys, a raw material depot and proper packaging centre should be set up in Kashi to make artisans aware of the current international and national trends.
The size of Varanasi wooden toys’ market is around ₹15 to 20 crore including annual exports worth ₹5 crore, said an official.
Divisional commissioner, Varanasi, Deepak Agarwal said, “A concrete plan has been made for promoting export of the wooden toys and other handicraft items made in Kashi. As part of the plan, craftsmen and artisans are being imparted training in design diversification.”
He said a group of artisans had already been imparted training, including soft skills. They are also being introduced to online platforms, where they may sell their products.
Through this training, the artisans are also imparted knowledge of basic financial literacy, including handling foreign exchange and learning the process to register their products for export to reduce their dependency.
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