It gives me great satisfaction to write about the handmade Toys of Kondapally.I usually avoid going out in the sun during the warmest part of the day but today even the sun God did not deter me from making a visit to a nearby village, Kondapally. This village is internationally famous for its handmade toys, known as Kondapally Toys. The toys made here are distinct due to the material being used, the method , their appearance and themes on which these toys are made.Even after all the modernization it is still a cottage industry with only a few families in and around Kondapalli carrying on this tradition.
It has been a long time since I have paid a visit to the place and I am grateful to my friends Swati and Ayon for letting me tag along. I remember my mom had bought me some lovely Kondapally toys to play with when I was a kid and they came packed in small boxes made of palm leaves. I used to see these toys displayed in my neighbor’s house during Sankranti and it was known as Bommala Koluvu.The toys are made of soft wood available in the nearby forests and it is known as Tella Poniki.
We set out for the village, armed with sun hats and parasols and refreshing drink as the sun was scorching. Konda means hill and this little hamlet is based on the same hill and all the crafting takes place in Bommala Colony which means Toys Colony. We used the GPS, asked around and finally reached the quiet but colorful colony. It is a 400-year-old art and it claims its origin to Muktharishi, a sage endowed with skills in arts and crafts by Lord Shiva. The karigars or artisans who make the toys are referred as Aryakhastriyas and are said to have migrated from Rajasthan in the 16th century.
The process of making these dolls is very intriguing. We visited a few of the workshops where they were making them. Srinivas, one of the artisans and owner of the place explained how the wood is first carved out and then the edges are smooth finished. He showed us his sharp but primitive, curved tool with which he did the chipping. The later step involves coloring with enamel paint or watercolors or vegetable dyes for export. The artisans at one time produced mythological figures of animals, birds, bullock carts laden with sacks, rural life and the most prominent was the Dasavataram and the dancing dolls which shake their heads and waist in tandem when prodded. There was this really cute and funny old couple doll whose heads were bobbing. The expressions and the body shape were hilarious.
Initially, the karigars used only Vegetable dyes for coloring and then moved to synthetic paints to speed up their work and also lessen the price. Vegetable dye based artifacts are costlier and their demand is more in the international market according to Satyanarayana, of another manufacturing unit. The disadvantage of vegetable dyes is that they need very careful handling while making and even a little drop of water would damage the piece. To add to the longevity of the vegetable dyes the karigars apply a coat of lacquer polish which gives longevity to the toy and a glossy touch.
It was heartening to see the patriarch himself working on the dolls while both his sons assist him.I found the whole process of doll making really fascinating and a new found appreciation for this dying art. The Tella Poniki timber was being cut by a machine into suitable blocks. Every part of the body of say a male doll is broken up into pieces and then each is inserted into the other, like legs, trunk, head, arms. These parts are then chiseled and filed to smoothen them. They are glued together to form a cohesive whole. Then a tamarind plus sawdust paste is used to close the cracks, smooth out rough then it is allowed to dry. Then the vegetable dyes / Paints are applied .Finally, they are glazed using polish.The end result is these colorful, flawless toys in different sizes and shapes.
There is a bit of innovation in the form of new themes and products being introduced. There was an angry bird, Hanuman, and Krishna from the television series and a few Rajasthani dolls which are brought raw and then painted here said Satyanarayana.This art is worth preserving and I think if we start buying them instead of the machine made flimsy stuff, we could boost the sales and the artisans would really benefit. We set out on our return journey with our little booty of Toys of Kondapally packed nicely in palm leaf baskets!