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Dolls, Toys, Puppets and Masks


Dolls, Toys, Puppets and Masks

Velamma Naidu and Pedamma Devi, toys for ritual display and narration. Pigment painting and lacquer on models of wood, sawdust, cloth and tamarind seed powder; 22 cm x 14 cm; 25 cm x 9 cm. Cherial, Warangal, Andhra Pradesh. c. early 20th century. 7/3059(1), 7/3060(2).

In addition to narrating stories depicted on cloth panels, the itinerant “picture-showmen” of Andhra Pradesh also use such painted models1 representing various deities, birds and animals as aids to narration. These toys, created by the Nakkash community of scroll painters, are essentially models or puttalas of wood, sawdust and tamarind seed powder covered with a thin layer of cloth which is subsequently prepared for painting in bright colours, the black outlines and eyes being filled in last..

The male figure, Velamma Naidu, with a typical turban or patka, is that of a socially prominent man, while the female, Pedamma devi, typically painted yellow, is the wife of Pedi Raja, a king. The two are part of a set of figures employed in the narration of local myths and legends for the benefit of the Yadays or Dhangars, a community which is generally pastoral. The itinerant performers who use these toys for narrative display are the Mandhets who go around singing tales to the clients sometimes for over 15 to 20 days for a nominal fee, usually paid in kind.

1.In conversation with painter-craftsman D. Chandriah Nakkash from Cherial

Toy Animals

Dolls, Toys, Puppets and Masks

Toy animals. Pigment painting on paper and cow dung models; 10 cm x 15 cm; 12 cm x 14 cm; 11 cm x 12 cm. Orissa, c. mid-20th century. VC.

In Puri, and to some extent in Raghurajpur, there exists a tradition of making wonderful light weight figures, also known as gobar kandhayi, or “toys made from cow dung”. Unlike the papier mache technique, the toys are created by covering a clay model of the envisaged toy with layers of old paper moistened with water and gum. A string placed beneath these layers, along the central horizontal axis of the model, is then gently jerked out, effectively causing the paper model to be cut in half. The inner clay mould is removed and the hollow paper image put back together with the help of gum and cow dung. The surface is then smoothened and painted, initially in base white, upon which the bright colours of facial and other details are added. Often such toy animals, with moveable heads, are also made in very large sizes.

Talli Bidda

Dolls, Toys, Puppets and Masks

Talli bidda, Mother and child. Pigment painting on wood, saw-dust and cow dung models; 15 cm x 14 cm. Andhra Pradesh. c. mid-20th century. 7/3887.

An extremely light wood, locally known as puniki, (Glotia rattle formic) sawdust and cowdung, are used to create beautiful figures such as this mother and child. Essentially play toys for children, these kundanapu bommas, literally “beautiful figures,” are also votive offerings to deities. Especially significant is the model of the child Krishna offered by childless couples. On weekly markets and important festivals such toys including animals and horse riders are locally sold on the streets for very meagre prices.

In this figure the baby, depicted as an extension of the mother’s body, is obviously an attachment in sawdust and cow dung to the main three-dimensional wooden axis of the seated female figure. The extremely simplified toy, painted rather chastely, is nevertheless silently persuasive.


Dolls, Toys, Puppets and Masks

Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman, toys for ritual display. Painted and varnished wood; 31 cm x 12 cm; 31 cm x 12 cm; 26 cm x 21 cm; 26 cm x 21 cm. Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. c. early 20th century. 23/48, 23/50, 23/49, 23/57.

Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh, is famous for its folk tradition of annual performances of Rama Lila or plays enacting the life history of Shri Rama, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu and son of king Dashratha of the Solar dynasty. The painted and varnished wooden toys are made from a kind of soft, light wood locally known as bhurkul or gular.

The figures reveal the spirit of the Rama Lila both in artistic expression, particularly in the mode of attire and adornments, as well as in the iconic representation of the mythological characters of the epic Ramayana. Shri Rama is accompanied by his half-brother, Lakshmana, his faithful monkey devotee, Hanuman, and Sita his beloved wife. The four are depicted together for they are said to have spent more than 10 years together in the forest following Rama’s banishment from the kingdom, on the wishes of his step-mother Kaikeyi, who wanted her son Bharat to be crown prince of Ayodhya instead of Rama, the rightful heir.


Dolls, Toys, Puppets and Masks

Hamsa or swan mask for Chhau dance. Pigment painting on papier mache and gauze; 26 cm x 16 cm. West Bengal or Bihar. c. mid-20th century. 7/2368.

The Chhau dance, a ritual dance-drama enacting themes from the epics, is essentially “of Bengali origin and it has ultimately spread upto the districts of Bihar namely Ranchi, Singhbhum (which includes Seraikella) and of Orissa, namely, Mayurbhanja.1

This hamsa or swan mask, made from papier mache and gauze, strikingly conforms to the pantomime of a swan. The highly stylised eyebrows, lips and nose are reminiscent of exaggerated features in a theatrically vigorous performance that necessarily “mask” the Chhau dancer’s individual feelings.

1 Bhattacharya, 1972, p.31


Dolls, Toys, Puppets and Masks

Cyclist. Terracotta; 18 cm x 9 cm. Goalpara, Assam. Contemporary. VCD. Cyclewallas or cyclists are a common sight all over India. However, this cyclist with immoveable tyres though animated by superficial wheels, is the creation of potter Dhirendra Nath Pal in response to the changing tastes of his clientele. During fairs and festivals the cycle, among other toys, is sold in huge numbers and dragged along a string by enthusiastic little boys and girls. The pinched facial rendering and elephant-like floppy ears are characteristic of Assam terracottas of which Shashtimai, or goddess Shashti with a child, and Hathimai, a female figure with hathi or elephant ears, are most popular.