The ‘Wooden toys’ are the one of the ancient craft of Varanasi.

Varanasi, said to be the oldest living city in the world, we referred to called as “Banaras” and “Kashai”.  Varanasi is a famous pilgrimage spot for Hindus; there are number of temples on the banks of Ganges. Tourist visited Varanasi for the peace of mind and to wash away all their sins in the Ghats of river Ganges. That is how Varanasi Ghats consider as the place of divinity.
photo credit: Muralidharan Alagar


The Art and culture of Varanasi is quite unique. It has rich cultural tradition with the combination of archaeology, mythology, history, geography and art that makes Varanasi a center of Indian culture. The ‘Wooden toys’ are the one of the ancient craft of Varanasi. The sets of birds, animals, orchestras, soldiers and dance ensembles are made in wood, gaily painted and packed in boxes. The toys can be found in all sizes — from a 1 inch mobile to a large 2 feet tall doll.

photo credit: Prashant Sharma

The beauty of wooden toys is in the fact that they are carved by craftsmen and painted by them. They show a perspective of life. Craftsmen make them according to their knowledge of history, Indian mythology, Mahabharata, Ramayana, etc. Wooden toy makers are the few craftsmen, who are pursuing the art of toy making over generations. A set of artists are only skilled to make the toys of wood and finish the structure for paint and there are separate families of artists whose soul job is to paint the toys.


The toys studied can be classified into following categories- religious, cultural, animals & birds, and traditional and modern toys. All these themes have toys treated in a different way—for example—religious toys are generally hand carved, and painted gaudily, they exhibit Indian motifs and patterns. These toys also tell mythological and religious stories of their time.

The cultural theme based toys shows the classes of society, the daily lifestyle and activity of the people in rural India and also some profession which were popular in ancient India. Whereas, the modern toys are generally 3 dimensional, made by turning and have modern patterns

photo credit: Prashant Sharma


Selecting the right kind of wood for toys is very important. ‘Kemah, Chilbil’ and ‘Haldu’ wood is used for making toys but they largely use Chilbil. The wood block as per the size of the toy to be made is cut from the log. The piece is cleaned and sanded to get a smooth surface. The design of the toy to be made is traced on this piece. Extra wood is chipped off according to the design. Sometimes the whole toy is carved out from a single piece of wood whereas in some cases, different body parts are carved separately and joined together with adhesive

Carving is followed by painting. Bright and gaudy non toxic colors are used to paint the body. First, the toy is dipped in distemper. When it dries, it is neatly painted with duco white paint. Two such coats are applied followed by the last coat of lacquer to bring shine to the surface of the toys. In the process of fine painting work, brush made out of the hair from squirrel’s tail is used for painting. They do not finish one piece at a time. They prepare one color and paint all the samples in a batch of toys with it and let it dry before they start with the next color. In one day, one painter finishes at least 20 pieces.

tota banaras

Lacquering is done on a lathe in the lac turning method. Lacquer ware toys are produced in this way. Thus, the craftsmen manipulate the stick where several colors are used. Some of the lacquered pieces are painted with a brush. Non-toxic colors or acrylic based poster colors are used.