Banarasi artery and craft have been known for its magnanimous work for ages. Be it its eccentric traditional wooden craft, dynamic sarees, handmade beaded necklaces, or any other creative outlook. Their unique characteristics are intricate intertwining floral and foliate motifs, kalga and bel.
Ralph Fitch describes Banaras as an upsurging sector of the cotton textile industry. But that's not all. It is also magnanimously known for its home decor and especially for its wooden sculptures and toys handicraft.
Khel Khel Mein
Wooden toy-making is a craft, traditionally practised in the Varanasi district of Uttar Pradesh, India. Vibrantly painted toys are made by skilled craftsmen. According to the craftsmen, their ancestors specialised in ivory carving. After ivory was banned by the Government of India, they shifted to woodcarving.
The Real Deal
Our people at Itokri had the privilege of indulging in a lovely conversation with one such craftsman Mr. Devendra Singh. He has been working as an artisan since the age of 25, and before that used to play local cricket. He has played with several cricket veterans like Sunil Gavaskar, Chetan Sharma and more. Due to health issues he had to drop his cricket career and inclined towards his family business.The conversation was hosted by Miss Akansha, from Gwalior, who is a homemaker and blogger of Preplounge. Her initiative was derived due to her own inclination towards creative field and interior craft.
"These local artisans are very humble and rooted in their life, as they are not lost in the worldly busy life rather delved into making their creativity come alive."Mr. Devendra's zeal was something to lay eyes on during the conversation, and Akansha was lucky enough to witness that."
Mr. Devendra's zeal was something to lay eyes on during the conversation, and Akansha was lucky enough to witness that.
So Devendra ji please tell me how you got into this business?Did you start it, or was it ancestral?
This is an ancestral work. My great-grandfather, grandfather began this, but my father uniquely improvised and took it to international level by incorporating making of CANDLE STANDS, NAPKIN RINGS & RUSSIAN DOLLS sent to Argentina.
How did you learn about this? Did your father specialize you?
My father still guides me, but ever since I was a little child, I used to sit by my father's side and watch him work through. I learnt just by watching him do it. It allowed me to imbibe the essence of it and then create it myself. It just comes on it's own. Now my kids do the same and work a little with me.
It's very impressive to see how these people have been carrying forward ‘DHAROHAR’ since so many ages and are born so skilled and blessed by lord to create something so bizarre so easily, which is something that we only might fathom. Well, probably the perks of living in banaras where lord prefers you slighter more than others!
What do you create with your inherited skills?
We create kids toys, like auto, tanga rickshaw etc, lord sculptures as ganpati statues, vishnu rath/shiv darbar with gullar and deodar wood and even women’s beauty decor products like bangle holder handcrafted with famous LAKH elements.
“The RAM DARBAR and toys of god sculptures are the reason why our culture is still alive in this modern era and our kids still know about this. There is a story in every toy . The core share goes to this small traditional artisans who work so beautifully for its existence”
And what wood do you use to create these?
I use a wood called ‘DUDHIYA’, which is a soft and clear wood. Products made of this wood serve for a lifetime and remain youthful forever.
While telling about this Devendra told us about how this wood is no longer available to them anymore and what all problems are being caused because of this. They use a wood called ‘HALDU’ as a substitute. Sometimes they even have to use Eucalyptus instead, which has a very short span of life.
“Government has stopped this usage of ‘DUDHIYA’ wood from being used. This will only serve as a problem to them, as this wood develops itself, and if not cut on time, it will damage itself resulting in no use. It develops no fruit or anything. My father has directly talked to the Central Government and Modi Ji, and they have assured us that they would release the restrictions, but it might take some time.”
DEVENDRA SINGH:Banarsi Wooden Artisan
Banavat :The Making
The most vital part of our conversation was when we came to know exactly how the artisans create these toys and crafts. What procedure they follow and how much fun it actually is.
How do you process these woods into toys? What all tools are used?
My father has received a processing plant from the government where the machines dry out the wood and get it ready for thereafter use.
Our products are an amalgamation of both hands and tools. Most of our products are handcrafted. Slight attachments require machinery sometimes.
How long does it take you to create these? What extra things do you use to beautify them?
It takes us about one day to finish one toy. We have been using camel colours for almost 40 years now to paint these and we further varnish them for its shine and durability.
This truly came as an astonishment for us when he said that it only takes him one single day to make one toy. The hands of these artisans work faster than the machinery.All of this in one day!They are so detailed and precise in their work that you cannot believe at times that it's handcrafted. Also they use good quality materials which are Eco safe and harmless for kids.
“I envision the design of the toy or craft in my mind, and just that helps my hands work through its final structure”
What a heart to hand tryst!
LATTU KI KAHANI
In old times, it was believed that you can conceive a child if you offer something to god related to the child. Therefore, almost one lakh lattus ( table tops ) were made and were offered in bulk to god, in hope of a child by people who yearned one.Those lattus were made of natural Lakh material.
EK SE EK MILE, BANE MUTTHI
The people who consider their workers as a family and lead like an elder not a dictator, happen to derive the best from them. Same is the case with Mr. Devendra Singh, who along with his father, leads his 200 workers as co-artists, and not workers at his workshop.
In conversation with the artisans of banaras we also got to know how we can actually decipher the difference between real sheesham wood and a fake one.
Most of the retailers sometimes ask for an easy cheap alternative to sheesham but sell it for sheesham's price. In order to get this done, few artisans use boot polish on a basic wood to make it look shein and varnished like sheesham.
Devendra Singh assured us that he or any of his team members, have never attempted such deceit and are always transparent about the quality of their work and ethics.
The Government of India has been gracious enough to have provided these artisans with an entire atelier and machinery, as mentioned by Mr. Devendra Singh. But, that is not all. Our government tries to get this rooted talent of banaras all pervasive, hence, organizing exhibitions all over the country to promote their banarsi craft and identity of local artisans. Madurai, Madras, Gwalior, Bangalore, Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai and more are a few states out of many where exhibitions are conducted to promote such raw talent.
The internet platforms such as amazon, flipkart and websites like ours, Itokri ,have also benefited and promoted these local artisans globally. In this manner their work is visibly appreciated by not just our people, but foreign people who are ardent admirers of local ancient Indian craft.
''I am very happy with this company (Itokri). It provided us with exposure to sell our products to even those who cannot physically come and purchase our craft.''
There is no such field where you don't struggle. Mashakat hai zindagi, and we have to work through it. Similarly, these artisans are also facing problems due to certain restrictions. According to them, the future of wooden work is tarnishing due to less availability of wood and increasing price of electricity. A lot of skilled artisans have left their work and started driving Rickshaws. They are being doomed in such miserable conditions, and would be grateful if the ban on the usage of certain woods are released.
As a citizen of such a beautiful culture and dynamic craft rich country, it is our moral duty to keep Handicraft and small craft businesses alive. Dear 'kala ke kadardano' , kindly involve your kids in these skills and make them acquainted with them. A lot of craft work vanishes due to lack of interest in these fields. Let's promote our local indigenous craft all over the world and educate people about it's beauty and diversity.