The tradition of making miniature models of animals and human figures in the form of dolls and toys for the purpose of entertainment of the children is prevalent all over India. The earliest and most exceptional collection of Indian toys dates back 5000 years and was found at the sites of the Indus Valley Civilization. Apart from the extremely naturalistic terracotta figurines of human beings and animals, the people of this early civilization made highly animated toys such as bulls with moveable heads, monkeys sliding down a string, carts with rotating wheels and birds and animals with built-in whistles. As Professor Fairservis writes: “Games and toys other than dolls seem to have been widely used in Harappan times. We have such things as the ball and spiral-mountain toy, pottery rattles, throw-sticks in bone or ivory, dice, miniatures vases, and possibly the enigmatic terracotta ‘cakes’, which may have been counters”. Archaeology and literary sources of Indian history of subsequent periods amply prove that a variety of amusing toys, dolls and puppets were popular all over India. 1
Almost every region of India is renowned for its distinctive tradition of toys. One of the oldest and most popular media for toys has been that of painted and lacquered wood. The toys are rendered in the best naturalistic form which impresses one very much. Exquisitely painted with natural colours and highly decorated with costumes and other motifs the toys often look highly stylized.
Exquisite lacquered terracotta dolls and toys of primitive type are made in most of the places in the eastern region of India such as West Bengal, Bihar and Assam. Orissa is famous for its highly ornate toys, which usually display the elaborate use of pellet and include animal and bird figures. Some popular toys and dolls of the region are pari, goalini, ganeshjanani.
In Orissa and Bengal, the Shankhare cast of lac bangle makers produce a heartening variety of lively terracotta dolls and toys, lac-painted in bright, spirited colours. Lac comes from the resinous secretion of tiny insect called Laccifer Lacca. These are made by the women artisan of Shankhare community of western Orissa. For decoration, various floral and geometric designs are laid out on the body of the molded terracotta dolls with melted sticks of lac by hand.