Kondapalli is a village, much like others in Andhra Pradesh but has a place in the world map. The world knows it by the toys it makes – the famed Kondapalli toys. Widely recognised for their bright colours and distinct features, these toys have the distinction of being handcrafted using an age old process for over 5 centuries now.
The toys are made out of a special type of wood called Poniki that is light and can be easily crafted into shapes. Traditionally, poniki wood is used, also because these trees were the ones that were easily available near the village. The village of Kondapalli has families that have been involved in crafting the toys for generations now. It is believed by this community that their ancestors, many centuries removed, migrated from Rajasthan to Andhra Pradesh. Similarities in wood carved dolls from these regions are often related to this aspect of migration. The process of crafting these toys is quite an elaborate one. Wood from the trees is cut into size and dried for weeks to make it light, after which these pieces are heated before whittling the body of the toy. The main body is sculpted and then the rest of the body parts are attached using a natural gum made of tamarind paste and resin. The doll is then painted using natural vegetable colours. It is fascinating to see that artisans have retained the age old ways of crafting these toys over centuries.
Over the centuries, the Kondapalli artisans have been crafting dolls that represent humanity in all forms– cobblers, fruit sellers; divinity in the form of Gods from mythological tales, animals and more. A scene from rural life as shown in this set is a typical Kondapalli tradition – musicians playing outside a house where festive cooking is happening, as the cow looks on. Dolls such as these were first used as toys by children, as they were safe to play with – well made, non-toxic paints and also light weight. Most importantly they also played the part of educating children on different festivals, mythological stories and the roles people play in life.
The supply demand cycle of these toys was kept steady by constant damages in the course of children playing. As time went by, economic progress and technology brought more variety of toys and activities to children. Kondapalli toys have now become part of the annual Navarati doll festival. Though this tradition keeps the delightful toys of Kondapalli alive, it is time children re-discovered the joys of playing with these simple toys. Bring home some tradition; gift your children this set of a herbal medicine man and tell them the stories that your grandmother told you. You will find them coming back for more! And at Kondapalli, a family of artisans will be thanking you.