As I grow old, I become more nostalgic about my childhood days in the 1980s. It was an era without Internet and Smart Phones, no pizza or any food of foreign origin. Our favourite pastime was ‘playing’, enacting Odisha’s folk stories and colourful legends.
Though I was a boy and the kandhei bahaghara (marriage of dolls) used to be a pastime activity for girls, but we all celebrated our childhood to the tune of the ditty –
“Aa Baula Bohu Bohuka Khela Kheliba,
Come, friends – let’s play doll marriage having fun and joy
Jhia bahakari pua bahakari
By letting marriage between our daughter and son
Jani – jautuka deba”
And giving away dowry and gifts
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Toys have been integral to India’s 5000 years of civilization. From the dawn of Indus Valley until the time computer games and cheap Chinese toys started making inroads to India’s interiors, playing with traditional toys dominated the length and breadth of the country. In past, India had a rich tradition of making toys using a variety of material. However, unfortunately very few have survived.
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One of these is Jau Kandhei, or Lacquered Toys, which since the 17th century is being made as part of Balasore’s folk tradition. Today, dolls made of fired clay, painted with colourful lacquerer and artistically designed with lacquered threads are an integral part of Balasore’s folk culture.
Silpi Kesu Das lives in Balasore, the largest city in North Odisha and located midway between Bhubaneswar and Kolkata. Connected by both excellent road and rail Balasore is also a major tourist destination especially for its Chandipur Beach. There are excellent stay options in and around Balasore for all kinds of travellers. The founder of Balleswari Kala Kendra Silpi Kesu Das’s workshop is located near Remuna Golei in Balasore City.
Dublagada, Koshamba Nagar, Near Remuna Golei, Po – Bhimapura, Dist – Balasore, Pin-756003, Odisha, India Website: http://www.jaukandhei.com Mob: 9861104590
In the 17th Century, Balasore was at the centre of Odisha’s seafaring culture. Surrounded by the estuary of Budhabalaga River, which meets the Bay of Bengal near the famous beach of Chandipur on one side and the dense forest of Nilagiri and Kuldiha on the other side, Balasore had a strategic position in the maritime map of India. The city was positioned at the crossroad of ideas. It was Balasore where the Dutch followed by the Portuguese, French and the British first arrived in the north-east coast of India to establish factories and trade. The forest of Nilagiri and Kuldiha had an abundance of lacquer which was used for making toys.
Balaram Gadi near Balasore – a major harbour in the 16th century
In the words of Silpi Kesu Das, an internationally acclaimed lacquered toy artist, ‘keeping a pair of dolls in the bedroom is considered auspicious in our tradition. This is why the bride’s family used to gift lacquer dolls to the couple in earlier days. It glorifies the celestial relationship’.
Kesu’s Miniature Paintings – Horseshoe Crab, a rare marine species from Balasore finds depiction in each of his painting.
Watch here his interview.
Author – Jitu Mishra
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org