Clay Toys of Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu is famous for terracotta toys and the craft is flourishing in Chennai, Kanchipuram and parts of Arcot district. The craft has passed down from generation to generation and the artisans have a tradition of excellent workmanship and fine colouring.

Clay toys are made in two stages";" the first of which involves plaster of Paris mixed with tapioca powder to form a paste which is dried till it can be rolled into layers. This is pressed into the die to get the moulds. The raw material used is rock clay which after being properly moistened, is pushed into the mould dusted with French chalk powder so that it can be easily removed. It is then dried in the Sun before colouring. The work is divided between the men who knead the clay, roll it into layers, make the moulds and the women who use brushes to do the colouring with colours that are kept in coconut shells.

At Chennai, this art is practised by 300 artisan families from Cuddalore who have settled in Kosapet. Kanchipuram is also a well-known clay-toy making centre.

Karigiri near Vellore is well known for its toy animals especially the toy zoo which is a collection of wild animals made in glowing clay glazes. A variety of comic toys called Chettiar toys are comical in appearance with traditional garb, sacred thread and a paunch. The modern version wears trousers, a shirt and has an oscillating-head. A toy called gundu Chettiar is believed to bring good fortune and is bought by traders.

The dolls that are used for the festival Dusserah are usually made of terracotta and each household sets up a display of dolls and toys depicting stories from the epics and Puraanas.