For 400 years craftsmen and artisans have made wooden toys and duco paintings and this tradition is known as Nirmal Art.
Nirmal Art, encompassing a 400 year old tradition of making soft wood toys and paintings, occupies a place of pride in the world of handicrafts. The finely carved figures and dainty paintings are still being used to decorate drawing rooms in thousands of homes across the country. The small town of Nirmal in Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh was once famous as a production centre of as diverse things as cannons and toys. While the foundry supplied heavy artillery to the army of the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Naqqash craftsmen and artists brought out exquisite wooden toys and duco paintings under the name of Nirmal Art.
The foundry was closed soon after Hyderabad's accession but the art form has survived many ups and downs, the most impacting being the loss of its patron, the Nizam. Elegant toys and paintings continue to be produced by the Naqqash artisans at this town located just 4 km off the new four lane National Highway No. 7 about 220 km from Hyderabad.
Though no records pertaining to their origins exist now, it is believed the Naqqash families were brought here from Rajasthan in the 17th century by Neema Naik (or Nimma Naidu according to another version), the local chieftain after whom the town itself is named. Many changes have since been incorporated in their art form obviously to suit the taste of the patrons of the time.
Initially, the Naqqash, or Jingar artisans, had produced only toys from the locally available variety of softwood called poniki or white sander. They made wooden furniture during the last Nizam's rule. Soon after Independence, these artisans fell on bad times. The Government came to their rescue and formed a society called The Nirmal Toys and Arts Industries Cooperative Society Ltd. in 1955.
The artists shifted from natural dyes to duco paints. Due to use of the duco colours, the Nirmal paintings acquire a typical shine. The toys are also painted in enamel colours giving them the sheen they are known for.
The Jingars have discontinued making the fine Kishti (tray), Khanchibba chowki (settee) or the Palang (cot) owing to the change in customs. “These articles were used as dowry gifts in marriages and were ordered mostly by the Muslim nobility during the time of the Nizam", says Busani Narsimlu Verma as he recalls the hey days of Nirmal Art.
The papier mache Ganjifa playing card sets were also made at the Nirmal workshop. Octogenarian Busani Narsingam is the only artisan who specialises in making the delicate playing cards that originated during the Mughal rule.
“We had used natural dyes made from leaves of different plants and trees until it became time consuming and a laborious task. We now use synthetic colours purchased from the market", says the veteran craftsman, who started his career more than 60 years ago, about one of the major changes in the art form.
The Nirmal artisans have won accolades and awards from different quarters, including a merit certificate won by Narsingam from the All India handicrafts Board, Ministry of Commerce, in 1983. Nirmal Art has also received a patent in 2010.