In a corner of Bodoland in Assam, a local brand has been busy creating handmade toys that reflect the land's culture.
These cloth toys are dressed in traditional clothes and convey the stories of the Bodo community. There is Ada Lowdoom (a Bodo traveller), Bodo Jwhwlao (a traditional Bodo fighter), Gowdang Rani, a Bodo princess, Lowgee dressed in a dokhona (traditional Bodo women's costume), and UN (aka Upendra Nath Brahma) dressed in a traditional gamcha. These bright toys, which have begun showing up at craft bazaars and trade fairs across India, are made by Zankla Studio.
The toys are predominantly crafted from locally sourced materials, focusing on sustainability and a future goal of using organic alternatives for any non-local or non-organic components to enhance their eco-friendliness.
The person behind Zankla Studio is Kirat Brahma, a National Institute of Design (NID) alumnus.
Brahma's story begins in the idyllic village of Rangapani (Red Water), near the captivating Manas Mowjigendri Eco-Tourism National Park and close to the Indo-Bhutan Border in the Baksa district of Bodoland in Assam. Growing up amidst the splendour of nature, he developed a profound appreciation for his Bodo community's cultural heritage.
In 2021, Kirat returned to his native place, determined to contribute to his community's heritage and create a sustainable business. He founded Zankla Studio to preserve Bodo traditions through heritage handmade soft toys. Each piece was meticulously crafted, imbued with the essence of his village and cultural roots. His creations not only showcased the richness of Bodo traditions but also provided economic opportunities for local artisans.
The Idea Behind The Toys
Zankla Studio's journey is rooted in addressing crucial societal challenges and preserving their rich heritage culture. "The very idea behind Zankla Studio was born out of a pressing need," says Brahma. "We saw the harsh reality of racial discrimination in mainland India, which particularly affected tribal communities. This injustice fuelled our determination to take action. Another critical issue we identified was the tribal identity crisis. Traditional cultures and identities were gradually fading away due to various influences. We believed that preserving and celebrating these identities was not just a goal but a responsibility."
Unemployment was also a widespread problem in their local area. "We knew that creating sustainable livelihoods for our community members was essential to empower them and uplift the region," explains Brahma.
Equally concerning was the loss of their cherished traditions. Brahma found that the cultural heritage of his region was at risk of being forgotten over time. Zankla Studio set out to find innovative ways to revive and sustain these traditions. "Our approach was clear: we would use creative, design-thinking methods to tackle these issues head-on. We started by crafting handmade heritage soft toys inspired by local folklore and traditions," says Brahma. "Collaborating closely with local artisans, we aimed to provide economic opportunities, not just charity. These toys, while entertaining, would also educate children about their cultural roots, creating a bridge between tradition and modernity."
Brahma applied the play-way method, infused design thinking, and emphasised handcrafted quality. By using locally sourced materials, they not only ensured the toys' quality but also supported the communities they worked with. Inspired by the rich tapestry of local stories, Zankla Studio designed toys around folk characters, including historical, mythological, and fictional figures. "For instance, take Sikhiri, the Butterfly Soft Toy," says Brahma. "This creation is a marvel of design, art, and craft, inspired by nature's evolution. Just as a butterfly transforms from an egg to a caterpillar to a chrysalis before emerging in all its splendour, our toy symbolises the beauty of change."
The larger figure toys have garnered particular attention and affection. For instance, characters like Gowdang Rani (Queen of Moonlight Glow), Theng Phakri (the Boro Girl fighter), and Shikhwna Jwhwlao (Boro warrior who stood against the British) have been favourites among customers. In the animal-themed section, FALO (Wild Water Buffalo, an endangered species), Red Fish, Na Magur (Wild Beast of River), and Butterfly (The Teacher of Change) have also captured the imagination of many.
The Team Behind Zankla Studio
Zankla Toys are predominantly crafted from locally sourced materials, focusing on sustainability and a future goal of using organic alternatives for any non-local or non-organic components to enhance their eco-friendliness. The team at Zankla Studio, affectionately known as "Team Zankla," includes Bharati Brahma (Kirat's mother), also a co-founder of Zankla Studio. "Her role is crucial as she takes the lead in developing projects and ensures they come to fruition, guiding us with her wisdom and determination."
Then there is Rani Baro, the "talented Female Queen Tailor", who transforms ordinary fabric into enchanting toys that capture the imagination of children and adults alike with her sewing skills and creativity. Umakanta Brahma, fondly known as Raja, is the "King of Male Tailor" who brings finesse and precision to every piece he works on. Sharma, a former migrant worker, plays a pivotal role as supervisor. "But he's more than just a supervisor; he infuses the workspace with positivity and turns the production process into a joyful celebration."
The artisans are Ringki, Hanzita, Nijwm, Mwina, and Dwimushree who infuse their passion and creativity into every aspect of toy-making, from painting to crafting, making each toy a work of art.
As Zankla Studio flourished, Brahma's dream of creating a legacy honouring his village and community came to fruition. His soft toys have become cherished heirlooms, treasured for generations to come.
Brahma's journey from a village boy to a heritage artisan epitomises the power of passion, dedication, and community pride. Through Zankla Studio, he continues to share the beauty of his Bodo heritage with the world, leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of sustainable business and cultural preservation.
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Address: Hazuwa, Simla, Opp. KC Collage Baksa, 781330, Assam