With Toycathon, govt to focus on desi toys, superheroes from Indian mythology

Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank had launched the maiden Toycathon on January 5.

The Union Ministry of Education has approached city-based Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) and sought the latter’s expertise in Vedic studies as well as knowledge of ancient scriptures, manuscripts and cultures to incorporate in the making of next-generation toys and games, planned under ‘Toycathon’.

Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank had launched the maiden Toycathon – a type of hackathon to promote desi toys and toy-making based on Indian civilisation, its culture, ethos, technology, ethnicity, national heroes and important events — on January 5. As part of this programme, school, college and university students, along with professionals, can present innovative gaming ideas for all children, including the specially-abled.

“We have an expert team of oriental scholars, both young and experienced, who can assist in providing ideas and suggestions in developing toys based on Indian manuscripts, Vedas and our history. Last week, the Centre approached us and we are currently in talks with them,” said Prof Shrikant Bahulkar, Vedic scholar at BORI.

Prof Bahulkar also stressed on the need of using desi materials to build games and toys, to make the process fun-filled.

Incidentally, BORI is home to two ancient games — Ganjifa and Tabulphala — with the institute in possession of boards dating back to 100 to 200 years. A card game with 110 round cards with inscriptions of the numerous incarnations of Lord Vishnu, Ganjifa finds its origins in Sawantwadi, located on the Maharashtra-Goa border. Tabulphala of Goa resembles the present-day Ludo, but has a certain permissible pattern through which the pawns move along the wooden board.

Along with scholars of BORI, experts such as Arvind Gupta, Sudarshan Khurana and Manish Jain are all involved in the programme.

Globally, toy-making is a $100 billion industry, with China, USA, Germany and Japan as the key players. India imports 80 to 85 per cent of its annual $1.5-billion toy market. In comparison to the large giants, Indian toys have a miniscule presence in the global market.

The Ministry of Education, University Grants Commission (UGC) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) have all reached out to its network of school, college and university students, encouraging them to participate in the Toycathon, entry for which will be open till January 20. Prizes worth up to Rs 50 lakh have been earmarked.

Dr Abhay Jere, chief innovation officer of the Ministry of Education, told The Indian Express that steps are being taken in the right direction to revive India’s rich toy-making tradition, and it is time to enter the global toy market.

“India can produce innovative games and toys which no other country can make, based on our unique culture, history and civilization. India needs to be an active player in gaming. Why can’t we have PUBG-like games…and create Indian superheroes based on Indian mythological characters,” he said.

The New Education Policy, released last year, mentions the role of toys and gaming in the overall growth of children and their learning outcomes. In the August 2020 edition of his monthly radio address Mann Ki Baat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had hailed traditional toy makers from Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Assam, among other states.

“Based on the New Education Policy, we have constituted a special team which is working to develop toy-based pedagogy,” added Jere.

As part of the Toycathon, a few challenges have been released and student groups — identified in three categories, can submit their ideas. “Innovative ideas will then be selected. The teams will be provided with facilities and undergo workshops, and they will be encouraged to build toy and game prototypes. Then…we will connect them with the Indian toy manufacturers,” Jere added.

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