This art of creating life like animal statues from leather is practiced in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. Craftsmen and their families practice this craft to create miniature to life size versions of all types of animals, from horses, cows and elephants, to lions, tigers and rhinos of the jungle, to exotic creatures of the wild, like giraffes, zebras and meerkats from a mere photographic reference.

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      The leather replicas of animals created in Indore cater to the enthusiasts of taxidermy. The animal kingdom in all shapes and sizes are made approachable using this method. They are mainly created as showpieces, furniture and souvenirs. 


      The leather toy-making craft is a brilliant example for showcasing the craftsmen’s talent. An accurate figurine, complete with posture details and muscular curvature, is skillfully created by the craftsmen merely using a photograph as reference. Even the patterns and textures on the skin are done with lifelike precision. The designs span from and encompass the animals in various poses and they are priced in accordance to the height of the toy.The Giraffe and elephant toys are seen to be the most popular among these. The factories usually store three bulk stocks to ensure a good rotation -“ the first batch is kept for the process of manufacturing, the second one created for foreign export markets and the third used in transportation to markets. The models are readied and stocked accordingly. The leather is stuck and is only worked upon, when orders are placed.Most of the workers involved in the craft belong to the scheduled caste or tribe and often work from home for larger export houses. Women and children are involved in the work too. Different families have specialized themselves in the various steps involved.

      Myths & Legends:


      One of the oldest crafts known to man is that of tanning animal hides to produce functional leather.From the earliest of our histories, mankind has used animal skins for clothing and shelter. But, the skins became stiff at low temperatures and rotted in the heat. Animal fats were eventually applied to keep the skins pliable. Humans have utilized this property and developed many utilities like garments worn on the feet or body, to keep food or water etc. As soon as we civilized Hunting of rare and ferocious animals, an ancient method of survival soon developed into hobbies of the rich and powerful. The feats were so brave and difficult that they would often display their exploits as trophies. This tradition led to the development of ‘Taxidermy’, the art of preserving animals in their original forms and it received the patronage of the elite. The art slowly spread its influence onto other artifacts and the clever craftsmen found ways for common man to have it too. Leather was used in crafting various animals from scaled down versions to life size ones. India is famous worldwide for its leather products. In the rural areas of India, hide from cattle and camel is locally cured after tanning, it is used to make different products.
      The craft of leather making in Indore was pioneered by ‘Gaffar Khan’, who received a National Honor in 1943. He was a graduate of ‘Bombay Art College’ and was employed in a government run press at ‘Devaas’. He would sculpt deities for festive occasions. Later he came upon the idea of making animals and giving them a realistic look. He experimented in leather tanning and using human hair to create the effect of fur on animals. He later found, that using plain leather without fur made the products more appealing. He developed this craft form and sold the animals at a local market called ‘Meena Bazaar’. This caught up in popularity and his fame spread far and wide. This craft form was so liked by the people that the government authorities requested ‘Gaffar Khan’ to train young artisans in the craft. These craftsmen slowly grew in number and the craft evolved into the leather toy industry of Indore. Its popularity reached its peak in the 90s when the textile mills closed in ‘Malwa’. People who had been laborers in the mills started learning the craft and now there are more than 5000 skilled craftsmen and a few have them have their own factories.


      The leather toys are designed in various scales and sizes (5 inch to 15 feet), and stuffed to resemble the shape of animals. Sometime these animals are shown to be in action, like elephants with raised trunks, running horses, raging bulls etc. The toys are worked in such great detail that even the texture of their skin and shades of color are matched to the original. The sizes range from life size to small portable ones that would fit on shelves. Many of the toys are also decorated with small patterns. These toys are made in such a way that they stand on their own and are not placed on any base or support.


      Leather is a difficult material to source in present times causing an escalation in its cost. This has caused a drop in production and sale of stuffed leather animals. The other major challenge the craft faces is the monotony in designs leading to buyer disinterest.  With time the designs and products have failed to change or evolve, causing stagnation in the craft.

      Introduction Process:

      Leather toys are stuffed miniature replicas of animal life, created in fascinating details and variety. The craftsmen follow a skillfully devised method of working with leather to achieve a lifelike precision in appearance. The whole process involves several stages and the product is put through the hands of various artisans who are masters of their specific tasks.

      Raw Materials:

      Wire: Galvanized iron or mild steel is used for making the basic skeleton of any toy. The wire is generally 1mm to 4mm thick depending upon the size of the toy.

      Grass / wood wool strands: It is wrapped around the wire skeleton to give mass to the body of the toy. In bigger sized models rice grass is also used for filling.

      Thread: It is used to fix the grass or wood wool strands on to the skeleton. It is a regular cotton thread easily available in the market. Jute thread is used for bigger models.

      Cardboard pulp: Is made by adding water and glue in the proportion of 1:20 to the cardboard powder, which is then crushed and made into a paste. Waste paper is used for packaging of items.

      Glue: It is obtained from crushed tamarind seeds. Water is added to the paste. Copper Sulphate is added to the paste which acts as a preservative. Locally called ‘Layee’, it does not leave any marks on the leather. It also helps in achieving uniform paint quality.

      Leather: The skin of any animal, bird or reptile. It is preserved through putrefaction, this process is called tanning. The leather used in this process is taken from goats and sheep, locally known as ‘Messi’. It comes from Chennai and Hyderabad and is the only raw material not sourced from Indore. Thickness of the leather ranges from 0.6mm to 0.8mm in skins and 1mm to 1.25mm in hides.

      Eyes, teeth and soles: Eyes of the toy are available separately in the market and are made of lac material. It is available in all colours and sizes, with sizes varying from 1/4th of an inch to 2 inch depending on the size of the toy. Teeth and soles are made in plastic or polythene, created by injection molding.

      Color: Synthetic water colors in powdered form, mixed with water in a proportion is decided by the craftsperson.

      Polish: Wax polish, applied in the end of the process to give a shine.

      Tools & Tech:

      Hatoda (Hammer), Spoke shaver, Chaku (Knife), Poker,  Awl, Fork, Paana/Taami (small tool for bending), Tocha (Fire lamp), Bubble wrapping, Blade etc.



      Leather toys are stuffed miniature replicas of animal life, created in fascinating details and variety. The craftsmen follow a skillfully devised method of working with leather to achieve a lifelike precision in appearance. The whole process involves several stages and the product is put through the hands of various artisans who are masters of their specific tasks.

      When the artisan sets out to make the toy, the form is clear in his mind. He begins the process by taking metal wires and makes a wireframe for the toy. When the wireframe is completed, one can already see the kind of animal which the wireframe will mature into. In next stage the artisan takes grass or hay and ties it around the wireframe with a thread. When this stage is concluded, the toy has already gained the necessary form of the visualized animal and the hay helps in keeping the weight of the toy to minimum.

      A pulp is made with waste cardboard or sawdust and tamarind flour. It is applied over the frame to smoothen out the form. The artisans involved in molding process are experts in depicting salient features of anatomy.
      If a large number of identical pieces have to be made, a fiber mold is designed. The pulp is filled into the same and shaped according to the mold. Once the pulp attains a rigid shape, the artisan adds final muscular finishes with his fingers or with other basic tools such as discarded comb handles and forks. Sometimes, the artisans add further finishes by attaching clay and fine pulp to the already realized form.

      Sticking the leather
      Rags are wrapped around the lower legs of the frame and covered with pulp to get the desired shape. Tamarind powder is boiled and made into glue, which is used to apply over the form. The leather is then stuck onto the form with the help of this glue. It requires great skill to put leather accurately over the animal form, the artisan makes sure that there are no wrinkles and there is no air trapped between leather and the pulp body. Different leather pieces are smoothened from the edges to have low thickness so that the overlapping of leather pieces does not result into irregularities. The artisan tries to place the joint in leather pieces beneath the animal body.

      After the leather is stuck, the finishing is done by rubbing a smooth stone over the wet leather. A blunt knife is used to put features on the streamlined body of the animals. The piece is kept to dry for almost 15 days. The drying out of leather is very important because if any moisture remains, it will cause the leather to expand later and warp leading to a decrease in quality. The artisans then finally attach eyes, teeth to the object. These are then bubble wrapped and packed in cartons.


      Cluster Name: Indore


      Indore is the largest city in the state of Madhya Pradesh. It occupies a prime location in all the major travel routes and has grown to have an eclectic blend of cultures and tradition, besides being an important hub for trade, transport and material sourcing for the entire country.

      District / State
      Indore / Madhya Pradesh
      3,017,000 (2020)
      Malvi, Hindi, English
      Best time to visit
      Stay at
      Many good quality hotels are available around the year.
      How to reach
      Well connected by rail, road and flights.
      Local travel
      Auto Rickshaws, Tempo Rickshaws and Buses.
      Must eat
      Indore is famous for its Poha- Jalebi dish, which is a specialty enjoyed by the locals and tourist alike. Other well-known delicacies include khopray ki pattice (coconut pasties), Daal Bafla. Sweets and snacks like Samosas are also available.


      Indore became an established center of commerce by 1715 AD, when many traders settled in the villages on the river banks of 'Khan' and 'Saraswati'. This was due to Indore's prime location in the route of the Marathas of Deccan on their way to North India. These Maratha Guerilla warriors were in constant battle with the Mughal Empire. It was also located on India's oldest pilgrimage routes from 'Mahakaal' at Ujjain on river 'Shipra', to 'Omkareshwar' on the river 'Narmada' and onwards to 'Rameshwaram'.
      The city derives its name from the temple of 'Indreshwar', which was constructed in 1741 AD. It grew as a center of trade under the 'Holkar' dynasty which reigned from 1733 AD to 1818 AD. The city became the capital of the 'Indore princely state' in 1818 AD, after the British forces under Sir John Malcolm, defeated the Holkars, led by Rani Krishanbai Holkar at Mahidpur. She signed the treaty of 'Mandsaur' by which the control of Indore went in the hands of the East India Company.


      Indore lies on 22.2 - 23.05 degrees North Latitude and 75.25 - 76.16 degrees East Longitude. The city lies in the 'Malwa' plateau and is the largest city of Madhya Pradesh. It is centrally located in the Indian subcontinent and lies to the south of the 'Satpura' ranges at an elevation of 553 meters above sea level.

      By air: 'Devi Ahilyabai Holkar Airport' connects Indore directly to Bombay, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Calcutta, Jabalpur, Raipur, Jaipur, Nagpur, Pune, Bangalore and Bhopal in India. It was upgraded to the status of an international airport by the end of 2008.
      By rail: The Indore railway network is part of the 'Ratlam' Division of the Western Railways. Indore is one of the several places in India with both meter gauge and broad gauge rail tracks that are operational. Regular train services connect Indore to most parts of the country.
      By road: Indore is well connected to other parts of Madhya Pradesh and India through national and state highways. There are some major highways which pass through Indore and connect it to the major cities. They are: the Agra-Bombay National Highway (NH3), NH59 which connects to Ahmedabad in the West and Betul, Itarsi, Bhopal in the east by a state highway.
      Local Transport: Indore has one of the finest public transport systems. In December 2005, the municipal corporation launched the Indore City Bus service, an extensive service with 24 routes servicing in most areas of the city. The other means of local public transport are the mini-buses (called 'Nagar Sevas' by the locals) and the Tempos and Auto-rickshaws.


      Indore has a humid sub-tropical climate. The summers, spanning from March to June, are hot and temperatures peak up to 40 degrees Celsius on the hottest days. Winters, spanning from November to February, are chilly and dry with the temperatures dipping to 4-6 degrees Celsius on some nights. The southwest monsoons bring in moderate rains of 35' to 38' from June to September.


      Indore is a thriving city, the largest in central India and plays a very prominent role in its economy. With its various large scale and small scale industries it is the commercial capital of Madhya Pradesh. Indore is also home to many prestigious educational institutions like the Devi Ahilya Vishwavidyalaya (University of Indore), The Daly College, Indian Institute of Management, Indian Institute of Technology etc. The city gets its water supply from the river Narmada and from the many surrounding lakes and bore wells.


      Indore is a well developed city that finds its place in contemporary constructions. However, it hasn't lost the essence of its historical monuments and traditions. These historical structures speak of different periods of rule in Indore like the Mughals, Maratha, Holkars and the British era. Some monuments are a blend of two styles like the 'Rajwada Palace' which is a mix of Mughal and Maratha architecture. The Indore skyline is specked with these elements retained from history as well as the high rise constructions of the present times.


      Indore is situated in the Malwa Plateau at the western region of Madhya Pradesh state in Central India. Malwa plateau is on the northern park of Vindhya Mountain Range which lies in western part of state, adjoining to Maharashtra state. If we go by the history of Malwa region, it remained under the influence of Maratha dynasties and rule. Holkar dynasty that ruled in Malwa region and developed this region is also originally from Maharashtra. So, it is found that Indore and its nearby towns & destinations have deep impact of Marathi culture in their dressing, social gatherings, local languages, festivals, rituals, housing styles and their food habits.
      Indore has a large Jain community as well as the highest Marathi population in Madhya Pradesh. There are also sizeable minorities of Muslims, Christians and Buddhists in Indore. The official language is Hindi and the dialects spoken are 'Bundelkhandi', 'Malwi' and 'Chattisgarhi'. The other major languages spoken in Indore are Marathi, English, Rajasthani, Punjabi and Sindhi.
      It is on the bank of River Khan and Saraswati, which merges at the city center. Being the biggest industrial city in the state, it is also called as the 'financial capital of Madhya Pradesh' and 'heart of Madhya Pradesh'. It is also the gateway to some of the magnificent riverside pilgrimage destinations & historical monuments. Here you will find the information on how to reach the city. Indore city is very well linked by road, train & flights with other important cities of India.
      All national festivals like 'Holi', 'Gangaur', 'Teej', 'Rangpanchmi', 'Baisakhi', 'Raksha Bandhan', 'Mahavir Jayanti', 'Navratri', 'Durga Puja', 'Dussehra', 'Ganesh Utsav', 'Deepavali', 'Ramzan', 'Gudi Padwa', 'Bhaidooj', 'Eid', 'Christmas', 'Baha'i Navruz' and other others like 'Nag Panchami', 'Ahilya Utsav', are celebrated with equal enthusiasm. There are many Shiva temples in Indore; 'Maha Shivratri' is celebrated as a major festival in Indore.
      Due to the good flavor, taste as well as variety of food in Indore, it is praised by food lovers all across the country. Indore is known for its popular variety of 'Namkeens' (salted savouries). The city takes a treasure trove of culinary information and today its menu caters to different kinds of taste buds. Spicy Chat Food like Pani-puri, vadas, samosas and the very delectable chola baturas are first choice of the people. Indore is well known for other dishes like Dal-Bafla, Nihari Gosht and Bafla-Gosht in Malwa Region. The city is well known for its drinks and thirst quenchers like the Shikanji, a fascinating drink which is a combination of milk and dry fruits. They are an integral part of the cuisine of Indore.


      Indore is the biggest city of Malwa region. People from various ethnic backgrounds inhabit this city. Majority of population speaks Malwi and Marathi. As the city is home to India's finest colleges, students from around the country flock to this city.
      The people from Malwa have a penchant for clothing themselves in colors. The traditional attire for women is Saree or Lehenga-choli and for men is the Kurta-pyjama, Dhoti and Safa. Malvi Safa is a unique type of turban which has a knot on one side of the head. The Muslim men also wear a Topi or a small hat. Most of the population has moved on to pants, trousers, shirts and t-shirts according to ease of use and contemporary influences.

      Famous For:

      Indore is famous for its 'Namkeens', a salted snack variety of 'sev', 'Dhania-Chivda', 'Papdi', 'Garadu' etc. It is also famous for the skilled craftsmen who create fascinatingly realistic products from leather, making leather toys a much sought after product.
      The 'Rajwada palace' is a seven storied structure, built more than two centuries ago and that forms the main square in the heart of the city. The historic palace of the 'Holkars' was built in a mixture of Maratha, Mughal and French style. The 'Gopura-like' monumental stone and wood structure is flanked by bastions, studded with balconies and windows. It is a strong testimony of the past grandeur of the 'Holkars'. It was burnt three times in the course of history and the last time was during the 1984 riots.
      The 'Lalbagh Palace' is one of the finest structures commissioned by the 'Holkars' and is situation by the banks of the River Khan. It is an opulent blend of the baroque and renaissance styles.
      'Gomattgiri' is a pious place for the Jain religion devotees situated atop a hillock near Indore. A statue of 'Gomatteshwar' stands built here, 21 feet tall. It is a replica of the 'Bahubali' statue of 'Shrawanbegola'.


      List of craftsmen.

      Documentation by:

      Team Gaatha

      Process Reference:

      Interview: Sharif Khan, Indore  (09/10/2010)
      Interview: Thakur brothers, Indore (09/10/2010)

      Cluster Reference: