A town dedicated to lacquerware and toys, wooden toys in particular, that lies on the Bangalore-Mysore highway is an energetic small town of artisans called Channapatna, Karnataka. Located 60 kms from Bangalore, this ‘gombegala ooru’ or toy town is a must-visit for those with young children or parents-to-be. Channapatna toys are manufactured in traditional and advanced small scale industries.
Some 200 years ago, Tipu Sultan of Mysore had invited Persian artisans to teach the art of toy making to locals. This tradition of toy making initially started with a locally available ‘Aale mara’ (ivory wood). It was turned, machined and finished on traditional lathe. They used vegetable colors and lac to color the toys with simple symmetrical forms. The most important thing you’ll notice as soon as you enter a workshop is that not a single artisan are wearing any footwear and there are wounds inflicted from the wooden chips scattered all over the place. The reason being they doesn’t take their craft work as a job but as a god’s craft and that’s why they consider their workshop as temple and no one wears a footwear and enters a temple. Nor does anyone use safety goggles because it is seen as interference in viewing the fine details of wood.
The craft has attained a Geographical Indication (GI) under the World Trade Organization and caters to global needs; also several other varieties of wood are now taken into account such as teak, rubber wood, red cedar, silver wood and Nepal wood. Since last couple of years, the trade saw a decline with an emergence of cheap Chinese imitations, but as soon as the customers became aware of the toxic chemicals used to make those toys, the handmade Channapatna toys came back in demand. The toys are so safe and attractive that even Michele Obama couldn’t help herself and took few of the toys as a memoir to White House during her visit to India.
The toy workshops still rely on traditional methods; the locally found wood is turned on lathe and colored with organic sources such as turmeric for yellow, indigo for blue, red from vermillion and brown from katha (A paste of Catechu and water). Artisans use a locally available cactus leaf as a file. Each piece is processed with hands & it is made sure that none of the toys have sharp edges. The lacquer finish makes them further smooth, imparts a luster and brightens up the colors further. These special qualities make Channaptna toys ideal for children.
The craftsmen too have moved on from traditional designs to contemporary designs and are open to exploring new collaboration to keep abreast. The town is getting orders from international corporate houses such as Microsoft. Puzzles, space accessories, kitchen utilities are also in great demand. One tenth of the total population of the town is directly associated with Channapatna toy business for their livelihood. The town is also becoming a major tourist destination for people who come in search for these toys.
A country remains poor in wealth both materially and intellectually, if it does not develop its handicrafts and its industries- Mahatma Gandhi