A Brief History of the Channapatna wooden toys:
If the beautiful and quaint little town of Channapatna in the rural Bangalorian district of Karnataka state in India is known for something, then it is the famous and instantly recognizable Channapatna wooden toys. In fact, another name by which this town goes, is Gombegala Ooru, which translates directly into “toy town”.
How the Channapatna toys came to be:
The origin of the Channapatna toys can be traced back to the times of Tipu Sultan, the historic ruler of Mysore. It is so known that he was an ardent admirer of arts, but in particular, of woodwork. Thus, he provided royal patronage to wooden artists and invited wood workers all the way from Persia to explore the woodwork in India and expose the Indian artists to more innovative forms of woodwork. Of course, the art underwent dramatic changes over the years. Later, a man by the name of BavasMiyan undertook the responsibility to introduce Japanese doll making techniques to improve production and reduce the effort that went into making each piece of toy
What sets them apart from other toys in the world is that the artists use the more environment friendly and child safe vegetable dyes to paint them, making them a better and more preferred alternative to the other toys that contain lead based paints.
The wood used in the construction of the Channapatna toys:
Traditionally, the craftsmen use the locally available wood from the Wrigtiatinctoria tree, which is also called by the name of Aalemara by the local people of Karnataka. The wood is procured locally, seasoned for some time which can vary from a few weeks to even three months. Then the logs of wood are cut into desired shapes using both hands as well as machines, and finally carved. The distinctive lacquering of the shaped wooden toy, which is done with natural shellac extract, is what makes it durable and resistant to easy damage. Then the lacquered product is dyed using various types and colour of vegetable dye, which means that it is safe even for the local artisans that are handling the toys. Finally, they are given a polish to finish them off in a well-rounded manner.
Now, the artists are branching out on a wider scale and starting to use a wide range of wood to construct their toys, including rubber wood, cedar wood, teak as well as pine.
The struggles over the years:
As is the case with most native forms of art, the Channapatna toy making industry faced a severe backlog once it lost its royal patronage. Over the years, it has suffered some incredible financial setback and even came close to being shut down for good. A few decades ago this industry, which is traditionally kept in the family and passed down from one generation to another, also had to face fierce competition from the Chinese toy manufacturing companies, which also became largely popular due to their cheap rates.
However, the local government has taken an initiative wherein the local artists are trained better in order to compete in the modern day competitive market and keep up with the changing trends. There has been introduced a new scheme where master craftsmen come up with new and innovative designs and prototypes which are shown and exposed to the local toy makers in order for them to keep their craft trendy and modern with the changing times.
Today, the Channapatna toy industry has financial patronage from the Dutch government, apart from the local Indian government. Big names like Livecrafts are making this into a global phenomenon, which is not only increasing the patronage, but giving jobs to a number of local people. However, the main revenue for the Channapatna toy industry comes from the exporting of these toys.
The Channapatna toys today:
Forget the large scale toy stores, it is the amazing toy factories that you need to visit. Such is the popularity of this craft that they are displayed in all major exhibitions and carnivals all across the country of India. But there is more! You can even find Channapatna toys even in the White House. It so happens that Michelle Obama was so taken by these pretty little things that she took some of them back home with her as mementoes to remember her trip to Karnataka.
Even today, the Channapatna toys are made in small scale factories that barely employ a handful of people. In fact, do not be surprised if you see a bunch of people just sitting down together and making these toys right outside of their homes. The wooden toys are a part of the daily lives of the people of Channapatna. There also exists the Artisan Training Institute to promote this skill among the people of the newer generations. A trip to Channapatna without visiting at least one toy factory and getting a few souvenirs for your loved ones is incomplete!