“Made using wood and vegetable dyes, the colourful Channapatna Toys have travelled from Karnataka to the White House and also caught the f ancy of the young Prince of Bhutan.”
About 60 km from Bengaluru lies the home of colourful wooden toys of Karnataka, Channapatna. The name is synonymous with beautiful and colourful toys that not only enthral kids but also make for exquisite souvenirs. As one enters in the lanes of the town, an old craftsman can be seen sitting in the corner of a shop surrounded by colourful baubles of all shapes and sizes, chipping away at a piece of wood that would eventually take a beautiful shape. The origin of handmade lacquer wooden toys dates back to the period of Tipu Sultan who was a great admirer of these toys. He invited artisans from Persia to train artists in the process of making wooden toys. Interestingly, the vibrant toys are eco-friendly and made with non-toxic vegetable colour dyes.
The Channapatna toys require tremendous skill to be crafted. The procured wood is seasoned for two to three months and then carved in desired shapes. After smoothening it with sandpaper, artisans press the lacquer stick on the piece of wood and due to the heat produced by friction, the lacquer gets applied leaving a shining surface. The stage of surface embellishment involves adorning the toys with decorative elements. Some artisans also use cactus lead to smoothen the rough edges. Even today, the toys are made at homes and not in large factories. Around 250 homes with almost 6000 artisans work day and night to craft these beautiful toys. At times, the individual parts of these toys are produced at one place and then later assembled at another. For tourists, an added attraction is to see the making of these toys at the shops. Not just dolls, the toy town of Karnataka allows you to choose from myriad options ranging from wall hangings, candle stands, key chains to earrings and more.
The artisans are very good at making toys such as trains, bullock-cart, vintage cars, bikes, animals, scooters, etc. Among the products, one can also pick some home decor and fashion accessories made with Channapatna toy making technique. These toys are exported to different parts of the country and some are also made on buyers’ demand. The traditional speciality is revered across the globe for its ecofriendly nature and thus the government of Karnataka has given the craft the status of Geographical Indication (GI Tag). The toys are a royal souvenir as well, being gifted to the young Prince of Bhutan on his maiden visit to India in 2017, by the then Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
Words: Kritika Dhawan