October 16, 2019
Crafting colours of childhood into wood, Channapatna toys from Karnataka straddle the traditional and the modern through innovative designs that appeal to young ones while still evoking nostalgia in the older generations.
The wooden toys (Marapachi bommais) adorning ‘golu’ displays or found among the toy collections of grandmothers are a nostalgic reminder of days bygone. The brightly coloured wooden rocking horses, dolls, rattles, baby walkers, stacker sets and cooking utensils have survived stiff competition from modern day toys and are still being bought and gifted.
These toys originated, and are still made, in Channapatna town known as Toy Town, in Ramanagara district, about 65 kilometres from Bangalore. These Channapatna toys also sport a 2006 GI registration tag.
Sameer Ahamed, a local manufacturer tells The Covai Post, “This craft became prominent during the reign of Tipu Sultan (1750-1799) when Persian artisans came here. Their way of working was called patri work which was all manual. Then in 1900s our forefathers brought in Japanese machinery like lathes. This improved the end products and we are using that same technology, which is why our toys have global appeal.”
Sameer explains, “We use natural colours like shellac for these toys and white wood (scientific name Wrightia tinctoria) colloquially called ‘ala mara’, as raw materials. These trees grow abundantly in this area. We don’t cut the whole tree only the branches so there is no deforestation. The wood is soft, child safe and shapes easily. The carved toy parts are joined with dowels. Hardly any nails are used and there are no protrusions.”
This large-scale cottage industry has around 1,000 units in Channapatna, mostly owned by the same family for generations. Sameer says, “We have about six to ten workers and it takes about four days for each toy to be crafted. The painting and polishing is done by machines as hand painting will peel. Extra care is taken for export goods. Along with the traditional rocking horses, beads and animal forms, we now have items for household curios, corporate gifting and wooden jewellery like bangles which are popular. Every month new designs are released for new generation kids.”
The Karnataka Handicrafts Development Corporation (KHDC) has been helping this craft by giving subsidies, training artisans and linking them up with other designers to produce region and culture-specific toys. Online sales have also popularised these toys says Sameer who joined early last year.
“We have customers all over Tamil Nadu, mostly through Poompuhar and private art emporiums. Sales are roughly constant but rise during Dussehra and Diwali,” he adds.