The first thing you see as you enter the town of Channapatna on the Bangalore-Mysore highway is a blue banner that reads, “Welcome to the city of toys.” Something like India’s Disneyland, maybe? Well, not quite.
Channapatna is a small town between Bangalore and Mysore that is devoted to the art of toy-making. It is an old tradition that has survived many generations. These toys are made at the lacquer turneries in the town and are a unique form of vibrantly coloured expressions of play-land in wood. Speaking of wood, they are created by carving, sculpting, and lacquering the wood of the Wrightia tinctoria or Aale mara (ivory-wood) tree.
This craft of toy-making at Channapatna dates back to 18th century. Over 6,000 people are engaged in the activity. Artisans produce toys in 254 home manufactories and 50 small factories in villages around Channapatna. And the Karnataka Handloom Development Corporation (KHDC) plays a major role in marketing Channapatna’s products. What’s more, this traditional craft is protected as a geographical indication (GI) under the World Trade Organization, administered by the Government of Karnataka.
Did you know?
The popularity of these toys has resulted in the town of Channapatna being known as Gombegala Ooru or the ‘town of toys’ of Karnataka.
Tipu Sultan to Channapatna today
The origin of these toys can be traced to the reign of the ‘Tiger of Mysore’, Tipu Sultan, who was gifted a lacquered-wood toy made in Persia. So impressed was Tipu by the craftsmanship of the toy, it is believed that he invited artisans from Persia to train the locals in the art and craft of creating these toys. More than a century later, the craft is still with us. But in order to keep pace with the changing times and thrive, rather than just survive, in the face of competition, the business of making these toys has diversified. Now, in addition to the traditional ivory-wood, other wood like rubber, sycamore, cedar, pine, and teak is used to make these toys.
How Channapatna Toys are made?
On the matter of the making of these toys, in a nutshell, here’s how it’s done: to create these toys, the wood is procured, seasoned, cut into the desired shapes, pruned, and carved with great care. Once the carving is done, it’s time to colour. The colours are applied and the toy is polished into a gorgeous and inviting toy. Oh, and only vegetable dyes are used to colour, which ensures these toys are absolutely child-friendly and safe.
Channapatna Toy Factory - Wood Turning
Channapatna Toy Factory
Channapatna and Republic Day
So proud is India of the toys from Channapatna – and we have every reason to be – that the first cultural tableau at the 66th Republic day parade at Rajpath was from the state of the Karnataka and the main theme was Channapatna toys. In addition, the Karnataka government and the external affairs ministry even gifted a bagful of Channapatna toys to President Obama, the chief guest at the event.
Channapatna at the Republic Day
Channapatna and Michelle Obama
Now that we have touched upon the role of President Obama, one must also mention that the Obama connection with these toys actually goes back even further – during Obama's first visit to India in November 2010, his wife, US First Lady Michelle Obama, bought Channapatna toys at the National Handicrafts and Handloom Museum in New Delhi and took them back to the United States of America.
Michelle Obama with Channapatna Toys
And while we’re on the topic of Michelle Obama, let’s meet Rahim Khan, the man who made toys for The Obamas:
Channapatna and Microsoft
It may also surprise you to know that one of the patrons of Channapatna toys is the tech giant Microsoft, who source a lot of mathematical games and puzzles – as part of their initiative towards education of the under privileged children of the emerging markets of the world – from Channapatna and use them to spread the joys of knowledge and education.
Channapatna on video
Those who know Channapatna toys will tell you that they are simply delightful because they are colourful, exude joys, and look so friendly. These qualities are even more evident when you look at the way these toys are made and acquaint yourself with the other stories about Channapatna toys on video. You’ll find all this and more here.
Channapatna on Pinterest
Rabbits, soldiers, vases, trains, bells, dolls, rattlers, abacus, and much more to explore from the world of Channapatna on Pinterest. Pinterest, with its emphasis on visual presentation is a great place to feast your eyes on the delight-filled world of Channapatna toys in all its eye-popping glory. Here are a few boards and examples of the myriad ways in which Channapatna toys can make anything look happy.
Note: To browse through all the posts in the 'Handmade in India' series, click here.