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Channapatna toys on display outside a handicrafts store in Karnataka

Bangalore attracts tourists and the urban population in two concentrated areas. One is the Bangalore-Mysore Road, and the other is at the helm of Brigade Road. At these places, colorful toys are displayed in scores, some in large woven baskets, some hanging off colorful threads, and some of the larger ones sitting pristine on the footpath, watching the movement of the people. These toys are the famous Channapatna craft of Karnataka, the pride of the state.

The Channapatna craft originated in Persia, and Tipu Sultan is said to have patronized it in Mysore. Local artists were taught how to carve wood into these geometric patterns, and color them with dyes, way back in the days of the Vijayanagar Kingdom. They survived the patronage of many rulers after that, and have a global acclaim today.

A small town between Bangalore and Mysore, Ramanagara, has kept this craft alive. Earlier, the wood was primed by hand, but when the craft declined, Japanese technology was introduced by Bavas Miyan, to help cut and shape the wood. He is known as the unofficial Father of Channapatna toys. Dyeing and processing is still done manually.

A Channapatna artists carving shapes on the wood manually Image source: wikimediawikimedia

Channapatna toys are made from soft woods. They are carved from ivory wood, or aale mara as it is known in Kannada. Sometimes, special toys are carved from rosewood and sandalwood as well. Ivory wood, being light in color, and almost weightless makes for a suitable material to craft children's toys. It easily takes on the dyes as well, which are made from turmeric, Kumkum, and vegetables. The wood is first dried, sanded, and then carved. After this, it is checked for uneven surfaces, and when the shapes are approved, it is painted and sold.

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In 2010, when US President Barack Obama visited India with his wife, his interest in these toys earned them global acclaim. In 2015, they were featured as the theme for the Bengaluru Republic Day parade. Since then, many international companies and businesses have invested in this handicraft.

A Channapatna artist painting the toys using vegetable dyes Image source: wikimediawikimedia

Ramanagara is known as Gombegala Ooru in Kannada which means "Town of Toys". It was a vibrant business centre in the days of Tipu Sultan, and today, it has preserved its identity for its unique art. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has come to recognise this town as a Geographical Indication for its work. Channapatna toys are available in stores all over Karnataka, and are special features at places like Chitrakala Parishad and Cauvery Emporium. They are also sold online.

Keywords: Toys, Handicrafts, Channapatna, Karnataka, Dyeing, Ramanagara.


Photo by Andreas Haslinger on Unsplash

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