An hour's drive from the city of Bengaluru is a small town with a unique obsession. Channapatna, located on Bengaluru- Mysuru highway is a town of toymakers. Most houses here have artisans trained in the 200-year-old craft of making shiny, organic toys from wood and painting and polishing them. The indigenous industry is however, dying a slow death due to a lack of demand, reducing number of artisans and other factors.
There are many origin stories or rather myths about Channapatna's toy industry. A popular tale credits Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore, with having introduced toy making in the town. When Tipu ruled over the deccan from Srirangapatna, it is said that a Persian guest arrived at his durbar bearing gifts. These gifts were shiny painted wooden doll which fascinated the ruler. Immediately Tipu asked his foreign guest to get Persian artisans to teach the people of Channapatna the craft of doll making.
From the 18th century to date, nothing much has changed when it comes to the ingredients of a Channapatna toy. Wood is taking from the Wrightia Tinctoria tree of Haale mara in Kannada. This wood is then turned into different shapes and painted with vegetable dyes, kumkum, turmeric and other organic colours. To paint the wooden toys, coloured lac is used. The painted toys are then polished with screwpine leaves which gives it a shiny finish.
Fifteen years ago, the number of artisans engaged in the toy making business were around 5000. Today, this number has dwindled down to less than a 1000. Among the many reasons are the lack of demand, lack of marketing and logistics support for artisans and depleting interest to continue in this profession. The heavy influx of cheaper Chinese toys in the market also threatened the Channapatna toys in a big way.
To help revive the ancient craft, a few organisations have started factories and employed artisans to make these dolls. However, most manufacturers are convinced that unless serious government intervention takes place, the toy making industry in this town will face a slow but certain death.
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