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  • Shreni Community Trust

Channapatna Toys - Of Playful Heritages

Nestled in the Southern region of Karnataka, a large signboard across the highway welcomes you to ‘Channapatna, The Land of Toys’. You’ll find tiny stalls dotting the road ahead, with curious customers looking to buy toys of the land. This town holds histories of generations - the work of several families distilled into a tradition that continues even today. Team Shrenis invites you to take a look behind what you see.

Drive past the signboard, and into the towns that house these heritage toymakers, and you will be met with a riot of colour - reds, yellows, and greens bursting out of every workshop, every stall that sells Channapatna toys. Today, these toys are celebrated as markers of unique histories. In India as well as abroad, these wooden toys have found their way onto desks of politicians, heavyweights in the IT industry (most notably Microsoft, who sources puzzles made in Channaptna), and many more decorated places. Having a toy set from Channapatna is almost like distilling your childhood and keeping a reminder of it close to you, even as you face the big, bad world!

Rooted in History

Historians in and outside the community agree that the art form took root in the time of Tipu Sultan. This places its inception around the 18th Century. It is said that the Sultan encouraged the exports of Channapatna toys in foreign markets, and also sent emissaries to various kingdoms with the toys as gifts. Although there is some discussion around this, it is widely believed that Tipu Sultan’s interest in the art form gave great impetus to its growth. Artisans who were encouraged to become creators eventually settled down in areas around Channapatna and Mandya, Karnataka.

We spoke to Farooq, a Shrenis member from Channapatna, and a master toymaker himself. He said, “Earlier, we used to make these toys by hand. Say, till around 60 years ago. Machines came in later and changed the method of production, but the essence is the same.” The technique of making these toys is a heritage that is handed down from generation to generation. Wood from the Ivory Tree was traditionally used for crafting these toys. The soft and harmless nature of this wood made it the ideal material for artisans to work with. Added to this comes the use of non-toxic paints that are made by the artisans themselves, by hand. With great skill, the toymakers craft unique pieces of art in the guise of toys - art that enchants and delights, no matter where it goes.

Today, the toys are also fashioned from teakwood, silver wood, and cedar among others. An interesting fact is that almost no wood is wasted in the process - all that’s left from the initial carving goes towards incense-making! Talk about sustainability and sustainable design.

The demand for these toys has seen its highs and lows. Recently, this heritage craft faced stiff competition from imported toys, which led to lower demands. Add to that the impact of the pandemic and the lockdown, and the However, there seems to be hope on the horizon. With the recent push for Indian handmade goods to be showcased at an international level, there seems to be an interest being taken in the welfare of the communities who make traditional Channapatna Toys. Their cause found expression in the speeches of our Prime Minister as well!

At Shrenis, we’re working with the Channapatna cluster to try and understand how we can help. So far, we’ve identified key areas and pain points that require assistance of some sort, and our efforts will be aimed at addressing those. Keep an eye out for some initiatives we have up our sleeves, and how you can contribute to our efforts and help the Channapatna toymakers.

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