Welcome to the City of Toys, reads the blue banner on the Bengaluru-Mysuru highway as one enters the town of Channapatna, about 60kms from Bengaluru. It is just after the Sholay town of Ramanagara. The streets of Channapatna are filled with the colourful wooden toys which one cannot find elsewhere. The small town produces toys which are unique and showcases the unblemished talent of the craftsmen. Channapatna town is in the Ramanagara District of Karnataka and produces an incredible range of toys for kids across the world. In local parlance, this town is called ‘Gombegala Ooru’, which means ‘Town of Dolls’ or in more generic terms ‘The Town of Toys’. Channapatna was known as Chandapura in the earlier times.
History of Channapatna
The town’s toy making tradition is said to have originated in the 18th century when Tipu Sultan was gifted a lacquered-wood toy made in Persia. Impressed by the craftsmanship of the toy, he is said to have asked for artisans from Persia to be brought in and train locals to make such toys. Artisans who learnt the craft settled in Channapatna, some 65km from Tipu Sultan’s capital Srirangapatna. And thus the town’s association with toys began. The father of Channapatna toys was Bavas Miyan. He was known for his commitment to help the local artisans with the art of toy making and bringing in new technologies to improvise the toys in Channapatna. With a history of over 200 years, the Channapatna crafts cluster today engages over 3,000 people directly and indirectly in production of these toys.
Art of Toy Making
Channapatna town is popular for the cute and the impeccable craftsmanship depicted in these toys. On the streets of the Channapatna, one can witness the numerous wooden toys displayed all along the road side shops. Big
banners are hoisted showcasing the talent of the town. The classy and the creativity are on a high in these small-scale industries. The skilled artisans work in their small spaces and make these elegant toys.
The wood used for making toys is the Dhoodi Wood or hale mara as it is locally called (Milkwood) which is precisely white in colour and is soft enough to carve out. The toys are coloured using vegetable dyes. Polishing is done with high abrasive grass. These toys do not have any sharp edges or use any chemicals that can inflict any damage to a child. A total environment friendly setup is used to make these toys
|In a brief interview given to Prashanth Vaidyaraj Bureau Chief of Organiser, Bengaluru, Shri Shanthaiah, Manager Channapatna Crafts Park shared some of the activities of the Park and the challenges it faces.
How does the Crafts Park help the artisans and the toy industry?
The Crafts Park has a sophisticated Common Facility Service Centre with state-of-the-art wood working machines. We have 30 turning lathe machines here. Artisans use the facility to create their craft in lesser time and lesser effort as compared to manual effort. This enables manufacturing of more products in lesser time.
How can manufacturers
benefit from the Park?
Many manufacturers and exporters have established their individual manufacturing centers within the Park. We have also set up a Common Facility Service Centre for natural fiber which will help both the manufacturers and the individual artisans. We also have a wood seasoning plant to aid in quick seasoning of wood for
What are the kind of products that are manufactured here?
The companies and artisans here are engaged in the production of fashion accessories, corporate gifts, kitchen accessories, lifestyle products, wooden furniture, toys and dolls, traditional wooden games,
educational equipment, accessories for perfume products, natural fibre products, cane and bamboo articles.
What are the challenges faced by the toy industry here?
The traditional toy industry here is suffering due to China’s plastic toys and imitation products, which are toxic unlike Channapatna crafts. The industry suffered due to fall in demand. But now there are efforts from both government and NGOs to revive the industry and make it a lucrative vocation for artisans,
manufacturers and retailers too.
Is there any financial assistance provided to individual artisans and small manufacturers?
Financial assistance is provided to the artisans and manufacturers under the Vishwa scheme. The Dutch Government too provides monetary aid and has also provided high quality machinery.
How do you see the future for the Channapatna Toy industry?
The future is bright and there is an increase in demand for our products nationally. We can further grow if we have good demand internationally too. Infact, many new companies are also trying to revive interest in these toys and are in the process of setting up their
manufacturing units here.
Toys Across the Globe
The Channapatna toys consists of not just dolls and animal figures, but also mathematical games and puzzles. The specially designed soft wooden toys are used to teach mathematics. These toys break the monotony of learning and make the subject very enjoyable. Various toys are even purchased by giant IT companies like Microsoft, as an initiative to provide education to underprivileged children in various parts of the world. One cannot even imagine that the toys of Channapatna feature in every major exhibition
showcasing Indian crafts and goods across the globe.
Growth of Toy industry
During the last decade, there was a fall in demand for Channapatna toys and craftsmen started leaving the profession for more lucrative ventures. The main reasons for the dip in popularity was the inability of the artisans to recognise and keep pace with changing demands in the toy industry, their inability to advertise on a mass scale and the influx of inferior, mass-produced, cheaper Chinese toys in the market. The industry suffered to the extent that these toy designers had to shut shops and go elsewhere in search of their daily bread. But, when the world found out that the Chinese toys were not safe for children, the demand for Channapatna toys picked up again as they were totally safe for the kids. With the help of Karnataka Handicraft Development Corporation, the artisans made small prototypes, that were sold in the bigger markets. These prototypes brought in ample attention to the small town of Channapatna. Now more and more enterprises are seeking for such exceptionally safe toys available in the town. The Karnataka Government also constructed a Lacquer Ware Craft Complex, which has a manufacturing centre with about 30 turning lathe machines, at Channapatna. Prototype designs to suit modern tastes are provided by master craftsmen from the Design Centre of the Development Commissioner of Handicrafts, Bengaluru. An Artisan Training Institute (ATI) with modern machines has also been set up. Efforts are made to promote the products in the domestic sector. The State Government and the Karnataka State Handicrafts Development Corporation in an effort to boost both manufacturing and sales, established the Channapatna Crafts Park in 2013 to help preserve, nurture and grow the skills of the artisans by providing them with employment opportunities. Today, the Channapatna toy industry has so much demand that they are exporting more products to Europe and the United States and keeping less for the local market. A lot of NGOs and other companies have provided them with designs of global standards and have guided them to produce world class toys. The Dutch Government is also providing them aid. Many new companies are also trying to revive interest in these toys. And all this has led to a massive revival in the fortunes of these toy manufacturers. You will be surprised to know that the Microsoft India is one of Channapatna’s biggest customers. In the 2015 Republic Day Parade, when US President Barack Obama was the guest of honour, Channapatna toys were featured for the first time in the State’s tableau, and took home the third prize. When some toys were bought by Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama (First Lady of the United States) to be displayed in the White House, there was a definite upsurge in sales.
This traditional craft is protected as a Geographical Indication(GI) under the World Trade Organisation, administered by the Government of Karnataka. Over the last 4 years, many new companies and social enterprises have been reviving the Channapatna craft to suit modern tastes. iFolk Channapatna toys and handicrafts, a group formed by Bharath Art and crafts, promotes and supports lacquer ware artisans to do innovation and modernisation of their products. Bengaluru-based NGO Maya Organic is also supporting the industry.
Types of Toys
Besides the usual toys like models of train, cars, ships, rocking horses and tops, etc a lot of mathematical games and puzzles are produced as part of their drive towards educational toys. Channapatna also offers home decor and accessories products. Candle stands/vases are a treat to the eye as they are beautifully crafted with a chrome plated bottom. Some of these are even exported to Europe as there is a huge demand for such candle vases.
Many new items other than the toys have been introduced like cricket bats and wickets, photo frames, trophy bases, spectacle holders among other things.
A few years back when I had gone to Bengaluru I went to Channapatna with an imagination of seeing huge factories with hundreds of workers churning out these wooden toys like an assembly line. But, I was taken aback seeing the size of the industry. In reality, the toy making industry is a small scale industry. Some are so small that the work is done right outside the homes of these skilled artisans. The artisans normally use lathe machines and traditional tools to make the toys. Majority of them are shops cum industry where four to six people work together. There are some units which produce a complete product whereas some manufacture components of an overall product that get assembled in larger factories.
During my conversation with these skilled artisans, I found out that this craft of making wooden toys is an ancient family tradition that has survived many generations. In terms of production equipment the units have very simple tools to produce these toys. I was lucky to see the production of the candle vases and the tops whose creativity was simply outstanding. The tops that you see in the pictures above were made in just five minutes in front of me. And that includes cutting and shaping the wood, colouring it, polishing it and making it a market ready product. Channapatna is one place where there is not a moment of boredom and the child in you will surface from
within and become one with the surroundings. And then you also have the option to see how these toys are made and the skills and creativity involved in making them. If you ever go to Bengaluru you should must visit this place. All the toy factories (big and small) are open from Monday to Saturday except for national or state holidays and the small factories are open even on Sundays. Toys can be bought directly from the toy factories for a cheaper price, though you can still bargain if you want to.