Somewhere halfway on your journey between Bangalore and Mysore, you will be greeted by a town of rocking horses and wooden soldiers. As you glance across the board, “Welcome to the land of toys - Channapatna,” true to its name, you are immediately transported to the world of small miniatures. Your eyes then trace the vibrant wooden toys arranged serially in front of shops along the road, where every day is a Dussehra celebration. As you enter this land of toys, the real world disappears.
A historic art centre, Channapatna is a small town in the Ramanagara district of Karnataka. Popularly called the Gombegala Ooru (Toy Town), it has a population of around 72,000 people. A cultural hub of handicrafts, the town of Channapatna is powered by small-scale industries and local craftsmanship. Since it is located on the way to Mysore from Bangalore city, it is generally customary for people to buy Channapatna toys as souvenirs.
Far from ordinary toys, the traditional handicraft dates back 200 years. It is said that the then ruler of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, invited artists from Persia to train the local craftsmen in the art of wooden toy making. Ever since the families of this town have richly contributed to its development. This art was passed on to the next generations and, thus, has remained a household industry. In 2005, Channapatna toys got a geographical indication tag(GI) tag, a sign used on products that hail from a particular geographical location, acknowledging its uniqueness to that location alone. It is thus deemed to be known as its intellectual property. The GI tag also ensures that nobody outside Channapatna is authorised to produce the Channapatna toys. This is done to protect the interests of the artisans of the town and increases the value of assurance and quality in the market.
Channapatna toys are not only culturally unique but also eco-conscious in their making. The toys are made from ivory wood from managed forests and finished with eco-friendly, non-toxic dyes. Vegetable dyes are used in the process for child-friendly usage. Channapatna toys also include mathematical puzzles and games for children. Many factories like Bharat Art and Crafts in Channapatna provide a tour of the toy manufacturing process. Chennaptana is also home to India’s crafts park that aims at safeguarding and fostering skills for artisans. It also provides a space for exporters.
Although the craft has its share of challenges in dealing with the Chinese, cheap, and other modern toys, the Channapatna toy continues to be a symbol of tradition and Indian excellence. The Karnataka Handloom Development Corporation extended its support through the creation of the lacquerware craft Complex. Many social enterprises like Varnam Collective have empowered artisans by creating an array of designs within the home and lifestyle products, as well as jewellery. In 2021, Trishika Kumari Wadiyar, the wife of the 27th titular head of the Wadiyar family, began promoting the renowned Channapatna toys through her online venture, The Little Bunting, a children’s boutique. Many corporate firms have also aided trade and livelihood through their Corporate Social Responsibility(CSR).
With changing times and modernization, Channapatna toys are a tangible memory of childhood and a remembrance of a rich heritage. The next time you want to gift a loved one, make sure to pick a Channapatna toy because, this way, you are giving them a piece of history.