Toys! Toys! Toys!!! Growing-up in India and spending one’s early years in the Southern states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, was for the child in me the most precious gift my parents could give me. The gift that kept on giving through my adulthood and will, I suspect, keep that awe-struck child within intact for the most part. And how’s that?? ? Well, there were sprawling avenues of Wise Banyans, Silent clusters of Sandal Wood tress, appetizing Mango Groves, Guava and Custard Apple fruit plucked straight-off the trees, Banana trees with endless sumptuous bundles of perfect bananas, large and small, raw tangy-green and ripe mushy-yellow with exotic burgundy flowers, tall trees with deep purple succulent Jamun, Jackfruit tempting at a just-within-our-reach position, Papayas in pendulous abundance, Grapes in Green and Red colors and Raisins dried-on-the-vine.
Food was clearly always right-up-there-ahead on my innocent, perpetually famished agenda! There were tales of snakes and festivals devoted to the faithful offering milk in bowls to the Cobra, no less, with great affection and reverence. How amazing is that! The cow and bull, were dressed-up in great finery and walked about with, colorful horns and jingling bells included. Exotic, earthy, India.
AND then, there was Channapatna. The fairyland of magical toys! Wooden, colorful play-with-me and carry-me-where-you-go toys from Channapatna. These handmade objects of wonder offered themselves-up to all manner of kids and quirky choices. The Abacus, the Stacked Joker in concentric circles, the Tea-party Set for the future home-maker ( those days it would most certainly only have been a woman!), the Vintage Cars, Toy-trains, pull-along rides, the egg-within-an-egg-within-an-egg, the Wright Brother’s Glider and of course, the one and only, rocking- horse. If the child in you could imagine it, it probably existed at Channapatna.
We would drive into Village lanes and be welcomed-into small huts where these toys were made by the men and women of the family. The wood was sourced locally, given the abundance of a variety of suitable trees, including, Sandalwood and Rose wood. The cutting, pruning, sculpting and polishing were all done at the village. This was followed by lacquering. Vegetable dyes were used and this Eco-friendly and Child-friendly, safe measure has been maintained to the satisfaction of contemporary, safety-conscious parents.
The personal connect, the immediacy of contact and the joyful satisfaction of finding that special toy to take home hasn’t diminished over time. I simply loose myself in the rows of Lilliputian toys while Time waits outside the road-side stores. Yes, stores.
Recently, after close to 50 years, I set-off to travel those remote, inviting roads again. The main highway and large road leading to Mysore, to Bannergatta National Park and to Ooty from Bangalore is busier than before and this makes for greater exposure to the Channapatna Toys as the stores line both sides of this road. However, the artisans who make these don’t have the resources to reach the travellers directly and therefore, are suppliers to these large stores.
I visited and watched in amazement as every step of the process of making every toy, every horse and every walker, was played-out in highly-energized small workshops, with a combination of antiquated and modern tools and with great attention to detail and joyous pride. The wood used is primarily Jungle Wood which is using set patterns cut-into the different parts required for each individual toys and then polished and prepared for the laquering process. Once that is done, each toys, which has so many different small bits, is put together and given its fabulous, joyful persona, ready to pack-off to different stores on-demand. The horses are hand-painted and spray-painted but not the toys that are all a part of the support craft of Laquer-work. A few images capture this below.
The craft of toy-making has over the last few years received some support by way of status and GI indexing that ensure this native craft remains attributable to its origins and a few NGOs have organized the production in a factory model. Its still a craft that requires a great deal of promotion to bring its fabulous toys to the urban consumers and it is my hope that in some sustainable manner, via CraftsBazaar the Online Marketplace for promoting Indian Artisans and their unique crafts, we will make the difference in the lives of those who kept that child within me and so many of us, delighted, amazed, engaged and joyful.
Let’s look forward to future generations of children enjoying the brilliant color and variety of the Channapatna Toys.
Till then, let’s play on.