Channapatna toys: happy little things to bring back from Karnataka

I’ve always been a big fan of window shopping at airports. Brightly lit stores, fancy shopping bags, people reading labels too long, even ordinary everyday items start to look fancy when sold at the airport. It can’t be just me feeling this.

With the rule of
“Don’t touch anything, keep your wallet out of the way, but look, you must!”, I visited some toy shops at Bengaluru airport. I passed a funny pile of wooden toys. Probably no one cares, I thought to myself. But then it was so basic, so plain and wooden, I wondered why they were selling them at the airport. Curiosity got the better of me and made me turn around. Little did I know this was going to be the start of a very unhealthy 30-something woman’s attachment to toys and memories.

History of Channapatna Toys

Channapatna toys: happy little things to bring back from Karnataka

Channapatna, a sleepy little town in the Ramanagara district of Karnataka, is also known as Gombegala Ooru (Town of Toys). The city got its name from the wooden toys labeled GI (geographical indication). But one wonders why the toys are labeled GI? Far from the ordinary, these wooden toys are the traditional toys, and their history goes back to the time of Tipu Sultan. And rightly so, the
World organization of commerce thought it best to protect these traditional crafts under the Geographical Indication (GI) label.

Tipu Sultan, a true admirer of arts and crafts, in order to help Indian craftsmen to perfect their art (woodworking), had Persian craftsmen trained. This decision turned out to be a significant decision as Indian artisans were now in touch with better techniques and skills. They began to explore other forms of woodworking. Channapatna toys are one of those forms that have taken off for good.

Channapatna toys: happy little things to bring back from Karnataka

Traditionally, Channapatna work involved ivory wood, locally called
Aale mara. Over time, artisans began experimenting with rubber, teak, pine, cedar, rosewood, and sandalwood. The careful selection of the main wood, the seasoning, the size, the size and the carving, and finally the coloring, is a long process. As these are children’s toys, the colors used on these toys are vegetable dyes, which are non-toxic and safe.

If they’re special enough to be labeled GI, they’re special enough to be a great keepsake. A little support goes a long way for traditional artisans who for decades have faced an uncertain future for their craft. The lack of proper market and distribution strategies almost put an end to the art. Punctual intervention of
Karnataka Handicrafts Development Corporation (KHDC) helped revive the dying art form. Now, if you see these Channapatna toys being sold at roadside stalls, buy some. They make great souvenirs, and buying traditional souvenirs is one way to support local artisans.

The importance of GI labeled products

A geographical indication label is given to products that come from a specific geographical location and are known due to that region. The sticker is given for 10 years, after which it can be renewed. A GI labeled product comes with the assurance of that unique quality, which made it popular in the first place. The Ministry of Trade and Industry has launched a logo and slogan for India’s Geographical Indications.

The slogan says
Priceless Treasures of Amazing India‘ and rightly so, because these products are not only unique, but also hold immense cultural significance. In 2004, India got its first GI labeled product – Darjeeling tea. Banaras Zardozi from Uttar Pradesh, Tamenglong Orange from Manipur, Manjusha Art from Bihar, Tirupati Laddu from Andhra Pradesh – these are just some of the 370 Indian products protected by the GI label.

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