If you are from Karnataka, you would have seen or played with Channapatna toys at least once in your lifetime.
Channapatna is a city in the Ramanagara district of Karnataka state, colloquially referred to as Channpatna. The town is well-known for its wooden toys and has the moniker ‘Toy Town’ or ‘Gombegala ooru’ in Kannada.
The fact that Channapatna toys are made of 100% organic material makes them so special! Toys are created out of softwood such as ivory wood (known as Aale mara in Kannada) and lacquered with non-toxic, natural dyes sourced out of plants, making them safe for kids. All toys are handmade with uncompromised quality.
Did you know I was born in Channapatna? Yes, my mother was serving India Post in Channapatna when she was pregnant with me. Consequently, the toy-town happened to be my birthplace! I have visited the toy factories on school trips but never understood the techniques used in making these toys at that tender age. I was fascinated to learn more about it now when I started researching.
We know the toys are handcrafted out of ivory wood, but the process of lacquering impressed me. Colors such as yellow are extracted from turmeric, blue from indigo leaves; mixing yellow and blue gives green. Red is extracted from tree barks, Orange from Bixa seeds, etc. The number of colors extracted in this method is limited. They are mixed with Lac to get various other colors. The fascinating thing about dying these wooden toys is lacquering. Please note, these are not hand-painted with a brush and paint. Instead, it’s lacquered.
Lac insects secret a slick resin; the residue is harvested from the forests of Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal and converted to what is commercially available as Lac.
Lac is melted and mixed with vegetable dyes, and solidified again. The colored Lac is brought in contact with the wooden toy on the woodturner to stain the white ivory wood! Purely made with wood and natural colors, the toys of Channapatna are synonymous with being organic.
Being a new mom, I am on a constant lookout for things for my baby that not only entertain him but also help is his cognitive development. I was looking for toys that are open-ended and can be played in different ways. Baby-powered toys encourage problem-solving. Electronic toys encourage more passive play where a baby pushes the button and waits to be entertained. Baby-powered toys also inspire imaginative play. Even parents talk less when kids play with electronic toys. More verbal exchanges occur when the baby isn’t playing with an electronic toy.
When I had such a long list of specifics, all I found on popular online shopping sites were mass-produced, chemically treated plastic toys with flashy lights and cacophonic music. I knew I wanted to go back to my roots and ethically source naturally made products for my baby. Besides providing all the benefits I listed out already, this gives me a chance to educate my boy about India and its various gifts to the world.
At nine months, I have a little explorer who will shortly start walking on his two tiny feet. I did not want to go for a walker that is made of hard plastic, with wheels on the bottom, where a baby pushes by his abdomen than legs to get around. They can be less beneficial than popularly believed and hinder muscle development. My research suggested that if you have to go for one, then a push kind is better, and that happens to be the traditional Indian walker that most of us used as babies.
Now let’s talk about sourcing. There are numerous craft collective stores available in cities like Bengaluru and Mysuru. I found Varnam and Shumee toy stores off the internet. You may as well drive down to Channapatna on a day trip and buy directly from the artisans or factories.
These Lac-turnery toys don’t just make excellent toys for children but can also be distinguished home decor artifacts and gifting options. Dasara is only a few months away; if you are into doll arrangement, you could enhance your toy collection while supporting a lot of artisans and their families to sustain, thrive, and carry forward this legacy.
Channpatna, the Toy Town, with its spectacular fair of toys, is indeed a small wonder which I hope flourishes for hundreds of years to come.