The fall and phoenix-like rise of Channapatna craft

A small town situated on the outskirts of Bangalore, Channapatna has been known as the Toy Town of Karnataka. The vibrantly coloured cylindrical and block shaped wooden toys iconic of the region have today received worldwide acclaim.  

Toy production here started when Tipu Sultan invited artisans from Persia to impart the craft of wooden toy-making to the locals. Bavas Miyan, considered the father of Channapatna toys, dedicated his life to perfecting the craft, incorporating some Japanese techniques.

The toys are made from the wood of the locally available ‘aale mara’ (wrightia tinctoria) which is a soft white wood known for its quality timber. It is shaped using a handheld lathe machine and coloured using natural wood lacquers. The lacquer gives the toy a smooth, glossy finish which makes it safe for children. It is a plastic and chemical free product made from natural ingredients.

With the influx of cheaper machine-produced plastic toys however, the handicraft industry witnessed a sharp decline. Nevertheless, in the recent years, Channapatna has seen a revival due to growing demand to conserve this heritage craft as well as the drive to reduce plastic consumption. This has brought together several craft collectives, designers and social enterprises, who are working to help preserve traditional production techniques, and also infuse contemporary sensibilities into the Channapatna craft.

Channapatna artisans are now reinterpreting the craft design to fit a modern context. They are attempting to add utilitarian and aesthetic value to the designs and increase relevance in people’s day-to-day life. As a result, a wider range of products have evolved in the last few years. From being limited to children’s toys, Channapatna artisans have now grown to create  beautiful lamps, quirky jewellery pieces and statement home accents. Some collectives have even begun to offer educational aids, board games and stitching sets — all with signature Channapatna craftsmanship.

Artists and designers are experimenting with combining traditional Channapatna woodcraft with avante-garde designs. This includes designing fusion decor for the cafes and workspaces of Bangalore, helping translate the traditional craft designs to cater to needs of larger corporate clients and reinterpreting Channapatna crafts into their own designs and collections.

In efforts to help the livelihood of artisans in the region, some craft collectives, like Maya Organics, engage in capacity building activities. They hold workshops to teach the craftsmen new skills and techniques. Arising from this new knowledge, a whole new range of products like ‘aale-mara’ furniture including beds, tables, shelves, planters as well as stationary and office needs are being developed.

A wide range of Channapatna handicrafts from Maya Organics can be found at GoNative. Do drop into the stores to discover the quirky vibrant crafts from ‘toy town’ yourself!


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