When adults, like me, are enamoured by cute and colourful wooden toys, you begin to wonder if it’s the inner child in you that’s harking back to the simple joys of childhood. Or could it just be the timeless appeal of those toys themselves?
Before I lose you, let me come straight to the point. I speak of the lacquered toys of Channapatna, or the toy town of Karnataka, lying 60 kms from Bangalore. Vibrantly coloured and completely non-toxic, these wooden articles of joy make for perfect showpieces, and toys, of course.
Channapatna toys date back to Tipu Sultan’s time. Tipu was greatly fascinated by wooden toys and invited Persian artists to train the local craftsmen in the art of toy-making and lacquering.
The toys are produced in small workshops just outside the craftsman’s home, creating a cottage industry. Several toy workshops can be found in the many small gullies of this little town that has become synonymous with these attractive playthings.
The toys are made from locally-found ivory wood. The wood is soft and easily pliable, lending itself to many shapes. The lacquer is non-toxic and made from natural shellac. I can personally assure you that they are extremely durable, as well. I must have dropped my toys hundreds of times, but my small car and my adorable lil tortoise continue to smile back at me in a Zen-like manner, as if inured to the abuse.
The craftsmen have also diversified into home decor articles, like vases, napkin rings, hangers and suchlike. A great number of these unique items are exported and you are sure to find a few big dealers in the town stocking everything from small cars to puzzles to toy aeroplane models and skip ropes.
The sheer numbers in which the toys are produced are mind-boggling.
A brief chat with a craftsman revealed that each workshop is responsible for a few toy designs, leading to specialisation. One workshop may produce only key chains and spinning tops, another, only cars and aeroplanes and so on. Each dealer will stock an average of 100 different types of toy designs for all ages. It’s not uncommon to find a shop spread across 3 floors, with hundreds of items dumped in shelves, baskets, boxes, sacks, crates and even covering the floors. Yes, the prospect of slipping on a child’s toy becomes all too real.
Channapatna makes for a quick stop-over on the way to or from Mysore. So spend some time here, buy these charming toys and go back to a simpler time, when you didn’t need batteries for everything you played with.