a wooden toy in between leaves

Channapatna- 90’s kids’ childhood toy stories

You are going to resonate with this article immensely if you are a 90’s kid brought up in India.

I am sure all of us have played with wooden toys while growing up. Be is car slipping on protruding rectangular slabs stuck on a wooden stand or a tiny cradle or learning how to count by using the colored balls on steel rods in between a wooden rectangle or pulling a string by the joker’s feet so his hands and legs go up in the air or if you were very rich, you would have ridden a wooden rocking horse by sitting on its sponge seat!

Yep, these toys! These found ways to our homes from Channapatna in Karnataka!

wooden horses for sale in channapatna
The most coveted wooden horses by all the kids

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Do you remember?

As a child who was growing up in Mumbai, I never inquired about the place of origin of these toys. I found a two-kilometre journey to be extremely distant and a time-consuming job as a 5-year-old. Hence, I just assumed they come from a far-far away village which I would never know about. Too far for me to ever reach there.

Over a period of time, these wooden toys unfortunately phased out. I never thought about why it did. Now when I sit to think of it, I realized it was because of these two reasons.

  1. We were growing up, the phase of toys has gone long away.
  2. The Chinese plastic toys were making an entry in our homes.

In 2016, my friend one day had told me story of this toy land and even at that time I had not imagined visiting this Toy Land, so rich in history.

a toy maker from Channapatna making a top
A toy-maker crafting a spinning top

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Reaching Channapatna…

On a nice summer day in the month of May, I left to explore this 200-year-old rural toy-making handicraft industry town, Channapatna, around 65 kilometers south of Bangalore along the Mysore Road with my best friend.

We took a local bus from Satellite bust stop in Bangalore to Mysore where we got down at Channapatna Bus depot at just INR 50 per person!

While traveling, we asked the locals of toy shops who make this today and they gave us some names. After getting down at Channapatna, we put the toy shop name in Google maps which was just a kilometre away. We contemplated to walk it up but it was too hot so took an auto from bus depot instead.

In case you plan to visit Channapatna by public transport, you can contact our autowallah – Mr. Ashok on +91 9535614869 who will come to pick you up at the depot and drop you there as well with charging a minimum negligible amount.

To our luck, we did not find that shop. The map and location did not match. We asked around some locals about where do we find these toy makes and none of them had any idea. Of course, we were extremely disappointed but did not give up by making the auto guy ask around in Kannada.

A factory where wood is dried and cut in shape before the craftsmen buy it to shape it into toys. The auto guy took us straight to the new place and we rejoiced since we found a perfect place!

a factory of wood shaping
A craftsman shaping the wood in a factory

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The toy making process…

The special kind of wood used for these toys is ‘Ivory Wood’.

This wood is too soft for furniture and hence are used in making toys. Ivory Wood is dried in the sun for 3-4 months but off lately, it is dried with smoke which cuts down the drying time to 14-15 days!

All the colors on these toys are made out of natural ingredients making it safe for children to play with. Don’t you just love this caring nature of our Indian traditional industries?

Lacquering is the next step after painting the toys. Later, special polishing techniques are applied and finally, they are dried under the sun. Drying is very essential as even a drop of humidity could be enough to grow microbes and termites inside.

As times and science progressed, they now also use pine wood, teak, rosewood and/or sandalwood for these toys.

a toy maker making a top
The craftsman applying natural colours on the toy – a spinning top. Yes, we saw how a spinning top is made from scratch!

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The GI Tag!

This traditional craft is protected as a Geographical Indication tag under the World Trade Organization.

A trade name or sign used on a product that can be used by only that geographical region’s authorized traders is a GI Tag. It is an intellectual property of the local community.

It all started in 1997 when an American company RiceTec based in Texas applied for a patent of its unique rice varieties, “Texmati” the American-style Basmati rice. Hence, many Indian NGOs filed complaints to protect our farmer rights since then we have had GI tags. A few examples are:

  • Mysore Silk – Karnataka
  • Kancheepuram Silk – Tamil Nadu
  • Madhubani Paintings – Bihar
  • Darjeeling tea- West Bengal

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Good to know…

Once a Persian King gifted Tipu Sultan these toys. He loved them so much that he invited artists from Persia to teach this craft here. This is how the toys penetrated in India.

Later Bavas Miyan heavily aided the local workers in improving the overall quality of their products by educating them on state-of-the-art Japanese technology. And thereby, continuing this art for decades all together!

A pack of Channapatna’s wooden toys were presented to the ex U.S. President Barrack Obama as a token of traditional Indian crafts when he visited India.

GI tag Channapatna toys

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Costs to explore Channapatna?

We spent ~INR 500 on this one day trip to Channapatna from Bangalore. INR 100 on the bus to and fro from Bangalore, remaining on auto and shopping. Please DO NOT bargain at these small toy shops. They make a living out of this. A mere INR 20-50 does not make a difference to us, but it does to those SURVIVING on this craftmanship and to SUSTAIN this dying art.

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Does visiting Channapatna interest you? Share this Channapatna blog post with your friends when planning a visit!

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