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A Gift To The Emperor - The Legend Of Channapatna

The story of Channapatna is as vivid, imaginative and colourful as the toys’ standing respectability for being perceptively sustainable and eco-friendly today. It’s a beautifully crafted tale that has grown in the playful hands of all the children who have inherited and kept its legacy alive throughout history.

The oldest toymakers living in Channapatna cannot say for sure when exactly the toymaking began, but everyone can claim credibility for a specific story that traces back to one of the grandest emperors of South Asia.


The Beginning of 'Gombela Nagara'


Around 300 years ago, Tipu Sultan, the great ruler of Mysore (1782-1799), also recognised as the Tiger of Mysore, found a penchant for tiny, colourful and detailed wooden toys besides conquering faraway lands and raising an empire. Some sources say that he developed the liking after the Persians gifted a toy to him.

The Sultan was determined and passionate about bringing them to his people, and sought for the best and finest artisans of Persia. Using his power, influence and strong connection with the Persians, he invited talented artists from Persia to Mysore. These artists were experts at woodwork and possessed exquisite skills in woodcraft. The Sultan made arrangements for them to educate the natives with their knowledge of the said craft.


The Persian artists imparted their keen eye for details and passed down the wonderful art of sustainability - choosing the best wood without having to cut down trees and picking natural dyes that can be found easily - and who knew about this better than the locals? In fact, it was a monumental time of cultural confluence between the Persians and Channapatna Locals!


Together, both the communities embellished a craft that is still alive and recognised by various organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO).


Being close to the capital city of Srirangapatna, Channapatna thrived and flourished in its creative brilliance, brimming with traders coming from far and wide, who were spreading the word about this town to the global conscience. Naturally, the town came to be called ‘Gombela Nagara’ in Kannada, the native language, which actually means ‘Town of Toys!’ Wonderful, isn’t it?


The Eloquent Toy-Making Process


Yet, it will be quite incomplete to only give credit to the emperor for the evolution of Channapatna Toys. Bavas Miyan, a fine artisan of the time, is identified as the Father of Channapatna Toys! He dedicated his life to the people - to the local artisans and natives who relied on toy making for their livelihood and daily bread - and educated them with new techniques that refined the process of toy making and made it easier.

He introduced innovations in woodcraft, especially by integrating Japanese doll making techniques that significantly increased productivity and gave rise to effective methods of toy making.


For around two centuries, artisans of Channapatna used dried Ivory Wood to make their toys, also called Aale Mara locally, but now they also use the wood of other trees such as rosewood and sandalwood.

The toys receive their lustre after being rubbed by the pandanus leaf, which belong to plants closely related to the Palm family that are extensively found and used by artisans in South Asia. The resins and the dyes are also acquired from plants and trees found within the locality for beautifying these toys for centuries!


What Does The Future Hold?


The legacy of the toys has stood the test of time, however, they are unfortunately contested in the global market. Its presence has been challenged by the dominance of cheaper products made in China, and the artisans struggle to make sales nowadays.


Although they have been diversifying their products by also making horse chairs, jewellery, furniture, figurines and decor items, the sustainability of handmade products always struggles to compete with the prevalence of a mechanised market.


The old and traditional cultural trade has now become entangled in capitalist forces that forgets and rejects the richness of historical knowledge. However, various organisations, including the Government of Karnataka, have been trying to keep the community’s practices alive. Even today, one can find a colourful variety of toys lined up in the streets of Channapatna today, owing to the people who were determined to keep it alive for generations.


Our venture aims to become part of this wonderful legacy and contribute to the growth of the Channapatna community by providing a window to its cultural trove and inviting you to join a cause that benefits the society, the environment and your wonderful children!

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