Some traditions are clearly worth saving and preserving for posterity. The toy-making in Channapatna is just one of them. Tracing their heritage to the 18th century and carved out of ivory wood and lacquered with vegetable based dyes, not only are these delightful toys safe for children to play with but also are worthy of carrying the eco-friendly badge with aplomb.
No wonder then, that these toys enjoyed a double celebration just a couple of years ago. As is traditional, the annual Indian Republic Day parade shows off the country’s cultural heritage along with its military capability. The state of Karnataka, where Channapatna is located, had the honour of leading the cultural side with a tableau depicting the Channapatna toy makers.
Not only this, Barack Obama, who was the chief guest at the celebrations. was gifted a bag full of Channapatna toys and other handicraft! And even though the Obamas are no longer in the White House, and as far as official gifts go, they wouldn’t have been able to keep them, a piece of Channapatna tradition lies in the National Archives of the USA. The gesture was highly symbolic of the importance of this art.
Here’s the story of Rahim Khan, the artist who made the toys for the Obamas
So, has all this hype resulted in the economic upliftment for the community? Yes and no. The news certainly generated interest but then economic pressures and the lure of battery operated speaking, jumping, flying toys always sort of takes over.
But as always, eternally hopeful, we feel that with more awareness we should be able to turn the fortunes for these artisans and preserve this tradition.