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natural dyes

Honouring Tradition

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.

Toy Town Story

So what is Channapatna? More importantly, where is it? And what is it about this place that makes it special?

To be perfectly honest, when I started this venture, I did not know much about it either but I had heard of it. And then I dug for some more information. Channapatna is a town, not too far from Bengaluru, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. The toy making tradition of this town can be traced back to the 18th century when Tipu Sultan, the valiant warrior and visionary, ruled this part of India. He definitely had an eye for innovation. It was then that he invited artists from Persia to train the local artisans in the making of wooden toys.

The toy making industry flourished over time and today the skills of these artisans are globally recognised and protected as a Geographical Indication (GI) by the World Trade Organisation. This ensures that these toys retain their unique character and cannot be copied elsewhere.

However, this has not translated to economic growth in the community. The toymakers' population is dwindling at an alarming rate simply because they are unable to compete with mass produced cheap plastic toys. And of course, following the economic principle, drop in demand has led to drop in opportunities and wages and ultimately the living conditions for these talented craft workers.

But there are some rays of hope as there are some organisations - like the non-profit we partner with - are helping these artisans develop and adapt their craft to the needs of the modern world and we, at Ethiqana, are proud to be part of this great tradition and helping to bring it to the wider world.

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