Toys are carved out of soft ivory wood, or hale mara, the local word for ivory wood. Then they are enameled with lacquer made from vegetable dyes. Craftsmen use ivory wood because of its yielding as wax and clean white colour, and also because of the fact that the phosphorescent colors of lacquer shines easily on it. This business has been the livelihood for most people of Channapatna. It is a small town and the people possess the skills and they have been carving dream toys out of normal wood. Nagaraj, a local craftsman, says that he has been doing this work since the last forty years and he makes between 1 to 4 rupees for every piece. And in a day he makes around 400 rupees.
More than 5,000 craftsmen are into this business; some of them work full-time for others while others work individually and sell their toys to vendors all over India. Recently, government has stepped in and started buying toys from the craftsmen. One of the steps taken by Karnataka State Handicrafts Development Corporation Ltd (KSHD) is that now local people can sell their wooden toys to Cauvery Emporium which is run by state government. These toys are popular because the colour and other material used are organic, unlike the cheaper Chinese toys. Today this city of toys has been known for wooden toys business all over India. According to historical facts, the toy making art was founded way back in 18th century when the ruler, Tipu Sultan, was given tribute in the form of a lacquered-wooden toy which was made in Persia. It is said that after seeing the top-notched quality and world class craftsmanship of it, Tipu Sultan asked the artisan to come and teach the skills to the local people. Some of the artists who had learnt that art settled in Channapatna and this is how the town’s toy business started. According to Mr. Roddam Narasimha, a Bangalore based aerospace scientist, British machine tools brought into Mysore in the early 19th century might have given the town’s lacquer ware its present cutting-edge look. The growth of the town’s business can be attributed to certain facts: Government’s support and the mushrooming factories allow local people to work more effectively.
Today, the toys have found their markets in European countries as well, indicating that it has a great future. Toys as low as 4 rupees per piece are being sold at thousand by vendors. This was discovered when we got a chance to meet Atul Johri who has created a business from this lacquered woodwork. He experienced this at the first exhibition that he had organized at Park Hotel in New Delhi, where toys were sold at between 1,500 to 3,500 rupees. There are thousand others who can recount similar experience. Though this business has been offering opportunities as well as livelihood, there are some cases that tell different stories. Syed Aslam, an auto rickshaw driver from Bangalore, is of the opinion that it’s better to be an auto rickshaw driver than to be an entrepreneur as making wooden toys in Channapatna is not profitable at all. “I make 5,000 rupees per week and can easily save 10,000 rupees in a month while working as a toy maker I could never imagine this much of saving. This business is profitable, but only for those who sell the items outside the market, but not for craftsmen,” adds Syed Aslam who used to work as a wooden toymaker before year 2000.
The business has a great future ahead. It has crossed Channapatna, winning the hearts of people from other states as well as abroad. And it has heightened the financial independence of women in the region. As a result they are being rendered socially secure. So far the toy business has crossed hundred crore rupees and it is expected to grow further when the awareness among people increases.