Get to Know These Channapatna Artisans

The toy makers who are keeping alive a 300-year-old legacy of wooden toy making

Dastkari Haat Samiti

Dastkari Haat Samiti

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The lathe-turned toys have been through many ups and downs, but the resilience of their makers has seen them survive and thrive. In 1904, the Maharaja of Mysore sent Mian Bavasmia, a local craftsman, to Japan to learn its lacquerware technique. He returned and trained artisans in an industrial unit set up in Channapatna, in Karnataka, by the Maharaja. 

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

There are around 6000 artisans, spread within 1200 families, across 254 home units, with 50 small factories making toys and other lac-turned products in Channapatna. Numbers are never certain because some join the workforce and others leave it to travel to larger towns and cities in search of less arduous work. Those who are adept at lacquer wood crafting, and have no other skill set, stay when earnings are regular and respect is given to the craft. 

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process by Noor SalmaDastkari Haat Samiti

Rising artisans of Channapatna

Many individual artisans have set up their own units and among them many, including women, have achieved recognition and success. Each worker is specialised in a particular task and takes pride in his or her skill.

Channapatna Toys: Master artisan (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Noor Salma of Channapatna was one of the first few women of the town to be attracted to operating an electrical lathe to fashion wooden articles. She was taught by her father-in-law, who belonged to an unusually progressive household, where only men performed such arduous work.

Channapatna Toys: Product conceptualization by Noor SalmaDastkari Haat Samiti

A dedicated woodcraft artisan, Noor Salma explores new designs, planning them first with drawings.

Today, she has her own unit and leads over 50 workers to whom she gives her designs. She also handles the production and travels with her products to bazaars and exhibitions to different parts of India.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process by Noor SalmaDastkari Haat Samiti

Noor Salma is willing to travel to any destination with her not-so-light electrical lathe to demonstrate how their woodwork is done. A highly skilled artisan, she operates the electrical lathe with ease and concentration.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden products by Noor SalmaDastkari Haat Samiti

A lamp stand engraved with calligraphy in the Kannada script, made by Noor in 2011, for a special exhibition titled Crafting Indian Scripts.

She gradually changed the colour of the
lacquer coated exterior from bright orange at the base to a deep red at the top.

This contemporary piece has received accolades at exhibitions in Delhi, Mumbai, Cairo and Paris.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Sadeq Padua works on machines that cut smaller sized wooden shapes from a larger wooden block. These are made according to required quantities against orders received by the head of the unit.

He is covered in tiny chips of saw dust by the end of a working day, but is proud he is part of a process that keeps their heritage alive.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Shahed Padua applies finishing touches to a decorative knob that will go at the end of a curtain rod or even become the lid of a container.

Smoothening the surface of the wood perfectly is an important part of maintaining the quality of Channapatna craft for sales outside their town.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Shahed Padua remains shirtless as he works, like many others who cannot have fans and cooling systems in work areas that are full of saw dust. He displays a simple two- dimensional key chain, produced as an inexpensive souvenir for the local market.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Adept at working the hand lathe, Sheila prepares to clasp a portion of it with her toes before she starts working the ‘bow’ to make wooden beads.

Channapatna Toys: Shaping the toys (2018-03-13)Dastkari Haat Samiti

In the video, Sheila uses a dry palm leaf to uniformly spread and shine the red colour on the wooden bead, before cutting it off from wooden block.

Channapatna Toys: Jewellery making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Many workers in the craft industry of Channapatna are women. Some work with a non-electrical lathe to craft rounded objects like beads. Mubbe Nano strings the lac coloured beads into a necklace when they are ready.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

A younger generation of wooden toy artisans from Chennapatna, like Chikkamalaya, make their workplaces cheerful by cutting out images from magazines and pasting them on the walls. He is adept at sandpapering. Here he ensures there will be a smooth surface on a candle stand.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Temraj manipulates the shape and size of a small rounded edge of a wooden piece, which will become the handle for a knob of some kind. He uses different sized instruments for this purpose.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Manjunat scrapes the interior portion of a wooden cookie jar by holding a sharp blade against the inner surface. He ignores the specks of wooden dust and even larger chips that fly around him.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Malaya and Chikkamalaya share the same work space. They are making tops which are a very popular small item sold in bazaars and in the local market. They both share the same name and are probably differentiated by the addition of ‘chikka’ meaning small, to the younger man’s name.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Ramo and his colleague share a happy workspace in Channapatna in the company of film actors and other Rambo-like figures on the walls.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Ram Krishna is a veteran woodworker in a toy workshop in Channapatna. He likes to look smart in his cap and printed shirt, unlike his shirtless colleagues. He works confidently on grazing away the rough edges of a wooden piece.

Channapatna Toys: Wooden toy making process (11-03-18)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Syed Yaheya is an elder in the toy business who facilitates the stocking and distribution of raw pieces and collects the lacquered ones for onward despatch. His stock consists mainly of traditional pieces which are more folksy in style and decorative on their surface.

Channapatna Toys: Product innovation by Varnam (12-03-18) by Varnam CraftsDastkari Haat Samiti

Read more about the toy making tradition of Channapatna here:

- Lathe-turned and Lacquered toys of Channapatna
- A chain of artisans create a toy

Hand Made in Toy Town
Credits: Story

Text: Jaya Jaitly
Photography: Chirodeep Chaudhuri
Artisans: Noor Salma, Varnam Crafts
Ground Facilitator: Ankit Kumar Singh
Documentary Video: Chirodeep Chaudhuri
Curation: Aradhana Nagpal

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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