These traditional wooden toys have been made since the time of Tipu Sultan but today, only a few hundred toy makers remain. One organization is on a mission to help this eco-friendly craft regain its lost glory!
Tipu Sultan had a guest in his court. A visitor who had come bearing gifts from Persia. The wooden toys with their fine polish, and wonderful craftsmanship impressed the ruler so much that he asked the Persian artists to teach their craft to the artisans in Channapatna town about 80 km away from his capital city of Srirangapatna.
Since that time in the late 18th century till today, the artisans in Channapatna town that borders Bengaluru still practice the craftsmanship that their forefathers had learnt from the Persians and had passed down from one generation to another.
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For 200 years, Channapatna has preserved this tradition of making wooden toys that are both entertaining and educational. However, the toy makers do not enjoy the privileges or respect that was once showered upon them by the Tiger of Mysuru.
A majority of the 700-odd craftsmen and women in the Karnataka town are eking out a living from a dying art. For most, it is the passion to continue their family art so that it does not die with them.
For the other 5000+ people, who were engaged in the craft till about 2006, the prospect of earning better incomes in cities like Bengaluru were more promising than the pursuit to keep a 200-year-old art alive.
Rattles for toddlers, rocking horses for when they are older and six men’s Morris for those who love board games—the craftsmen carve out toys that are eco-friendly, nontoxic in terms of the paint used to polish them and also, the only source of income for hundreds of rural artisans. But who buys them?
In cities that are dominated by shopping malls selling branded toys and the choicest variety of board games, the centuries-old toys have been tossed out of the shelves. Sometimes, you can spot them on the roadside where vendors sit bargaining hard with the rare customer. The customer makes an offer and the artist calculates it in terms of the grains, medicines or school fees they have to pay.
For the local artisans to follow their passion for the age-old skills, they have to suffer in terms of education for their children, proper meals and the luxury of running their homes.
If they must follow in their forefathers’ footsteps, they also have to take up a better earning job, anything from an electrician to a waiter. The future seemed bleak for the artisans who were sure that their occupation will have no takers in the upcoming decade but with the advancement of technology and the rapid globalisation came the obsession to preserve the traditional and indigenous.
To give the rural artisans a welcoming, urban platform, Maya Organic, a non-profit organisation based in Bengaluru has recruited 40 women from the Channapatna town providing them with a secure, and substantial livelihood. We spoke with Subba Rao, an employee with the organisation to get a sense of what they aim to achieve.
You can buy toys by Maya Organic at The Better India Shop, here.
“This age-old craft is dying as the younger generation is getting pulled out of Channapatna and into the cities. They have realised that carving toys is not a profitable business and this has resulted in large-scale migration. Where thousands of toy-making families existed in the town, only a few hundred remain now and the numbers are diminishing by the day. Maya Organics aims at reviving this dying art by providing a substantial living to families that make quality products.
Since a large number of men have left the town in search of “better” jobs, we are training women who erstwhile, were just side-kicks in the toy making business,” he tells us.
40 women from the Gombegala Ooru (Land of dolls/toys) work with Maya Organic today. Each has their own story of struggles to tell but the common thread that binds them together is that they had resorted to rolling beedis to earn a meagre income of Rs 4,000-5,000 per month. Making toys for Maya, on the other hand, earns them their rightful minimum wage of Rs 10,500 per month.
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With organisations like Maya Organic in the picture, at least the artists are getting the clientele who would cherish the age-refined art—the urban family who wishes to gift their children the gems of indigenous games and toys and connoisseurs of memorabilia.
“40 women are full-time employees with us and they are paid their set salary of Rs 10,500 per month. In addition to this, we have 11 more artisans who are engaged in woodwork and assembly of toys,” Rao explains. “When the demand goes beyond the capacity of these 51 workers, we consult more artisans on a freelance basis. Every woman working with us has undergone six months of training and ensures there is a uniformity in the products. We have had to reject the applications of many artisans from the town because they cannot deliver perfection in the products. As much as we want to revive the art, we want to keep our clients happy too.”
You can buy toys by Maya Organic at The Better India Shop, here.
Organic, non-toxic and made from cedar, pine, teak, rubber wood and rosewood, the toys guarantee safety for your child. The grown-ups, on the other hand, can enjoy a set of strategic board games like the six men’s Morris and chess.
“The toys are made of the hale trees. We do not chop down the entire tree but procure wood only according to the need. The toys are painted with food grade lac colours and are seasoned under sunlight, not with chemicals. Children are completely safe around the toys,” Rao assures.
Starting at just Rs 240, the toys and stationery products ensure that you add an eco-friendly, sustainable product to your home while also ensuring that someone else’s home too has been sustained. Bright colours, smooth surfaces and pretty designs—the Maya Organic products are exactly what you seek in toys. Whether to help an impoverished rural family, the safety of your child or just because you want to buy something sings of ages, why not give Maya Organic a try?
You can find their products online by following the link here.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)
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