For 200 years, artisans in Channapatna town, which borders Bengaluru, have been engaged in the traditional practice of making wooden toys that are both entertaining and educational. The existence of this GI-tagged craft can be attributed to Tipu Sultan, who directed Persian artists to pass their knowledge of fine polish and craftsmanship to local artists in the 18th century.
As in the case with every craft, this art form, too, has its ups and downs, with many artisans having left in pursuit of better livelihoods. According to Livemint, traditional artisans in Channapatna have declined from around 3,500 to 1,500 over the last 20 years.
Sunil and Padmaja Jalihal, founders of Indic Inspirations, have found a unique way to try and breathe life back into this ancient art form.
By giving a contemporary vision to a traditional craft, they are making Channapatna merchandise exclusively for the Indian Research and Space Organisation (ISRO). The initiative is a ‘win-win-win’ — tracing the history of ISRO while empowering artisans with better livelihood and introducing Channapatna to the citizens of India.
“Indic has been working to promote India’s culture and heritage through 65 indigenous craft items such as metal, pottery, wood, grass, paintings, etc. Close to 400 artisans are associated with the organisation, of which 40 are directly involved in Channapatna toys,” Sunil tells The Better India.
Where tradition meets the unbound
Indic has a collection of 50 ISRO-themed products, which include jigsaw puzzles, rocket models, t-shirts, DIY models, mugs, stickers, board games, fridge magnets, rocket collectable matchboxes, notebooks, and so on. ISRO’s historic missions, such as Mangalayaa and Chandrayaan, have also been incorporated into the designs.
Combing through 10 GB worth of data, Indic’s team went carefully through each line and page before zeroing in on the designs. It took them about a year to complete the process.
“We have divided the merchandise into four or five collections such as leadership, history, rockets, satellites, and images of Mars, Moon and Earth. One board game is about collecting resources on Earth to set up a colony on Mars via a rocket. Every product informs the buyers about ISRO’s operations. So it is educational as well as entertaining,” says Sunil.
At Indic’s offline store, named the ‘Phygital Store’, customers can come in to see the products for themselves before they make the decision to buy. Alongside, they learn about the country’s traditions, cultures, and achievements through videos, story cards and Indic products.
The response of ISRO products has been interesting, says Sunil.
“People mostly talk about NASA. So when we launched ISRO collectables, we saw a pent up demand from space and technology enthusiasts, as well as children. We have done a number of campaigns to promote rocket science as a career in schools,” he says.
Indic is working on expanding their operations and adding different sectors like medicine, science, yoga, ayurveda, air force, railways and capturing their receptive stories through Channatpatna.
How can companies help Channapatna flourish
Indic works with Fairkraft Creations, an organisation comprising Channapatna artists, and gives them designs. Fairkraft in turn suggests changes or modifications and makes the product more viable for the artisans. Indic dedicates some part of the profits to provide training to artisans, Sunil says.
“Every art has its advantages and limitations, so we make sure to take inputs from artisans. Some products need modifications and some are easy to make. Senior artisans with years of expertise work with them at multiple stages,” Murli, design head at Fairkraft Creations, tells The Better India.
Noorulla, one of the master craftsmen with Fiarkraft, has been making Channapatna toys for the last 30 years. He has witnessed the downfall of the craft, his co-workers switching to a different line of profession, and the sudden rise in demand for Channapatna.
“A few years after I started, the market was filled with imported toys. Suddenly, no one wanted wooden toys. Companies were not paying us fair wages and almost 60% of the people in my village left the craft. However, now we are seeing a rise. But we don’t have enough skilled workers to fulfil the demand,” Noorulla tells The Better India.
“Indic’s initiative, however, is a highly encouraging step for us, knowing that people across India will buy our work, and the fact we are making it for ISRO. This is exciting for me, as for the first time, we are using traditional skills to make modern items,” he adds.
While there are many regions across the country that manufacture wooden toys, what makes Channapatna unique is the lacquer made from vegetable dyes, with which these toys are coated. The artists do not use any non-toxic colours or raw materials, thus making the toys safe for children.
“People are inching towards an eco-friendly lifestyle and a rise in Channapatna items is proof. Companies like Indic have a huge role to play. It’s a small step, but an important one. We hope large orders can make a bigger impact. We will train the young generation and make the process simpler to increase the artisan population,” says Murali.
Edited by Divya Sethu