Sunday, November 6, 2011

Toyland, Ahoy!

Whenever I travel the Bangalore –Mysore route, the child in me pops on seeing  the arch “Toy town - Chennapatna welcomes you”.   I always try to stop at this place to have a look at all those beautiful  and colorful  chennapatnada gombegulu( chennapatna dolls) adorning the shelves on those tiny shops which are on either side of the highway.
This little town which is 60kms from Bangalore just after the Sholay town ramnagaram( hindi movie sholay was shot here) is famous for eco-friendly hand made wooden toys and locally it is called gombegala ooru ( toy town).
This ancient art which has survived many generations is believed to be the art of Persian toy makers, who were brought to India by the Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan.  Made out of rain forest tree wood, colored with vegetable dyes and polished with  blades of grass which have an abrasive property , these toys have no sharp edges . These are child-friendly, eco-friendly and non-toxic  compared to the battery operated expensive electronic toys. From each rain wood tree they make 2000 toys and for every 20 toys they sell they plant a tree, thus for every tree cut to make toys, they plant 100 trees making their rain forest multiplier as100. Similarly the vibrant colours, ivory tones and lacquer finish  comes from natural tree waxes and cactus leaf oil, all of which are non-toxic.  
 What’s more you save on the cost of batteries and e-waste, when you buy these mechanical toys which work on the principle of winding. 
Like any other child, my children too born in the electronic age played with battery operated electronic toys.  These toys were educational and entertaining. No doubt on that but they were’nt safe. Made with plastic and lead these toys required constant monitoring while they played ,  moreover the batteries were an additional expense on our monthly budget and  the batteries were part of our monthly provision or shopping list with one toy having a 9v Duracell battery costing 120Rs  and 6 numbers of 1.5v battery. That way, these wooden toys are a good alternative and an ideal gift material.
A decade back,  this industry  faced a  huge challenge from the Chinese toy market and was almost on the brink of close-down but survived, due to the interest shown by  some NGO’s and  bulk orders from some famous MNC’s .  After surviving the challenge, today they have diversified to meet the modern day requirements and so along with traditional toys like dolls, mind games, mathematical games, dolls abacus, tic-tac-toe spinning tops,rocking horse, pallankuzhi etc.,  they also make modern day games and meet the requirements of emerging markets by making roller-bead seat cover, car  back rests, mandasanam( pooja alcoves),candle holders, decorative pieces like vintage cars, motorcycles, wooden bead curtains, chess board table etc,. They have products for all ages from  toddler toys to old man's walking aids.( see the pics below)

  These toys/products/dolls are now popular in most of the art and craft exhibitions  held across India and have a huge export order market from western and European countries.   During her recent visit to India  Michelle obama has picked some of these Chennapatna toys as mementos and today they adorn  White house too. With the help of NGO’s and MNC’s they design and produce world class toys which has led to the revival of this craft and  the artisans. Microsoft is one of their major customer.
Personally ( to the best of my knowledge),my first visit to  this place was when I was just 11 and my paternal grand mom got me a jewel box which i cherish to this date.( she passed away a couple of months later and so was the last gift from her) and a stencilled colored alphabet kit for my 5 year old sis and from then on it is a ritualistic stop for me at chennapatna  whenever enroute mysore. 
 Next time while you are on the Bangalore –Mysore highway, indulge the child in you and pay a visit to these toy shops or if you’re luckier pay a visit to the homes where these dolls are crafted and have a visual tour. You will be thrilled to see the child in you surf up!
Check the pics below clicked by me on my latest visit and have your pick....

                                  ....  keychains, car hangings, window and wall hangings........

                                   .... showpieces, wall masks,  pooja mantaps

                                   The traditional stacker ring dolls.

                                      roller toys and colorful pallankuzhi

                               stationary items like erasers, sharpeners, stand alone dolls.............

                               pen holders, jewel boxes, kunkum bharnis and roller rabbits...........

                                casks, wooden vintage bikes, cars 
and many more like  crafted rosewood inlay tables, centre tables ........all at any of the chennapatna wooden toy stall anywhere in Indian art/craft exhibition or at Cauvery emporias across India.


  1. I WILL STOP there pakka and buy that motobike in the last picture :)


  2. I have never been to Chennapatna, but these days some of their dolls are available here and I plan on getting some soon. The range of toys is just awesome !I collect automobile miniatures, so this makes me want to head right there and check their stuff out.

  3. hmmm...nice :) somehow the dolls which are gifted looks more beautiful than the ones bought or on showcase..en athu?? :D

  4. These toys are indeed very beautiful, and we are also great fans of these toys. We have so many of them in our house. I remember doing a blog on them long time back. I keep looking for new ones to add to our collection.
    Thanks for bringing it up for us.

  5. colourful indeed..the toys are..hey thanks long as asha is der i can keep the blog alive ..what say? haha thanks again

  6. hey .. I understood what you were getting at. yeah ,even while i was in school wren and martin had almost become obsolete in the sense that nobody really used grammar books.I can only imagine how many people actually refer to it now .Obviously like every post on the blog, I liberally use exaggeration.I had to remove the post to avoid getting into any possible trouble :-) I will have to thank you for that comment,because sometimes(make that a lot of time) my sarcasm goes off in a tangent and conveys something it really is not meant to convey.

  7. @ bikramjit - nice choice:)

    @ bhargavi - hope you add them to your collection :)

    @gils - oh ungulakkum apdi dana :D

    @ rama - thank you :)

    @R. ramesh - sure..sure.... my pleasure to read cheerful posts

    @Bhargavi - yes, it happens at times. I'm glad you understood my point :)

    @R. ramesh :)

  8. Love the nice colourful array of the dolls.I would certainly make a trip to this place if I am going to Mysore. We have the dance doll and 2 small wooden toys with a spring for the neck still at my mom's palce. Must be nearly 40 years old.