From the ancient times when wood was used as the material for carving sculptures, artisans from Karnataka have been adept at all kinds of woodwork including carving, inlay, painting, lacquering etc. The world famous wooden toys from Channapatna and Kinhal, both quaint little towns in the state, are ample evidence of the beautiful craftsmanship that this state has.
The world famous wooden toys from Channapatna a quaint little town in the state of Karnataka, is an example of beautiful craftsmanship.
These toys are popular across the globe. Channapatna is a small town enroute to Mysore, and the toys are colorful, bright and appealing. In fact, it is said that some foreign dignitaries specifically ask for these wooden beauties to be taken back home as mementoes. One such example is that of Michelle Obama, wife of former US President Obama who is said to have been impressed with these artifacts and wished to carry them back to US for her own collection during their visit to India.
What started as a home-based toy making craft has now grown into a cottage industry with some huge factories churning out colorful toys and other household utilities. Several generations of craftsmen have been making these toys and earning their livelihood. The key characteristics of these toys are their rounded edges, considered safe for children, no harmful chemicals as they are made with vegetable dyes, and affordability.
The range includes not just dolls but mathematical puzzles, board games, building blocks, moving toys, animals, etc besides household utility items such as storage containers, plates, and the like.
Apart from Channapatna, Kinhal, a small village in Raichur district, is also famous for its artistic rendering of wood. Without any sharp edges that could possibly harm children, these toys are the most preferred compared to plastic and metal toys. Most of the characters for these toys are drawn from the ancient Puranas and epics and are very realistic in their depiction.
Karnataka is also home to sandalwood carving which is popular in the Shimoga, Uttara Kannada and Mysore districts which specialize in this craft. Artisans mostly belonging to the gudigar families have taken up this art. The intricate carving and styling have often impressed visiting dignitaries, tourists and the locals alike. Radha Krishna figurines, Ganesha idols, etc are in great demand as much as jewel boxes, coasters, trays, combs, etc. However, due to the fact that sandalwood tree is now a government protected entity, artefacts made in sandalwood are expensive and hard to come by.
Gokak in Karnataka is also popular for doll making besides Kinhal and Channapatna. Since Karnataka celebrates the festival of Dussera on a grand scale, displaying dolls during this nine day period, doll making using many materials such as wood, cloth, clay, terracota, plaster of paris, etc is very famous in this state.
This is yet another craftsmanship belonging to the state. Vedic texts include ivory carving in the list of noble crafts. The epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata also speak of ivory and ivory merchants. Ivory is a protected item and hence only government-owned handicraft associations are allowed to use ivory for carving. Delicately carved ivory artifacts can be found in the state emporiums such as Cauvery Handicrafts.
Karnataka is also home to artisans carving in different metals such as bronze and brass. The coastal region of Mangalore is known for producing household items in bell metal whereas the Southern district of Udupi and Karkala are known for producing articles used in religious rituals, idols of Gods and Goddesses, besides utility items such as grinding stone, mortar and pestle, etc.
The origin of Bidriware is usually attributed to the Bahamani Sultans who ruled Bidar in the 14th–15th centuries. Bidriware originated in ancient Persia. It was brought to India by the followers of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti. Abdullah bin Kaiser, a craftsman from Iran was invited by Sultan Ahmed Shah Bahmani to work on decorating the royal palaces and courts. Thus the art was introduced in India. Traditionally, various flowers, leaves, geometric designs, human figures, stylized poppy plants with flowers etc. are commonly found on the items. Traditionally objects made out of this art were hookahs, paan-holders and vases, but keepsakes, bowls, earrings, trays, ornament boxes, other jewelry and showpiece items are more trending items of this art.
The metal used is a blackened alloy of zinc and copper inlaid with thin sheets of pure silver. The forms are cast in moulds. The strong solution of copper sulphate that is used to coat the form gives it the black coating. Ammonium chloride paste is also rubbed in to get a deep black. Silver wire or strips are pressed into the engraved designs and then buffed for the lustre.
The motifs, the shapes, the style even now are reminiscent of the Mughal period and are done by artists from a small town called Bidar in North Karnataka. Bidriware, however is now slowly vanishing with not many in the younger generation willing to take up the work. Mostly ornamental pieces can be found in the state-owned handicrafts showrooms.