The joy in toy-making

As an ode to their sacrifice, dolls are worshipped during Navaratri and hence the gollu is set up.

Dasara in South India is a significant festival that celebrates Goddess Durga’s victory over demon Mahishasura.

The Bommala Koluvu, as it is called in Andhra Pradesh, or the Gollu, as it is known in Tamil Nadu, or the Gombe Pradarshana, as it is observed in Karnataka, is an intrinsic part of Dasara.

An age-old tradition where dolls of Gods, Goddesses, saints et al are worshipped, the Dasara gollu is arranged in a specific order and in steps of odd numbers, say 3-5-7-9 etc.

It’s believed that all Gods and Goddesses relinquished and surrendered their powers to Goddess Durga so that she could emerge victorious in her battle over Mahishasura.

In this process, the Gods and Goddesses transformed into mere dolls.

As an ode to their sacrifice, dolls are worshipped during Navaratri and hence the gollu is set up.

Many markets are filled with dolls during Dasara. It’s not unusual for people to travel far and wide to purchase them.

If you are in Karnataka, Channapatna and Kinnal are the places where the dolls and idols are made.

Welcome to the toy land

Located about 60 km from Bengaluru, Channapatna has been synonymous with the manufacture of wooden toys for centuries now.

The art of toy-making can be traced to the times of Tipu Sultan, who is credited with introducing Persian merchants to the locals, who then learnt the craft.

The dolls are made using the native ‘soft’ ivory-wood of the Wrightia tinctoria tree (locally called Aale mara).

Led by Bavas Miyan, known as the Father of Channapatna Toys, the craft has evolved over the years in terms of technique, design and finish. The range of toys today includes contemporary items like educational tools and games, sports equipment like cricket bats; pencil stands; and decor like lampshade, planters etc.

Extra demand

But come Dasara, the artisans are busy making only idols and toys for the festival. Whether it’s the ubiquitous Dashavatara or the idols of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita, the workers are gung-ho about it.

“There’s a lot of demand as people display dolls at home. We sell lots of Bhagavad Gita sets, Hanuman idols, couple dolls, village and community scenes, Karnataka band sets, Ambari elephants etc. We have over 200 kinds of dolls. Just like every household takes pride in their display, we, too, are also proud of our craft and the fact that we make their celebrations a success,” says R Abdul Rahman, the proprietor of K Abdul Kareemson.

He works with the artists and admits that they clock in extra hours and at times, burn the midnight oil when there is more demand. So, it’s this season that the toy-making community looks forward to as it’s a chance for them to earn more, too.

“The demand picks up about one month before the festival and our workers enjoy catering to it. Our toys go to different parts of India, and we export them to countries like the US and the UK. Our toys are available online, too,” says Ashfaq Khan of Moon Star toys factory. He adds that the Mysore Palace replica and innovative band processions are in vogue.

Up north...

Kinnal or Kinhal is yet another town in Koppal that makes toys. They have been granted a GI (Geographical Indication) tag as well. Made from the softwood of a native tree called ponki mara, the toys are religious idols. They are large and suited for temple festivals for the most part.

A distinctive process that involves joining the individual parts of an idol with a handmade paste of tamarind and jute fibre, and polishing done by a specialised technique known as lajawara, makes these dolls unique.

During Dasara, they are flooded with orders for smaller-sized toys that are suitable for gollu. “We make big batches during Dasara when there is a spike in demand. Idols of Durga, Lord Ganesha, Shiva and Parvati are popular, and we prefer to make them as a batch than work on them individually,” says Ekappa, who is one of the senior-most artists of the village, and also a Rajyotsava awardee.

“We are about 25 families that are into the craft. All of us have picked this craft from our fathers and forefathers. During this time, we make plenty of idols of Kamadhenu, Hanuman and Garuda,” quips Anand, son of Ekappa.

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