Channapatna’s dolls continue to charm buyers

A seasonal market dominated by NRIs sustains a couple of hundred practitioners of traditional craft

Published - October 07, 2016 07:27 pm IST - BENGALURU

: A wide variety of dolls become available in Bengaluru during Dasara, including intricate figurines crafted out of clay and plaster of Paris, but Karnataka’s famous lacquered wooden Channapatna dolls continue to find appreciative buyers.

Apart from the local market for Channapatna dolls, which get their name from the town situated about 60 km from Bengaluru on the highway that connects the State capital to Mysuru, a lot of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) come looking for them. “This is what makes it special for the craftspeople in Channapatna. There are only about 200 artisans left to lathe, design and create original lacquerware to the standard that received a Geographical Indication (GI) sign,” says interior designer Atul Johri, who came from Lucknow and settled in Channapatna for the love of reviving the tradition. Mr. Johri assiduously brought together artisans deft at lacquerware to oversee pieces for his interiors painted in special, multi-layered tonal shades.

NRI orders

“In our crafts boutique Raaga Arts, at Jayanagar, we have NRIs who order Channapatna dolls online. They pick it up during Dasara as stocks arrive only then. Out of 10, at least four customers ask for Channapatna dolls out of nostalgia. We also courier them to every part of the globe,” says proprietor Kiran Gandhi.

R.N. Arun Kumar, proprietor of Varna, an art boutique in Malleswaram, says 40 per cent of his customers, mostly NRIs, seek Channapatna dolls. There are about 100 variations in the dolls and this year, the five-piece Jatre set, priced at Rs. 2,000, is in great demand. “NRIs place orders for doll sets that are easily transportable, and Channapatna’s toys are not just made with light wood, many of them come in sets that are packed one into another, just like the famous Russian dolls,” says Mr. Kumar, who deals in wooden dolls from Kinnala, Channapatna, Visakhapatnam, Kondapalli and Varanasi, clay dolls from Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, and a range of other dolls from Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Varying prices

“If lacquer polish costs Rs.700, lacquerware with Warli or Madhubani art and meenakari work can go up to Rs. 1,000 for a 10-inch doll,” Mr. Kumar says. “The cost of original Channapatna toys with traditional lacquerware goes skyward because of its rarity. The mushrooming of dolls made in China, especially at the 500 outlets from Channapatna to Maddur, is scary. They are priced at half the cost of the real dolls because of their [inferior] quality.”

Like the prices, the demand is seasonal. “Come Dasara and the few artisans adept at doll-making and lacquerware get busy,” says Mr. Johri. “For example, dandiya sticks made with waste wood and synthetic dyes are made at Channapatna. Lakhs of these sticks reach States where dandiya is celebrated, and are they are exported. The prices have soared by nearly 30 per cent this year, but the artisan has not benefited because there are too many people involved in the market chain.”

The market chain

Consider Mr. Johri’s example of a market chain. The Channapatna artisan may get Rs. 100 per doll but the doll’s price depends on the demand in the market and the distance travelled. The price in Bengaluru would be approximately Rs.700 while the same item would be priced at Rs. 1,000 in Mumbai, which shoots up further to Rs. 3,000 for the export market. “It’s a very unorganised market, with an abundance of middlemen calling the shots,” rues Mr. Johri.

But just after Dasara, prices fall to more realistic levels. “The demand is becomes flat after the festival. The doll-makers strike gold with the numbers that can be sold in the Dasara market,” says Mr. Johri.

According to dealers on the Mysore Road, the dolls come with many stories of Hindu-Muslim unity. “It’s one industry where dolls are lathed and turned by Hindus for lacquerware by Muslims. After all, it was Tipu Sultan who brought in Persians to teach Indians the art of lacquerware!” says E. Manjunath from Mandya, among the artisans who craft Chennapatna dolls.

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