Toys are an essential part of a childhood. However, toys are much more than just children’s playthings- they are also a long-lived constant in the crafts throughout the ages in India. The Indus Valley Civilizations produced the earliest known toys in India some 5,000 years ago, and a long, uninterrupted legacy of toy production has persisted ever since in many parts of the country. Traditional Indian toys span a wide range of styles, materials and themes- including toys made of clay, bamboo, wood, and stone representing themes from mythology to rural life. Sometimes, these are simple playthings like rattles and loops, but the history of traditional toy making is something that can be appreciated by everyone.
History of Etikoppaka Toys
Andhra Pradesh is known for its traditional styles of toys, one of which is the Etikoppaka style of crafting toys. These toys are named after the quaint village of Etikoppaka on the banks of the Varaha river in the Visakhapatnam district, where they are primarily made. The village has over twelve thousand inhabitants, with more than two hundred artisan families involved in the craft. The Etikoppaka toys’ history dates back about four hundred years. The artisans, evidently originally from Nakkapalli, a village about 25 kilometres from Etikoppaka, were said to have been making temple carts when the zamindars under the Vijayanagara empire started patronising them by paying them to make wooden toys for their children. The artisans later migrated to Etikoppaka, owing to the abundance of the soft wood needed for the toys.
Today, while the epicentre is still Etikoppaka, the toys are made all over Andhra Pradesh, with centres for toy making also in the villages of Kottam, Kailasapatnam, Rolugunta and K.D.Pet.
Process of Making Etikoppaka Toys
Etikoppaka toys are unique, both in terms of appearance and the process in which they are crafted. The toys are vibrantly coloured and have a subtle sheen, which enhances the beauty of the different colours. They also have no sharp edges- making them safe for children. The themes that Etikoppaka toys cover include that of mythology, rural life, and traditional celebrations, like weddings, aptly representing the culture of Andhra Pradesh and India. Their simple, childlike beauty also epitomises rural life.
The toys are made of the ‘Ankudi karra’ tree, telugu for the Wrightia Tinctoria tree. The tree is favoured for its very soft and light coloured wood and grows in abundance in the region. Small pieces of the wood are cut from the tree, and then, they are kept on a wood-turner and crafted according to the shape of the individual component of the toys with a chisel. This step was done by hand earlier, but the machine has helped the artisans by reducing precious time and energy. This process is still not easy- it requires an axe-like tool and five different kinds of chisels. The sawdust leftover from the woodcarving is not wasted- the artisans mix it with neem leaf, cow dung and sambrani, a resin based incense, to make an effective mosquito repellant. Small pieces of wood that cannot be utilised otherwise are carved into little beads.
After the step of carving and smoothening, solid lacquer mixed with natural dyes is pressed against the toys while still on the woodturner. The friction melts the lacquer and it liquifies, colouring the wood. This step lends the Etikoppaka toys their distinct sheen and requires an excellent eye- a mistake will result in uneven colouring and sheen of the wood. The natural dyes used are obtained from tree bark and vegetables, which are mixed with lac, a resinous mixture made of the secretions of several insects. Then, artists smoothen the toys with emery paper and assemble the components. The final finishing is given with the powder of the ‘mogali’ leaf, a plant that grows mainly in the coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh.
Recognition for Etikoppaka Toys
The unique beauty of Etikoppaka toys has not gone unrecognised. Etikoppaka toys were conferred a GI tag in 2017, meaning they cannot be manufactured outside their traditional domain. The government has also conferred the Padma Shri on Shri Chintalapati Venkatapathi Raju, an Etikoppaka artisan who has helped preserve and develop the craft earlier this year. He was also hailed in the Prime minister’s ‘Mann Ki Baat’ for preserving the traditional toy industry, and for his plans to establish an interpretation centre for facilitating the exchange of knowledge specifically in the field of traditional toys and crafts.
Current State of Etikoppaka Toys
Etikoppaka toys remain popular as ever; they are standard display pieces in Telugu households. However, there are also problems faced by the craftsmen. While the demand for the craft is high, the middlemen, who take over most of the area of sales and marketing, get the most profit. Apart from this, there is also the problem of the scarcity of the specific softwood required for this- the artisans are having to pay a tax due to the scarcity of the wood. Another problem is the inadequate power supply in these villages of rural Andhra, when power supply is necessary to run the woodturners. The artisans also have to adapt to the designs expected in the modern market, though they have done a good job already, by expanding to bangles, hanging ornaments, kumkum holders and other everyday objects.
Etikoppaka toys are extremely popular in the Telugu states, but the artisans still do not get their dues a lot of times. Hence, there must be efforts made by the government, non-governmental organisations and laymen to provide platforms for artisans to sell their craft and retain most of the profit so that they are given incentive to continue this tradition of traditional toy-making with age-old methods in this age of globalisation and lifeless automation.