Play, Learn and Preserve – The GI Tagged Toys of India


Image – Amitra Kar

GI tags or Geographical Indication tags are assigned to products that are developed in specific geographic regions or locations in India. The spatial importance is reflected and required in the conception and execution of the product. The GI certification is given to agricultural, industrial, as well as handcrafted products. 

What makes GI products stand out is their traditional and heritage significance. These products or agricultural and food items are distinctly characteristic of the region in which they are manufactured, handcrafted or grown. Their recognition lies in their connection with the particular region, city or town. Besides, especially handicrafts, the value of a product is merited with the importance of the craft and skill being passed down through generations. In many ways, giving a GI tag to such products, boosts their markets, as well as, preserves and acknowledges the need to continue passing and enhancing heritage artistic creativities. 

GI Tagged Toys

Image – World Intellectual Property Organisation

There are more than 300 products that have a GI tag attached to them in India. Each state has its own list of GI products, with Karnataka currently leading as the state with the maximum number of GI tagged items.

 Suggested read: GI Tagged Products in Karnataka, Preserve the Heritage of the Land

Different types of products are given the GI tag and one such manufactured, as well as handmade product are toys. One would wonder why toys are of any significance. However, the toy market of India contributes around $50 billion in terms of revenue and business. 

Toys have always been children’s best friends. And their importance has only increased in recent times, with science and education both recognizing the value and contribution that toys have on the creative, emotional, social and intellectual development of children. 

India has several GI tagged toys that not only are created using traditional and ubiquitous methods. But also, are steeped in the culture and social milieu of the country. Here is taking a look at the different toys that have been certified GI tags in India. 

Channapatna Toys

Image – Shipra Basu Roy

Channapatna toys are instantly recognizable and uniquely wonderful. These wooden toys come in all shapes and sizes and today you can find them on sale in even big international toy stores. They received the GI tag in 2005. Made in the Karnataka town of Channapatna, these toys are traditionally made using the wood from the Wrightia tinctoria tree, also commonly known as ivory wood. 

The town itself is also called Gombegala Ooru or toy town and its origins can be traced to the reign of Tipu Sultan. Tipu Sultan was known to be a patron of arts and woodwork and that is perhaps how the Channapatna toys were first conceived. However, years later Bavas Miyan learned the art of Japanese doll making and incorporated it into the toy art of the region. 

Today the Channapatna toys and dolls are not only made using ivory wood, but the wood of different trees, such as rubber, cedar, sycamore, pine, teak etc. are used. The main work deals with wood lacquering. The wood is cut, pruned and then carved to fit into the designs for toys. The final product is polished and painted with vegetable natural dyes because it is children who use it the most. 

With the help of the government of Karnataka and many other social organizations, the Channapatna toys and dolls have a reasonably good market and customer base. The toys made are categorized for different age groups. They are safe, colorful and durable making them attractive play and learning tools for kids. Simple toys, such as ring stacks, animal figures, blocks etc. are all creations of the Channapatna community. 

Kondapalli Bommallu

GI Tagged Toys of India, Kondapalli Bommallu
Image – Wikimedia

The Kondapalli Bommallu toys are made in the town of Kondapalli, Krishna district in Andhra Pradesh. These toys were given the GI tag in 1999. The Bommallu or Toys colony is where these toys are created and manufactured within the town. These wooden toys have been made for more than 400 years now and the artisans who create them are called Aryakhastriyas. The original artisans were believed to have migrated in the 16th century from Rajasthan. 

The Kondapalli toys are not only toys created for children. But they are also culturally significant and assembled with great care in homes during various festivals, such as Navratri and Sankranti. 

The toys are made from the soft wood or Tella Poniki that are available in the region. The wood is carved and the different pieces of the toy are cemented together using makku. Makku is a paste made from tamarind seed and sawdust. Once the pieces are joined, the final toy is painted. 

The toys range from mythological figures, to birds, animals, dolls etc. One of the most popular Kondapalli toys is the Dancing doll. 

Thanjavur Doll

GI Tagged Toys of India, Thanjavur Doll
Image – Wikimedia

Made from terracotta, the Thanjavur doll is an actionable doll that wobbles or is a bobblehead. Basically, the doll vibrates or moves when pushed as the weight of the doll and its center of gravity is located in the bottom of the toy. The doll hence appears to be dancing and undoubtedly, flutters a smile on the faces of children and adults alike. 

The Thanjavur Doll originates from the city of Thanjavur, also initially known as Tanjore in Tamil Nadu. It was given the GI tag in 2008-09 and has traditionally been made by hand for generations.

The head of the doll is usually larger which allows the oscillating movement. The dolls also represent the classical dance forms of the country, such as Bharatnatyam, Manipuri or Kathakali. These dolls are painted in the dance attires and traditional clothing, makeup and accessories. Additionally, their dance-like movements make them highly adorable. The dolls have different parts of their body attached to them. The legs, upper body, head and lower body are joined to create the final structure. 

These terracotta handmade dolls do face competition from plastic and factory manufactured dolls. However, the authenticity and sheer cultural nuances along with the rawness and craftsmanship of the dolls make them loved and desired. 

Ganjifa Cards

GI Tagged Toys of India, Ganjifa Cards
Image – Wikimedia

Unlike the wooden toys and dolls, Ganjifa cards are a card game and were certified a GI tag in 2008. Ganjjifa the card game is believed to have originated in Persia. But in the 19th century this card game found its place in India. It was in Mysore under the rule of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III that the game truly developed and several complex games were invented using the Ganjifa cards. The game also became popular in the Mughal courts where opulent sets were made for the royals to play. 

Later when the general public started playing the game, the cards were made using palm leaf, wood, cloth etc. The game is played in different ways and the cards vary in size, color, shape, design accordingly. The cards are rectangular or circular and were traditionally painted by artisans. The Ganjifa cards are not as popular as some of the other GI tag toys.


GI Tagged Toys of India, Kathputlis 
Image – Pexels

The puppets or Kathputlis from Rajasthan are a delight to watch. Children enjoy watching puppet shows and puppets as toys are a creatively smart way to engage children in storytelling. Agricultural laborers called Bhats were amongst the first to introduce the kathputlis in the Marwar district of Rajasthan. 

The puppet is made from wood, metal wire and cloth. The string doll has been an important instrument in telling folk and historical stories to the masses over the years. 

Nirmal Toys

GI Tagged Toys of India, Nirmal Toys
Image – Wikimedia

The wooden toys from Nirmal town in Telangana are made from softwood and received the GI tag in 2009. It is believed that the art of toy making flourished during the rule of Nimma Naidu in the 17th century. The Naqqash community of craftsmen began making these toys during the reign of the Nizams during which the art form continued to be patronized. The district of Nirmal has been a hotspot of craftsmanship and manufacturing for a long. The Naqqash artisans probably bought this art form from Rajasthan, though there is no concrete evidence of the same. 

The toys are made using local wood called white sander and poniki. The pieces of wood are cut in various shapes and sizes according to the requirements of the toy. They are then stuck together using the chinta lappam, a glue prepared from sawdust and tamarind seeds. With white clay the toys are coated, then dried and finally colored or painted. Besides the Nirmal toys, Nirmal paintings and crafts are also quite famous. 

Kinhal Toys

GI Tagged Toys of India, Kinhal Toys
Image – Wikimedia

The Kinhal toys are again wooden toys that are made in Kinhal in North Karnataka. It was awarded the GI tag in 2012. The Chitragara are the artisans who create these toys using light weight wood. Just as the other wooden toys, the wood is cut and then pasted to each other using a local paste or glue made from different indigenous local materials. 

Some of the other toys that are GI tagged include the leather toys of Indore, leather puppets of Andhra Pradesh etc. and more recently the Etikoppaka toys (wooden) from Andhra.

The GI tagged toys are a wonderful way to encourage the local artisans and traditional methods of artistic forms. Also, the toys are not only play things but an important reflection of the culture of the region too. 

Suggested Read – Traditional Toys of India: Practice of Culture and Profession

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