11-01-2018 10:00 AM | Lathika Saju | My Indian Dream
A dedicated man struggles and succeeds in reviving a dying art
Etikoppaka is a quaint village in Andhra Pradesh famous for wooden toys made with lacquer colors. Lacquer is a shiny finish or coat applied to materials like wood. The wonderful toys are very beautifully crafted by the artisans of the village who also make bowls and boxes that form an integral part of the villagers’ life. ‘Lakkapidathalu,’ the kitchen set for kids stands out because of its colorful and miniature set consisting of cooking vessels, ladles, an imitation coal stove, a stone grinder and even a well!
Nearly 200 artisans dwell in the village creating little pieces of art from wood with great expertise. They are constantly evolving and experimenting with producing one or the other handicrafts.
However, that was not the case a few decades ago. The sale of toys began to see a downfall as people started replacing this unique art form with cheap and colorful plastic toys. To compete with the inflow of these cheap plastic toys, the artisans diverted from their traditional methods of making toys and started using chemical colors.
The Etikoppaka toys were considered to be safe for children as their edges were well rounded and they were made of natural dyes. As soon as the artisans started using chemical colors, the demand for them reduced drastically. Even the exporters rejected them as they contained toxic colors. This along with the scarcity of the soft Ankudu wood to make the toys was conducive to the fall of this unique art form.
That is when C.V. Raju, an agricultural graduate and member of the landlord family of Etikoppaka village took matters into his own hands and decided to save this wonderful art form from becoming obsolete.
Raju made up his mind to preserve the skills of the artisans and prevent them from migrating to urban areas as unskilled workers. He strictly discouraged the use of artificial dyes and practices. He believed that only quality products will fetch a high price in the bigger market.
The artisans too realized this and went back to the old practice of making natural dye. Since they knew only one tree from which they could make dye, that too in different shades of only red color, Raju started attending workshops on making natural dyes. He himself set to explore the vast world of trees and the secret dyes in their roots, barks, stems, leaves, fruits, seeds and much more. His experiments resulted in natural dye concentrates over wide-ranging colors including the royal red and Indigo which were found to be safe and free of toxins. These new set of colors gave a new lease of life to the craft in Etikoppaka.
Another hurdle was the unavailability of wood. The forest department would impose a fine on artisans for using the ‘Ankudu’ wood which is most suitable for making these toys. The Forest Protection Committee resolved this problem to some extent by the plantation of this species over the last few years.
Thus one by one, the problems of the artisans were getting resolved and the Etikoppaka toys were gaining popularity. Due to their originality, they have many takers in India and abroad.
Currently, the local artisans of Etikoppaka are assisted by the School of Fine Arts, Andhra University, National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and M.S.University, Baroda besides individual designers to come up with new designs.
Thus, C.V. Raju left no stone unturned to preserve this dying art form. Thanks to him, the unique Etikoppaka toys have gained ground and is making progress.