For nearly four hundred years, the first toys which children from Andhra Pradesh’s Anakapalli district played with were sculpted in Etikoppaka village. They were made of wood sourced from the indigenous Ankudu plant and painted and lacquered with natural dyes and tree sap. The toys were designed not to have any sharp edges, which made them safe for children. By the 1980s, however, the flourishing trade of these unique toys faced a crisis. The Ankudu tree was driven to near extinction, while deforestation made it difficult for craftsmen to tap natural sources for making dyes and lacquer. Artificial dyes made of toxin-laced paints and colours had found their way into the craft.
That was when CV Raju, an agriculturist from Etikoppaka, took on the challenge of reviving the unique toy industry. Through painstaking labour and research, he re-identified plants, roots and even forest weeds which could be sourced for creating dyes, bringing the toys back to their organic self. “I also started experimentation and established a small laboratory here, experimenting on fabric, fibre,” he says. For nearly two decades, Etikoppaka toys were back in the markets, both in India and abroad, thanks to co-ordinated efforts by Raju, other local toy makers, the World Craft Council and various state and central government agencies.
Raju’s efforts to salvage the Etikoppaka toys from extinction were also lauded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ series in 2020. According to Raju, cheap Chinese toys which have flooded the Indian markets have posed a serious threat to the indigenous toy industry, including toys made in Etikoppaka. “Chinese toys are now dominating the market,” he says.
(This appeared in the print edition as "Toying with Revival")
Liked the story? Do you or your friends have a similar story to share about 'ordinary' Indians making a difference to the community? Write to us. If your story is as compelling, we'll feature it online. Click here to submit.