The art of making traditional wooden Etikoppaka toys, popularly known as Lakkapidathalu is more than 400 years old. The quaint village of Etikopakka located on the banks of the river Varaha is renowned for its lacquer coated wooden toys and this art of toy-making also known as turned wood lacquer craft was patronized by affluent landlords of the region who wanted exquisite toys for their children.
Wooden canons, bullock carts, toy trains, idols of gods and goddesses, spinning tops and kitchen sets that were complete with cooking vessels, ladles, an imitation coal stove, a stone grinder and even a well were a part of everyday life in the households of many villages nearby. It was quite common to see wooden bowls as a part of a bride’s collection to hold turmeric, kumkum, betel nuts and other aromatics.
The soft wood used for these toys is from the locally grown Ankudu. It is lightweight and easy to chop and chisel to create desired shapes and forms. The logs of wood are dried in the sun for weeks to remove any moisture and then the bark is scraped off. The wood is then roughly sawed into blocks of different sizes.
After the unique shape is created, it is coloured with the natural dyes prepared from seeds, lacquer, bark, roots and leaves. It is believed that the application of lacquer was first introduced in 1906. The lacquer is a colourless resinous secretion of a certain species of insects and is collected by tribals from nearby jungles and mixed with colours and rolled into long sticks. Biksa seed powder is boiled in water to get the rich red colour, yellow colour is from turmeric, blue colour is a combination of turmeric and indigo and black colour is from jaggery, iron rust and karakari. Clarified lacquer is blended and oxidized with the prepared vegetable dyes. The end product obtained is a glossy and evenly coloured lacquer. As the resin is highly flammable, the application on the lathe turned wooden articles has to be done meticulously for it melts fast.
The Etikoppaka toys were beautifully packed and sold in woven palm fronds containers in the earlier days. The application of luxurious lacquer on wood in pleasing shades and colours creates a distinctive appeal with smooth wooden shapes, rounded contours, shiny surfaces and exemplary craftsmanship and it is no surprise that these wooden toys are not only famous in India but also exported to many countries of the world. Etikoppaka toys received the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2017.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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