India is a land of rich cultural heritage. Storytelling has been one of the most loved traditions. Generations of Indians have lived reading and listening to mythologies. To narrate these stories, different regions use different mediums. But stealing the show is the Kavad Art of Rajasthan!
Kavad is a portable wooden shrine with visual narratives of Gods, Goddesses, local heroes, saints, and patrons on its panels hinged together. A wandering priest (kavadiya bhatt) narrates Kavad Art. He travels to the jajman’s (listeners’) house with his Kavad and unfolds the panels of his Kavad to narrate the story.
As each panel opens up, the curiosity of the listener grows. In the traditional kavad, the last panel would open up to a beautiful mesmerizing image of Lord Rama, his wife Sita, and his brother Laxman. These portable shrines were mostly for people who couldn’t go and worship in the temple. The size of the kavad generally varies from 3 inches to 12 inches.
History of the Kavad Art:
The Kavad Art from Rajasthan dates back to 400 years ago. The ‘Kumawats,’ an artisan caste started the age-old tradition of the Kavad Art in Bassi, a small village located in the Bhilwara district near Udaipur, Rajasthan. The kawadiyas trace their ancestry to the mythological character, ‘Shravan’. Shravan is a young boy who was accidentally killed by Raja Dashrath (Lord Ram’s father) while he was carrying his blind parents in a ‘kaawadi‘ on his shoulders. As they couldn’t reach there, he requested Raja Dashratha to bring the shrine to his parents as his last wish, so his parents could worship the Gods. This is where the concept of the storytelling art of Kavad started.
Communities practicing the artform:
The Kavad is made by the community of carpenters, also known as the ‘Sutars‘ or ‘Jangids‘ (more specifically the Jangid Brahmin community). Initially, the Kavad stories were interpreted on cloth. But, the cloth paintings got worn and torn and hence the kawadiyas shifted to wooden shrine boxes. The sutar community makes the wooden boxes from the mango and Selam trees with the help of simple carpenter tools.
After the Sutars work is over, the chitrakar (painter) paints beautiful eye-catching visuals of mythological characters, local heroes, saints, or patrons. Initially, the colors used were mostly from natural dyes. But with time, the painters started using mineral powder colors that were available in the market. The traditional kavad always had red color as the base. However, the kavad boxes are now available in more colors like yellow, green, and blue.
Artists of Kavad Art:
Nowadays, very few artists follow the age-old tradition of the Kavad Art of storytelling. With the massive change in our lifestyles, these art forms seem to have taken a back seat. Currently, Kavad Art is practiced in parts of Rajasthan and Bangalore by very few artists.
Among the few artists who believe in keeping the art alive is Mangilal Mistri. He is a recognized ambassador of the Kavad Art. Mistri has also brought in certain variations in this dying art of storytelling. He introduces nuances like current affairs to educate the rural masses of government programs. One more artist keeping this art alive is Satyanarayan Suthar from Chittorgarh, Rajasthan. He has won the National Award in 2014 for his art.
Present Day Kavad Art:
Artists have now started selling the Kavad boxes as decorative pieces as an alternative to generating income. People might not listen to the kavadiya bhatts now, but keeping these masterpieces as décor items in their houses is a way. The buyers’ can customize these boxes according to their needs and demands. With contemporary colour combinations and images, the kavad boxes have taken a new look.
In some form or the other, the Kavad Art of Rajastan will be etched in our hearts. It will now probably be in our homes as décor pieces. We can do our bit towards saving this dying art of storytelling by supporting the hardworking artists.
Follow Rajasthan Studio on Instagram for more amazing art and travel content. Reach out to us on email at contact[at]rajasthanstudio[dot]com. This blog is curated by Rajasthan Studio and written by Sharavu Sunil.