India has a rich history and tradition of oral storytelling, right from the old narratives of the Panchatantras and Jataka tales to the regional folk forms propagated by potochitrakars, bauls, harikatha and burrakatha storytellers. Remember the bedtime stories your grandmother narrated to you when you were a kid? Or the night-long plays or leelas you would attend over festivals like Dussehra?
Storytelling defines our culture and identity. It’s a part of Indian rich heritage. One such story telling form of Rajasthan is KAAVAD, which is not known to many of us. Stories of Kaavad mirrors the illustrated past of Indian tradition and heritage that essentially forms the root to a growing tree of knowledge and wisdom.
What is Kaavad?
Kaavad is a 500 year old tradition of storytelling using a wooden box temple with many folded doors. The doors have small paintings on them narrating incidents from a story. The pictures in sequence form a story from Indian mythology or any regular story. The Kaavad-storytellers are called Kaavadiya Bhat. They bring the shrine to their patron’s house to recite their genealogy and stories from the Hindu epic.
It is said that when Shravan Kumar was taking his blind parents for a pilgrimage, Raja Dashrath accidently killed him with an arrow mistaking him for a deer while hunting. Extremely apologetic for his deed he asked dyeing Shravan’s last wish. It is then, when Shravan asked Raja that for now he would not live to take his parents for a pilgrim, he wants the holy shrine to reach his parents. As for Shravan’s parents the Kaavad was symbolized as a gateway to God for the followers who are not able to take the pilgrimage. Since then this was embedded in the tradition of Rajasthan.
Suthars (carpenters) who live in Bassi village have been crafting Kaavad since 400 years. Once settled in Nagaur, they were brought to Bassi village in Chittorgarh district. Existing Kaavad families all descend from the same families who migrated from Nagaur to Bassi. Presently only 5 families are involved in making Kaavad. Unfortunately, rest of the suthar families have either found other occupations or changed their product line to daily utility wooden objects.
How do they narrate stories?
The story begins by opening the small outer doors revealing the decorations on the outer panels to arouse the curiosity by talking through the highlights of the stories depicted in the Kaavad.
The storyteller then opens a ‘donations’ flap located under the decorated panels. The storyteller opens panels, one by one, telling the several episodes of the tale. Sometimes a story could last for several days. One Kaavad can contain many linked tales. The grand finale of the tales comes as the storyteller opens the final panels to reveal a ‘shrine’ –housing 3D sculptures of the hero, his wife, companions, and other characters of the story, where everyone lives happily ever after.
The art of Kaavad making has reduced to decorative objects exported to foreign countries. The history and reason for the Kaavad existence has lost its significance due to the rapidly changing world of entertainment. Media and digital world has taken over the performing arts. Thus making Kaavad a decorative object. The art is appreciated not in its original form but merely an exotic work of art that once existed and is only be possessed as a souvenir. As the utility changed so did the Bhat’s source of income. Presently very few Bhats are professionally performing stories. The patrons are fewer so is the demand for Kaavad singing.
Story telling has been and will remain the most engaging and amazing way to shape not only young minds but to direct the adults at the time of confusion. Idea of using Kaavad as an asset for educating the young minds is a sustainable goal yet to be achieved.