KAAVAD – Traditional Storytelling form of Rajasthan

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.


Historical background

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.

Kaavad makers

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.


Present status

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.

Interesting voluntary opportunities in India this summer

Voluntary, while you travel, is the perfect way to explore the world in a meaningful way. If you’ve resolved to travel and make a difference to the society in 2017, there’s no shortage of amazing volunteer and contribution programs awaiting you.

Following are a few great places and programs to volunteer in India this summer.

Little Local, New Delhi

Location: Ladakh
little local
image © littlelocal.in

A responsible travel enterprise, Little Local ties up with local partners to create impact and help with sustainable development of local communities via travel. This summer, the company is running a week-long project in Hinaskot, to document their oral folklore, culture and help restore abandoned villages for the community. It is looking for artists, photographers and researchers.
      Learn More…      

Phuktal Monastery, Zanskar

Location: Lugnak valley
Phuktal Monastery
image © phuktalmonastery.com

Situated in the very remote Lungnak valley, students of the Phuktal Monastery School come from local farming communities and have little exposure to the outside world. In 2015, the Phuktal River flooded, washing away the entire school campus and all its resources. The monastery has since been rebuilding the institution and is open to help in any form—especially short-term residencies (to teach English) and assistance with the construction of the new school.
      Learn More…     

Manav Sadhna, Ahmedabad

Location: Sabarmati
Manav Sadhna
image © manavsadhna.org

Dedicated to serving and uplifting marginalised communities, Manav Sadhna helps educate young children, gives them vocational training and runs health camps for them. Volunteers can pitch in with any of these activities.
     Learn More…     

Aarohi, Nainital

Location: Nainital
image © aarohi.org

A grassroots-level organisation, Aarohi strives to empower ordinary mountain families by running educational and vocational programs that allow them to lead sustainable livelihoods, have access to medical facilities and develop sustainably. The organisation is currently looking for nurses, teachers, musicians and rural development professionals.
      Learn More…     

Human Wave, West Bengal

Location: Kolkata
Human Wave
image © humanwaveindia.org

Human Wave works to develop mother and child health, promote local businesses and organise educational courses that help improve their overall standard of living. The NGO is accepting volunteers for a period of two weeks to three months to help with ongoing projects.
      Learn More…     

Druk Padma Karpo School, Ladakh

Location: Shey
Druk Padma Karpo School
image © dwls.org

Popularly known as Rancho’s school from the film 3 Idiots, DPKS provides a holistic education to students by teaching them regular subjects from their curriculum as well as equipping them with soft skills to understand and interpret the world around them. The school receives no public funding and runs on well-wisher donations. Offer your time and expertise by teaching English, basic mathematics or even music.
       Learn More…     

Sanganer – the Papermakers Hub near Jaipur

In 16th century, Raja Mansingh brought Kagzis, the papermakers to Sanganer, an ancient town that existed long before Jaipur.

A few hundred years later, in the 1930’s, when Kagzis were teetering on the verge of ruin, Gandhiji played savior to them by ordering a bulk consignment of handmade paper for his ashram. Allah Bux Kagzi, a papermaker from Sanganer even made history by demonstrating papermaking at the congress 1938 session in Haripura.


Just 14 km from Jaipur, Sanganer today is a busy Centre of paper manufacture. The main change that has come over the years is that the paper making has been evolved from   being a household industry to a more organized activity. There are half a dozen large factory now, all strongly export oriented. The major change that has come about is in the equipment used and the variety of paper produced.


The Kagzis use 3 types of material to produce paper: cotton rags, silk and banana trunk fiber. Cotton base paper makes up 90 % of their produce, but despite the humble raw material, the final product comes in myriad attractive finishes. There is metalized paper glazed to look like foil, and leatherette paper, deliberately creased to resemble leather.

While the price of these papers vary from Rs  4 to Rs 35 per sheet, products made out of it are much more steeply priced. And unfortunately, none of this premium of handmade papers and products made of these papers are reaching to the people who make these.


Visit Sanganer, see the process of paper making and meet the people behind. Talk with them and know more about their lives, their challenges, the process and the variety. Buy handmade papers directly from them, purchase the products made of these papers from the makers. Not only you will get much cheaper bargain compared to the market, more importantly, the fund will directly benefit the deserving people who are behind this craft.


Also while in Sanganer, don’t forget to visit the beautiful Shri Digamber Jain Atishya Kshetra Mandir, Sanghiji, which is decorated all over with carved figures.