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Kavad Art of Rajasthan: An Epitome of Narrative Craftsmanship

Storytelling art is now just a piece of décor for people

Dimple Arora reports on the Kavad Art of Rajasthan

Rajasthan, the land of vibrant culture and artistic traditions, is home to a unique and enchanting art form known as Kavad art. With its origins deeply rooted in the rich cultural heritage of the state, Kavad art has captivated art enthusiasts and storytellers for centuries. This article delves into the intricate world of Kavad art in Rajasthan, exploring its historical significance, storytelling aspects, technique, and contemporary relevance.

Kavad is a portable wooden shrine with visual narratives of Gods, local heroes, saints, and patrons, covering the mythology era on its panels hinged together. 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, Goddess Sita, and Laxman. The size of the kavad generally varies from 3 inches to 12 inches.

Historical Significance and Cultural Heritage:

Kavad art has a long-standing history in Rajasthan, dating back to the medieval period. It originated as a means of visual storytelling, primarily practiced by the Bhopa community, who were traditionally wandering minstrels and storytellers. Kavad, which means “box” in Hindi, refers to the portable wooden shrine or storytelling box that serves as the canvas for this art form.

The “Kumawats” known as an artisan caste started the age-old tradition of the Kavad art in Bassi, a small village in the Bhilwara district of Rajasthan. The kawadiyas trace their ancestry to the mythological character, “Shravan”. He was 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. This is where the concept of the storytelling art of Kavad started.

Symbolism and Narrative Elements:

Kavad art holds deep symbolic and narrative significance. The beautifully handcrafted wooden shrine serves as a visual representation of a sacred space and embodies the spirit of the stories and legends it holds. The intricate carvings and painted panels depict scenes from mythology, epic tales, historical events, and folklore, allowing the Kavad storyteller to recount these narratives to their audience.

Storytelling Aspects and Technique:

The Kavad artist, also known as a Kavadia, meticulously carves and paints the wooden shrine to create a multi-layered narrative structure. Here is a step-by-step breakdown of the technique:

1. Construction of the Kavad: The Kavad is constructed using seasoned wood, usually mango or sheesham, which is carefully carved and assembled to form a compact box. The box typically consists of multiple hinged doors, panels, and compartments, each revealing a different part of the story.

2. Carving and Painting: The Kavadia carves intricate patterns, motifs, and figurative elements onto the wooden surfaces. The carvings are then painted using vibrant colors, predominantly derived from natural dyes and pigments. The painted panels depict various episodes and characters from the story.

3. Layered Narrative Structure: The Kavad opens like a book, revealing multiple tiers of panels that unfold to narrate different parts of the story. Each panel is carefully designed and painted, often with accompanying text or inscriptions to guide the storyteller and engage the audience.

4. Storytelling Performance: The Kavadia, carrying the elaborately decorated Kavad, travels from village to village, setting up a makeshift stage. Through mesmerizing storytelling performances, the Kavadia opens the different doors and panels of the Kavad, revealing the sequential unfolding of the narrative.

Contemporary Adaptations and Preservation:

While Kavad art remains rooted in tradition, contemporary artists and craftsmen have embraced innovation to ensure its preservation and relevance in the modern world. Some notable adaptations include:

1. Collaboration with Artists and Designers: Kavad art has found collaborations with contemporary artists and designers, leading to the fusion of traditional techniques with modern artistic expressions. This collaboration brings new perspectives and a fresh aesthetic appeal to Kavad art.

2. Contemporary Themes and Social Commentary: Some Kavad artists have explored contemporary themes, addressing social issues and reflecting the changing times. These adaptations demonstrate the art form’s adaptability and its relevance in addressing contemporary narratives.

3. Promoting Artisans and Art Clusters: Efforts are being made to promote Kavad art and support the artisans by organizing workshops, exhibitions, and creating artisan clusters. These initiatives help sustain the craft and provide economic opportunities to the Kavad artists and their communities.

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, this 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 who is a recognized ambassador of the Kavad Art. He has also brought in variations in the dying art of storytelling. He introduced nuances like current affairs to educate the rural masses about government programs. Another artist keeping this art alive is Satyanarayan Suthar from Chittorgarh, Rajasthan. He won the National Award in 2014 for his art.

Artists, now sell the Kavad boxes as decorative pieces as an alternative to generate income through it. People do not listen to these stories in today’s era but keep these masterpieces as décor items in their houses. The buyers can customize these boxes according to their needs and demands. With contemporary color combinations and images, the kaved boxes have taken a new look.

Preserving Cultural Heritage:

Kavad art holds immense cultural value, acting as a custodian of Rajasthan’s rich storytelling traditions and historical narratives. It serves as a living testimony to the region’s cultural heritage and represents the collective memory of its people. By preserving and promoting Kavad art, Rajasthan honors its artistic legacy and ensures the transmission of this extraordinary art form to future generations.

Kavad art in Rajasthan stands as a testament to the enduring power of storytelling and artistic craftsmanship. With its beautifully carved wooden shrines and intricately painted panels, Kavad art brings to life the rich tapestry of mythology, history, and folklore of the region. 

As contemporary adaptations and preservation efforts continue, Kavad art remains a cherished cultural treasure that continues to inspire and captivate with its narrative allure.

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